Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Stephen Harper and Brian Mulroney: A no longer convenient marriage

The Mulroney saga continues to dominate the headlines, helped along mightily by today’s revelation that Mulroney himself now wants the Harper government to skip the third-party investigation into the need for an inquiry and go straight to a full blown inquiry. You might say he’s mad as hell, although I doubt he’ll be launching a cross-country tour to remind us.

There’s certainly lots of interesting stuff to chew on for politicos in this story. While I’ve usually been agreeing with Garth Turner of late, I disagree with him when (before the Harper announcement) he regularly asked what the big deal was about here.

I’d think it’s pretty clear, but to me, the deal is the $2.1 million settlement the feds paid to Mulroney under Jean Chretien and Alan Rock a few years back. The (as yet unproven) allegations that have come to light recently about the alleged payments by Karl Heinz Schreiber to Mulroney raise the question whether or not that $2.1 million payment was appropriate, and perhaps should be recovered. Given that’s $2.1 million of taxpayer dollars, I definitely think that’s something the government should be looking at. That’s what the big, or at least moderately, sized deal is.

That, however, was last week.

...it’s the cover-up


There’s an old saying that’s it’s not the crime that will get you, it’s the cover-up. Not to suggest that a crime has been committed here, I’m not suggesting that, in case any libel lawyers are reading. It’s just an expression. And it’s often a particularly pertinent one in politics.

As it is in this case. While the issue of the validity of the $2.1m payment is an important issue, you could argue this isn’t an issue that impugns the integrity of the current Harper government. And, while there are many key links between the Harper government and Mulroney that I’ll get to later, largely you’d be right.

What is directly relevant to the Harper government however is the issue of this letter from Schreiber (maybe two letters?) to the Harper PMO, containing the very allegations that caused Harper to launch his investigation into an inquiry, that was apparently sent months ago but supposedly never made it to Harper’s desk.

Garth does agree with me on this point, crystallizing it well today:

Did he brief Stephen Harper? No idea. If he did, our prime minister has a problem, since Mr. Harper took no action until found out. If he did not, the prime minister still has a problem, since Mr. Brodie allowed the public Mulroney love-in to continue, knowing what he knew. Knowing Mr. Mulroney might be charged. Knowing the implications.

This is the question that brings this whole issue into new territory, and lays it squarely at the feet of Stephen Harper and his PMO.

A marriage of convenience


Back to what I’d originally intended to write about though, which is the Harper/Mulroney relationship. Now, I certainly don’t want to do Harper a favour by attempting to minimize it. The links are clear, from folks like Senator Marjorie LeBreton, Senator Hugh Segal, Peter McKay and his dad Elmer and Rob Nicholson. And of course Harper has saddled-up closely to Mulroney himself over the past few years, regularly tapping him for advice and feting him in public.

In their orgy of weekend coverage on the Mulroney saga however, I thought the Globe went a bit too far with a headline describing Mulroney as Harper’s political mentor. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

The truth is, the Harper/Mulroney relationship was always one of convenience. They don’t particularly like each other, but they needed each other. There was something in it for both of them, so they kissed and made nice.

Brian Mulroney needed rehabilitation. He was (is) in danger of being remembered as one of the least popular Prime Ministers in Canadian history, certainly a big blow for a man of his considerable ego. He needed a Conservative Prime Minister to help restore his reputation, a Conservative government to allow him to play the role of elder statesmen, to bring attention to the positives of his record, and being him back to public consciousness in a positive light. Harper delivered that.

Stephen Harper needed to unite the Progressive Conservative and Reform wings of his party. He needed Mulroney’s help to do that, as the man still holds considerable loyalty and sway amongst many members of his old party. He needed the political experience and wisdom of Mulroney loyalists like LeBreton. Otherwise, government would always remain out of reach. Mulroney helped bring the restless PCs firmly into the Conservative fold, helping deliver Harper his government.

The two certainly weren’t bosom buddies though, nor was Mulroney, by any stretch of the imagination, Harper’s mentor.

While Harper gets little mention in Mulroney’s biography, and certainly no negative attention, I find it unlikely that Brian has forgotten Stephen’s role as one of the architects of the Reform Party, and the role he played in destroying the old Progressive Conservative Party he so loves.

As for Harper, it was the policies of the Mulroney government that drove the former PC member and Hill staffer Harper into the arms of the movement that would found Reform. Read books like William Johnson’s Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada and you’ll see the widely divergent views the two held on the issues, and Harper’s lack of love for Mulroney.

Ironically, as he began to saddle back up to Mulroney in the past few years, trying to form a government, Harper would begin to espouse some of the same Mulroney views that drove him away in the first place, ie. pork for Quebec. The difference between former Conservative principle and current Conservative action is by now well documented.

This would seem to further illustrate the thawing of the Harper/Mulroney was driven purely by political expediency. As soon as the negatives outweighed the positives for Harper, he dumped Mulroney over the side. Wholly unsurprising really. And not the actions of a ‘mentor’ to be sure…

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7 comments:

Oldschool said...

I'd be careful what I said about Mulroney . . . didn't he already get a couple of million bucks because of lieberal slander and misadventure.

Schryber will probably say and do anything to keep from being extradited to Germany to face charges.

Jason Hickman said...

What is directly relevant to the Harper government however is the issue of this letter from Schreiber (maybe two letters?) to the Harper PMO, containing the very allegations that caused Harper to launch his investigation into an inquiry, that was apparently sent months ago but supposedly never made it to Harper’s desk.

Mistakes do happen, I guess...

And the bit about how close (or not) Harper & Mulroney are/were is interesting - it seems that on Mondays, Tuesdays, and alternate Thursdays, the line from the Libs and the NDP is that every sin ever committed (or allged to have been committed) by any Tory since John A. can be visted on Harper, and that Harper's joined at the hip with the ol' Mulroney gang. On Fridays, Saturdays and every third Sunday, the line from the same sources is that Harper's crew demolished the Grand Old PC Party, and isn't it a shame that they're laying claim to a progressive legacy that has nothing to do with them, etc, etc, etc.

You've noted the legitimate differences between Harper & Mulroney on all sorts of points, and kudos for that, but then you end off with the "throwing Mulroney overboard" line that Garth!, Jason C. and others have mooted on their blogs. Fact is, if the Harper government hadn't taken the steps it's taking now, some of those same characters - if not you personally - would be bashing Harper for, as you call it, the cover-up.

burlivespipe said...

Jeff, great summary. I do think that Harper's main ulterior motive for clinging to the tattered Mulroney cloak is to wien some Quebec magnetism from the ol' whore...

Harper will do and say anything to get a majority and keep his pudgy hands on the lever of power...

As to Hickstone above, guess he's got another talking point about how the CONs will say and blame everything six days a week on the Liberals and would dig up the bones of Laurier if it could get them a one-point bounce in Quebec.
Just replace the parties in there with yours and the Bloc and its quite a familiar nursery rhyme. Of course, its bottom-less koolaid day at the CON hut!

A BCer in Toronto said...

So, the Libs got to the letter within three days, gave it to the boss, and turned it over to the RCMP. The Con PMO sat on it for six months and never told the boss. Only one of those is a mistake Jason, the other is being a bit too slow opening your mail.

Anyway, I can't speak for other bloggers, but my line of thought has been consistent. Bri and Steph are linked, they are connected, but they were never bossom buddies. They were connected for political expediency, and when it was no longer expedient for Harper, it was bye bye brian.

zeppo said...

If Schreiber stops his extradition to Germany with these affidavits then we will be known officially as 'the stupidest suckers on the face of the earth'.
Schreiber faces serious time if convicted in Germany and no time at all in Canada if his affidavits turn out to be 'exaggerated'. In addition, we will have destroyed any credibility our legal system has as far as the Germans are concerned.

Jason Hickman said...

From the story in The Star that I cited...

Thibault said it wasn't immediately clear what the significance of the documents was until the CBC's Fifth Estate news report on the Schreiber-Mulroney relationship aired last week and a similar newspaper article was published.

Assuming Thibault is telling God's honest truth - and what the heck, let's give him the benefit of the doubt - he confirms that the OppLeader's office discovered the "significane" of Schreiber's correspondence after the Fifth Estate and the G&M started pushing this story. That wasn't all that long ago.

Anyway, I can't speak for other bloggers, but my line of thought has been consistent. Bri and Steph are linked, they are connected, but they were never bossom buddies. They were connected for political expediency, and when it was no longer expedient for Harper, it was bye bye brian.

Hmpf. Sounds like Chretien and Martin, now that you mention it.

The interesting thing is whether the Harper-led CPC is the direct successor of the PC Party (as well as the RPC/CRCA), or the usurper of that party's legacy. And the answer to *that* question seems to depend on the attack line du jour.

And once again, the same people who are using the "bye bye Brian" meme in a perjorative sense are the same ones who'd be griping of the Tories were stonewalling now on an inquiry.

And of course, unlike Gomery/sponsorship - where the inspiration, if one can call it that, was an Auditor General's report - in this case, it all seems based on the word of a guy whose motivation should now be perfectly clear to even the most partisan people out there.

Emily said...

I find it quite ironic that while Stevie hid behind a Tory blue smokescreen last election he is now seeing a different colour. He knew Canadians would never accept his Reform Party so he simply bought out the rights to a symbol that long time Conservatives could live with. If this wasn't the case why did he not keep his Reform/Alliance image since most of his caucus belonged to either/or? He had to know that he would also inherit the many scandals that were the demise of that party in the first place. Not as clever as he thought. He'll be picking at that wedgie for years.