Front bench let-downs need to be corrected
By Bruce A Stewart
The Stephen Harper Conservatives have fallen into some bad habits. The kind that may cost them power next time out.
Canadians expect minority governments to be defensive.
They, in turn, expect majority governments to exude competence.
The Conservative Cabinet members and Parliamentary Secretaries evidently didn’t get the memo. Perhaps, because no one thought to send it.
Bluff and bluster while revealing one failing after another slowly eats away at confidence.
So when Vic Toews blustered about “you’re either with us or with the child pornographers” in the Bill C-30 debate, he created more trouble than he headed off.
The resulting spectacle portrayed weakness, not strength.
The F-35s (thank heavens the money isn’t spent yet!) showed a Minister not in charge of his department.
Or apparently able to straighten matters out. Not good for Peter MacKay, not good for his party.
The constant sending others into the fray — with MacKay in the House — to duck for cover was a true admission of weakness.
One, in turn, that the steady “drip, drip, drip” of calmly asked, actually researched questions is accentuating.
You can see how the opposition parties are playing it. The third place Liberals are still shrieking “scandal!” and “resign!”. The newly ennervated New Democrats are going for steady erosion of the Government’s foundations.
No wonder national polls show over half of Canadians now see the NDP as a government-in-waiting. They’re projecting calm confidence.
Meanwhile, the fiscal conservatives who’d hoped that — finally! — the first majority budget would show promise in getting Ottawa’s spending under control were left with nothing.
There are rumblings already about the need to force the issue, starting by withholding funds and perhaps staying home on election day.
Stephen Harper sits at the centre of this mess.
It made sense in 2006 to keep a tight rein on the Cabinet to avoid “failing in office.” The players were new, the party had a weak minority of support.
By 2012 there’s a general expectation across the country that the ministers ought to have “matured” — especially since Harper’s cabinets have been quite stable.
But everything is still played “from the centre.” Deny, scream back, pop a pit bull up instead of the responsible minister, try to bluff it all out.
If the country starts to think “time for a change”, the seeds are being planted now.
It’s time for Stephen Harper to do what he does so well — take time, analyse the situation, think through what’s needed, then do it.
At the moment, the national mood is slowly but surely slipping him back into a minority.
That’s the first step to seeing the House from the other side.
Bruce Stewart is a consultant, educator and philosopher with a passion for public affairs currently located in Toronto. He is well known across the Internet for his blogs on management (Getting Value from IT) and social affairs (Just a Jump to the Left, then a Step to the Right) and for his daily stream of commentary on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You can reach him at email@example.com.