Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Harper opens mouth, inserts prorogue

I wrote the other day that one of the challenges for the Liberals and for the opponents of prorogation will be to keep the issue alive and in the public and media consciousness in the days and weeks ahead. The radio and print ads launched on the weekend are part of that. Thankfully, they’re getting some help keeping the issue alive and it comes from an unlikely source: Stephen Harper.

For a guy who doesn’t like the media, and only granted two year-end interviews for 2009 (one English, one French) our Prime Minister has been quite busy granting media one-on-ones since he padlocked the doors of Parliament for two months. Last week he sat down with the CBC and with Canwest. Yesterday it was CFRB and the Business News Network’s turn. It’s been an uncharacteristic period of media accesibility for Harper, and I’m sure it has nothing to do with the growing anger over prorogation that he insists, repeatedly and to more and more media outlets every day, that no one cares about.

Anyway, on BNN yesterday Harper graced us with his latest justification for prorogation, which is sure to extend the story even further:

As soon as Parliament comes back, we're in a minority Parliament situation, the first thing that happens is a vote of confidence and there will be votes of confidence and election speculation for every single week after that for the rest of the year. That's the kind of instability I think that markets are actually worried about, but, you know, the government will be well prepared and I think Canadians want to see us focus on the economy, so that's what we're going to be doing.

Let's set aside, for a moment, that it's Stephen Harper that opts to make everything a confidence vote and fosters a spirit of bluster and instability in order to play one opposition party off the other for political advantage.

I can see what Harper is trying to do here. He’s trying to bring back the framing that he used to pull the trigger on the last election, and that he was probably hoping to use to pull the trigger after the budget in March until he underestimated the mood of Canadians (I’m hearing new polling numbers out shortly will underline this anger even further): I need a majority to fix the economy and see Canada through this period of economic uncertainty.

Perhaps that approach would have played a few months ago. But the framing of the issue has changed, apparently without Harper having noticed. In the context of Harper proroguing Parliament for the second time in one year, in the context of growing public dissatisfaction with the decision, in the context of a concerted opposition campaign to highlight this as Harper avoiding democratic accountability, in the context of even former senior Harper campaign adviser Tom Flannagan admitting prorogation is clearly about the Afghan detainee issue, Harper’s latest attempt at spin rings hollow.

(It's also worth nothing Harper's line here is also an apparent admission that he's too incompetent to both govern and manage Parliament at the same time. I know it's not easy to make priorities, Stephen, but it is part of the job. If you're not up to it, phone the GG and tell her you quit.)

Indeed, in the context of the growing narrative that Harper’s prorogation is the latest in a string of moves by this government to thumb its nose at democratic accountability, Harper’s comments actually serve to underline and reinforce that developing negative narrative: he’s implicitly saying I prorogued because those pesky MPs elected by the people in Canada are getting in my way. He’s making the opposition’s case for them. In asking them to choose, does he expect people to say "Yeah, let's just get rid of Parliament and give Harper free-reign?"

Once again, Harper’s reputation for strategic genius proves greatly over-rated. He should be talking about anything but prorogation. Were I him, I’d just get out there and be Prime Ministerial. That’s the greatest advantage he has: he has the job. Get out there and cut ribbons and meet with people and announce things.

But if he wants to keep offering lame justifications for sending his MPs on a two-month vacation and explaining why the people’s representatives are such an impediment to him doing whatever he wants to do, I’m cool with that too.

I'm sure it's also cool with the 167,200 (and counting) members of Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament.

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Tof KW said...

Honestly, my jaw dropped when I saw Tom Flannagan last night on 'Power & Politics' admitting prorogation is clearly about the avoiding the Afghan committee, then adding that no one is buying Harper's ever-changing reasons for proroguing.

When Flannagan, of all people, admits no one is buying the CPC's spin ...there's serious trouble for Harper in the weeks ahead.

The Harper Government:
Making it up as they go along.

Liberal Justice said...

You can sustain this story for two months. Our strategy needs to be to negatively brand the Harper government using this as evidence. That is what Ignatieff has been doing BRILLIANTLY. Go Iggy!

RuralSandi said...

LOL - from Rick Mercer's twitter:

ive never seen so many tories twitter about Chretien. Kids he was PM before twitter was invented.
Sun, 10 Jan 2010 20:04:59

Michael said...

Harper make public appearances? Likely framed by angry protests - perfect!