In case there's any confusion, today's new and improved message from the Conservative caucus on the virtues of their former PM, Mr. Mulroney, is a total retreat for the PMO:
“The message was he's a past prime minister and deserves to be treated with respect,” one Tory said Wednesday of the morning Conservative caucus meeting in Ottawa.An admission by Mr. Harper and his PMO that their latest partisan misadventure, in which Mr. Harper reportedly had his own hands, was a total failure. From banishing their former PM from the party membership rolls to avowals of respect within a few weeks. What a difference a little push back from the membership and a weakened PM makes.
Update (10:30 p.m.): CP has a report tonight with the inside scoop from the Conservative caucus room:
Still not feelin' the love...lots of posturing but the damage is there, as this political scientist observes:
With Harper in the room this time, caucus sources said only one MP – Lee Richardson – denounced what he described as unfair and unnecessary attacks against the former prime minister.
One source said that less than a handful applauded Richardson's remarks, unlike the previous meeting where pro-Mulroney prompted more applause.
Sources also said senior members of the Harper government were accused of lying to their own MPs by stating that the Prime Minister's Office had nothing to do with spreading stories about Mulroney.
A pair of other MPs rose to complain Wednesday not about Mulroney, but about colleagues who leaked proceedings of the last meeting to the media.
According to one source, Harper was asked whether he would punish anyone caught sharing details of internal party discussions.
Harper eschewed talk of discipline and instead delivered a message aimed at unifying his caucus, said the source.
He lauded the historic achievements of the Mulroney government in a monologue intended to please former Progressive Conservatives who view the ex-prime minister fondly.
At Wednesday's meeting, Richardson accused the PMO of spreading lies.
University of Alberta political scientist Steve Patten said Mr. Harper's strong management can submerge divisions between Progressive Conservatives and Reformers for now – but he predicted these will re-emerge the next time there's a race for the helm of the party.
“This is a really significant division within the Conservative family and one that won't disappear for a long time,” Prof. Patten said. “At the end of the day, Mr. Harper has the capacity to put this back into the closet, but it doesn't mean they go away. I don't think we're going to know how significant these divisions are until Harper retires.”