Friday, April 10, 2009

Harper lies and the Conservatives leak

As the latest chapter unfolds in the Brian Mulroney-Stephen Harper saga, we learn that when Stephen Harper said just a few days ago he had know idea about that whole 'is Murloney a party member or not thing' he may have been being less than truthful with Canadians. Or, to be blunt, according to an anonymous Conservative source, he may have been lying:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, from overseas, was aware of and agreed with plans to leak stories that would distance him and the current party leadership from former prime minister Brian Mulroney, the Star has learned.

A Conservative party source speaking on background said Harper was in contact with his chief of staff, Guy Giorno, and communications director Kory Teneycke, the officials behind the idea, while he was in Europe last week.

Such dishonesty is hardly out of character. We've seen it too many times before. Like during the 2006 election, when he insisted there was no deal to pay-off Alan Ridell. The Conservatives later admitted otherwise when he sued them for non-payment. And that's just one example. So I'm not surprised.

But the deck of cards is beginning to collapse for the Harper Conservatives, it does seem. We also got this story yesterday:
A senior cabinet minister has pleaded with the president of the Conservative party to make peace with former prime minister Brian Mulroney -- and been rebuffed.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay called the party boss last week and asked him to issue a public statement clarifying whether, as a former two-term prime minister, Mulroney could be a Conservative member for life.

To me, what they're arguing about is secondary. What I find more interesting is the unraveling of the iron control that Harper has maintained over his caucus and his party to date. We see Conservatives leaking to the Star to directly contradict Harper's claim of non-involvement/non-knowledge of the Mulroney membership leaks. That's a direct shot at the bow, not over a policy issue but over Harper's integrity and honestly, and it comes from within his own party. That's very significant.

We see Conservatives leaking news of MacKay's meeting with Don Plett. How many people do you think had knowledge of that meeting, and motivation to leak it? It's a small list, and it was a deliberate decision.

We've seen the first un-authorized leaks from a Conservative caucus meeting in recent memory, when the story first broke and Harper was off in Europe, detailing the disagreement within the party and seeking to make clear at least some caucus members were deeply upset with the Mulroney broadside.

And leaks aside, in the rarest of rarities under the Harper regime, we've seen caucus members, even cabinet ministers, willing to go on the record contradicting Harper's party line, people like Mackay and Jean-Pierre Blackburn.

Beyond a possible fracturing of the fragile detente between Conservatives and Progressive Conservatives, which may well be papered over in the end, what does this all tell us? It tells us the CPC's days of rigid discipline and message control are over. Long story short: the Conservatives aren't scared of Harper anymore.

For years, Harper has road this bucking bronco of a Conservative Party, keeping the divergent factions united by keeping them focused on one goal: majority government. And to get there, they'd have to compromise. They'd have to stay focused. And they'd have to be disciplined. Stick with me, Harper's message was, follow my lead and I'll lead you to the promised land.

But after two minorities, a series of the comprises that come with governing, and other decisions that have served to anger just about every piece of his coalition, the promise is wearing thin. There's a growing feeling Harper has taken him as far as he can, and therefore, his means of control is evaporating.

There was a time when any minor note of discord in Conservative ranks would be dealt with swiftly and harshly. Just ask Garth Turner, Bill Casey and Michael Chong, to name a few. There was a time when the dissent we're seeing now wouldn't have been tolerated for a second. But we're seeing both leaks and on the record discord, and no action yet from an increasingly impotent PMO.

To bring it back to Mulroney, say what you will about Brian but until the day he resigned, despite all the scandal, despite all the negative press, despite the dismal polling, Mulroney maintained the respect and absolute loyalty and devotion of his caucus. And he didn't do it through fear and brute force either.

I guess it's a lesson he never shared with Stephen.

Related Reading: Canada's Debate, Liberal Arts and Minds, BigCityLib Strikes Back, Impolitical.

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Brian A said...

I think it can hardly be said that Brian Mulroney was, or indeed is, popular. But he did win two majorities, something it's a clear fact that Harper will never do. He also won the largest majority government of any party in Canadian history.

But you hit the nail on the head that this proves, beyond a doubt, that the Conservative Party no longer fears Harper. And I believe that fear is the only thing keeping them together.

sjw said...

A floor-crossing or two would be nice right about now. His discomfort with Quebec nation status notwithstanding, I think Michael Chong would make a more than fine Liberal.

Tom said...

Another 'anonomous Conservative insider'!
How many hundreds of them have been cited over the last few weeks in Liblogs? Seems to me if they existed, at least one of them would be quoted by name.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Another 'anonomous Conservative insider'...Seems to me if they existed, at least one of them would be quoted by name.

Thank you for the comment, anonymous commenter.

If you actually exist, that is.