I’m taking a brief break from Liberal navel-gazing to turn my attention to other affairs of state, namely yesterday’s cabinet shuffle and senate appointments by the “The Harper Government.”
First, I should note that I’ve made an executive decision: I’m raising the bar on my partisan outrage trigger by about four notches. These guys are going to be governing for the next four years with relatively few constraints and they’re going to do lots of things I disagree with; if I amp it up to 10 every time I’m going to lose my mind. So I’ll still call attention to decisions I disagree with, but I’ll save the hyper-ventilation for the really egregious stuff.
Frankly, I think we could all do with four years of toned-down rhetoric. It got a little crazy during the perpetual minority period. I hope to see everyone make the adjustment. Perhaps we can see a more constructive parliament where, with an election not always imminent, opposition parties offer constructive advice on legislation and the government, from time to time, actually listens. And perhaps instead of the regular “will you trigger an election” stories, the media can instead write about policy and challenges and ideas. Call me crazy, but you never know.
Since it’s been so long, a little majority refresher may be useful. Generally, with a four (with fixed election date) year mandate, a government will do all the needed but high-impact and potentially unpopular stuff in the first year or two, with the hope it will be forgotten or forgiven when they go to the polls in four years. The second half of the mandate is gearing-up for the election with feel-good stuff to win the public over. The real governing is generally in the first two years.
So I’ll be watching for signs of how the Harper Conservatives intend to use their majority mandate in this “go big or go home” period, and if they’ll signal a new direction from their minority approach.
Frankly, I’m not expecting to see Scary Steve or an outbreak of radical social conservatism. He could go that route if he wanted, but it would make things tough in four years. I think Harper wants to make the Conservatives Canada’s new natural governing party, and that means he’ll stay relatively middle of the road to appeal to a broad swath of the population, maybe throwing the odd bone here or there to his more conservative base.
What I would expect to see, though, is austerity measures to bring the government into line, reduce spending and cut the size of government.
We’ll really begin to get a sense of the course he’ll chart when Parliament returns next month with the speech from the throne. If we try to read between the lines of the cabinet shuffle though, the stay the course messaging they’ve been signaling may well prove accurate.
It’s a big cabinet, tied for the biggest in Canadian history with one of Brian Mulroney’s. He created new positions and made sure every region was covered. If he is planning to shrink government and usher-in an austerity era, he could have signaled it with a leaner, meaner cabinet: show the buck stops here, so to speak. Instead, millions more will be spent on salaries, staff and bureaucracy to support the new ministers. It’s an odd signal, and an opportunity lost.
Of course, the other thing to watch for in a majority is restless backbenchers. It’s not uncommon to try to give everyone a title so they don’t get restless and start plotting. And if you’ve been left our of the biggest cabinet in Canadian history your chances of making if next time aren’t great, so we’ll see if Conservative backbenchers start to strain at the yoke a little.
I don’t have too much comment on specific cabinet appointments. John Baird to Foreign Affairs raised eyebrows. Personally, I think he acted like a partisan jerk in past positions because that’s the role Harper wanted him to play. I think he can also play the collegial diplomat, if that’s what Harper wants. Most of the major positions are otherwise unchanged, although B.C. has lost a lot of cabinet clout without Stockwell Day and Gary Lunn.
Blowing up the Senate to save it?
If anyone was surprised by Harper appointing defeated candidates rejected by the voters to the Senate, you need to seriously give your head a shake and get out more. I’d have to question where you’ve been for the last five years.
Sending people that quit the Senate to run for the House and lost back to the Senate was a new twist, but still, the list of failed candidates appointed to the Red Chamber by Harper was already long, and includes Salma Ataullahjan, Yonah Martin, Claude Carignan, Fabian Manning (now twice), Michel Rivard, John Wallace, Leo Houskas, Michael Fortier and Suzanne Duplessis. And now add Larry Smith and Josee Verner to the list, making 11 Conservative Senate appointments that have been rejected (at least once) by the electorate. (UPDATE: 12, I forgot Don Meredith)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Stephen Harper isn’t serious about Senate reform. If he was, he’d propose comprehensive constitutional amendments, which is the only way to properly and effectively reform the Senate. Let me know when that happens; I’ll be the one not holding his breath.
Anyway, while these appointments weren’t surprising, the level of chutzpah was as it seemed to serve no purpose. He can appoint whomever he wants; the optics of who he appointed though were deliberately provocative. It’s an odd way to expend political capital.
Anyway, I’ll wait for the throne speech, and the re-introduction of the budget, so see where they’re really going. In the mean time, back to more Liberal navel-gazing.Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers