Monday, October 22, 2007

A devastating critique of Harper's imperious style

One of the best summations of Harper's penchant for controlling the levers of government to date, Lawrence Martin today. Excerpts from a must read:
Under the strong arm of Jean Chrétien, things could get pretty rough around Ottawa. Like the time when, sporting his Terminator shades, he put the Shawinigan chokehold on a protester in Hull.

The Chrétien stewardship, initially tame, eventually became heavy-handed. Peace, order and good government.

In terms of amassing power and asserting it, however, Mr. Chrétien is no match for Stephen Harper. In just 20 months, he has become master of everything he's touched. To search the annals for another Canadian PM who accumulated so much cold-blooded authority in such a short time is to come up empty.
Martin cites examples of the PM's iron fisted approach:
One of the first moves Mr. Harper made was to eliminate the position of deputy prime minister. From that point, the storyline has been one of imperious control.

Last week was full of fine examples. After rolling out an impressive Throne Speech, the PM allowed only two cabinet ministers, Jim Prentice and Lawrence Cannon, to talk about it. The others weren't to be trusted.

In the same week came the news that his government had put in place a plan - apparently now discarded - for "robust physical and information security measures": a government-controlled $2-million media briefing centre.

In the same week came the news of his broad and smart scheme for targeting ethnic voters and the news that MP Bill Casey, who ran afoul of him over the offshore revenues dispute, will remain afoul - even though the dispute has been settled. He crossed his boss; that's it.

In the same week was Mr. Harper's deft display in toying with the Liberals, having them on bended knees trying to avoid an election - this over a Throne Speech that usually never triggers elections.

Imperious control? Earlier this year, columnist Don Martin discovered the existence of a 200-page Harper committee-control manual. The secret document instructed the PM's committee chairs on how to select party-friendly witnesses, how to set in motion debate-obstructing tactics and, if necessary, storm out of meetings to shut down the proceedings. Tory whip Jay Hill was quoted as admonishing committee chairmen "who prefer to lead through consensus."

While caucus chairs had the aid of a handbook, the Harper government went a step further for the whole caucus: It called in the cops. At the annual caucus meeting in August, the Harperites had the Mounties remove journalists from the Charlottetown hotel lobby so they couldn't ask nettlesome questions.

The cabinet has to be minutely monitored as well. To wit, Mr. Harper dispensed with the traditional practice of revealing dates of cabinet meetings. In this way, ministers don't have to face the press afterward. As it stands, they are allowed less public comment than probably any cabinet in history. Our diplomats are in the same boat. The extent of their gagging is also said to be unprecedented.
And the kicker of a conclusion:
The march of democracy in this country is intriguing. Mr. Chrétien took a protester by the throat. This PM, who came out of the populist Reform Party movement, has practically the entire government by the throat.

It is fascinating, if not chilling to see his shrewd acts unfold. There are many who think his strategy, a sort of reverse glasnost, is succeeding. There are others who think that building his version of the Kremlin in Ottawa is not what the people had mind.
Powerful stuff indeed. I am in the camp that says that the PM's tactics, as manifested in all of the above listed examples, are worth pursuing as a theme in an upcoming election campaign. He's Bushian/Rovian in the highest order.

This column seems to be a real marker being set down. It's saying, here's Harper and what he's doing to our traditions of government, people. Is anyone going to stop him?