Wednesday, January 20, 2010

We had to prorogue so Rona Ambrose could take a vacation

We have heard many reasons from Stephen Harper's Conservatives to explain why they had to prorogue parliament. They had to recalibrate, they said. They had to stop the instability of parliament so they could focus on putting the next phase of their economic action plan in place to ensure the economic recovery won't be thrown off track.

What prorogation wasn't about, Harper insisted, was a two-month vacation for government MPs. No sir, they'd all be working hard in their constituencies, and ministers would be hard at work on the economic action plan.

One would think the labour minister might have some work to do around that. After all, the labour market has been taking a beating in the downturn. Unemployment is up substantially, and always lags a recovery. Strategies for dealing with unemployment will be key to the success of any budget and recovery plan the Conservatives launch in March.

It seems though that the presence of the labour minister isn't really necessary for formulting labour policy, as the former minister, who got what' s being called a big promotion in yesterday's cabinet shuffle, was spending her prorogation many miles away from her ministry:

The only drama behind this week's Cabinet shuffle was the call MP Rona Ambrose received on her satellite phone just hours after cresting the summit of Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro. The Prime Minister's Office wanted his labour minister back in Ottawa for reassignment. Immediately.
Actually, if you think about it, Ambrose's prorogation vacation only makes a mockery of the Harper government's rationale for padlocking parliament if you consider the labour minister to be someone that has anything to do with, well, labour policy. If you accept Harper ministers as mere figureheads, then it doesn't really matter how his cabinet spends its time.

Indeed, Ambrose's career-path since being turfed from the Environment portfolio in 2007 bares this out. Having learned her lessons about having visibility and actually doing things (misguided though those things were), she took the message and spent her terms in Intergovermental Affairs and Labour doing as little as possible. Allowing the apointees in the PMO to set policy for her department she kept a very low profile, advancing no agenda, making few announcements.

So it's emblematic that, when she got the call for promotion, she wasn't hard at work at her cabinet office helping craft labour policy to help see the workforce through the downturn, but was instead on vacation on another continent.

Be quiet, follow orders, don't do anything or say anything. It seems that's the surest way to advance in the Harper cabinet.

UPDATE: I'm informed that climbs of Kilimanjaro need to be scheduled well in advance, so Ambrose's trip likely wasn't taken to take advantage of prorogation, but was probably planned for some time so she could be back for the previously scheduled return of Parliament on January 25th.

However, even if her trip wasn't scheduled to take advantage of prorogation, the wider point stands. If the situation is really as dire as Harper puts it, if he really does need to prorogue and have all hands on deck to manage this crisis, why did his labour minister still go mountain climbing?

Maybe she didn't buy prorogation insurance, but if the situation is serious enough for Harper to shut down Parliament, surely it's serious enough for his labour minister to come to the office?

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Ted Betts said...

Funny that they need so much time to learn their files now but none of them needed that much time before, nor have any prior Liberal or Progressive Conservative ministers.

Sort of re-enforces the narrative that Harper's cabinet are a bunch of second-stringers.

Milan said...

Here are some photos and videos from the anti-prorogation rally in Ottawa.