The current message is more drift
By Bruce A Stewart
Parliament’s not sitting this week. (Yes, the MPs are inflicting themselves on your neighbourhood.)
They’re back next week, but when that sitting wraps up it’ll be the summer break. June’s push will be to finish up the bills currently in debate.
But what next?
There are ministers that have — in governments past — more than earned their shuffles down or sideways. Vic Toews, Peter MacKay, Tony Clement and Bev Oda come immediately to mind.
There’s an acute silence on what’s next. The Throne Speech’s agenda is now in place. Yet there’s a curious lack of trial balloons and “think piece” speeches to test the waters for new initiatives.
Even the “war room” seems curiously quiet, as though bashing opposition leaders is just too much trouble.
Meanwhile the OECD has called — for the second year in a row — for the Bank of Canada to raise interest rates, something Mark Carney has warned he’ll do soon. That, in turn, will finish the housing bubbles left across the country.
Our major trading partners can massage the data to look like they’re recovering as much as they like, but they feel shaky, and act like it. (The reality is that they are shaky.)
Where will the government go next? No one — even off the record — seems to know.
It is possible, of course, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is using this time to think about his own future.
He’s been a party leader for a decade, a decade in which his children have grown up into teenagers. Perhaps he’s considering how many more years he wants to put in, while he’s still young enough to have another career. Go out a winner.
Or perhaps he’s trying to judge whether it’s time for a big fight: take on the civil service unions, a serious restructuring of the Ottawa establishment, or some other overarching game that will unfold over the years between now and 2015.
Maybe he’s wrestling with the twin demands of loyalty — Mulroney may have said “ya dance with the ones what brung ya” but he fired cabinet ministers repeatedly, unlike Stephen Harper — and bench strength (who’s better, even if these aren’t great). It’s easy to change ministers, but you need better ones when you’re done.
It’s also possible that he’s leaving the public space clear because he, too, recognizes that the global fit is about to hit the global shan thanks to Europe, the US debt ceiling and tax cut expiries, and imbalances in Asia. When that happens, big moves will be needed in Canada — starting with probably having to give some tough love to the free-spending deadbeat provinces — and he’s maybe leaving the space clear. Better to have nothing on the table for a while, than to put forward plans only to have to abandon them in a crisis.
Whatever the reason, the long silent spell is eating away at Conservative support nationwide, and at the reputation of a Prime Minister who always has plans within plans in progress.
The summer is likely to be more political than usual as a result.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.