What Stephen Harper is Thinking Right Now


Over and above the plethora of swear words, of course.

Harper’s decision, to support the Liberal budget (Bill C-43) this Thursday and to try and bring down the government on the basis of the NDP amendment (Bill C-48) has many commentators, right-wingers included, going “hnuhh?” But Harper has actually made a pretty savvy move, in my opinion. If only he’d taken this approach from the start, but I think it’s probably reactive.

Pop quiz: what was the National Post’s headline yesterday before the Blonde Bombshell struck? Answer: “Newfoundland Tories Waver”. For those who were paying close attention (and I was not among that elite group), strains and cracks were appearing in the Conservative caucus, just not from Belinda. The Newfoundland MPs in particular were uncomfortable about voting against the Liberal budget, probably because the budget is popular in Atlantic Canada, providing as it does billions of dollars of transfer payments regardless of the money Newfoundland and Nova Scotia rake in from petroleum royalties. Neither MP wanted to take the blame from their constituents for blowing down the Atlantic Accord.

After losing Belinda, Harper knew that other defections were possible, with the wavering Newfoundland MPs being the most likely suspects. But he’d backed himself into a corner: he’d committed himself to trying to bring down this government. He couldn’t back down without losing a lot of face. At the same time, he knew that if the Newfoundlanders bolted, not only would he lose the budget vote, but he’d have given the Liberals and the NDP a working coalition in parliament. You cannot recover from that sort of humiliation.

So, ultimately, this is a face-saving measure. By backing off on the budget but voting against the NDP amendment, Harper is saying (belatedly), “we support the budget. We just do not support the Liberals making side deals to desperately cling to power.” His Newfoundland MPs can say, “see? We tried to vote for the Atlantic Accord, but the Liberal deal with the NDP scuttled it. Blame Martin for making these side deals!”

Best yet, if the Liberals fall on the amendment vote this Thursday, Harper suddenly has a budget issue to campaign on, just like Martin. Whereas earlier Martin would have been able to say: “we had this good budget, but the Conservatives toppled it because they were playing politics!” The Conservatives can now say, “we liked this budget too, but we don’t think the deal to delay tax cuts was a good idea.” That makes Harper’s move a bit less like powergrabbing.

Of course, it would look a lot more convincing if Harper had taken this approach from the start, appearing to take the Liberals down on principle rather than a lunge for the brass ring, but his gambit may still play well beyond his base, and limit whatever advantages Martin hoped to take into the next election.

Blonde Ambition?

After having a day to consider Belinda Stronach’s defection, I feel especially sorry for the moderates of the Conservative party, such as Andrew at Bound by Gravity, who looked to Belinda as a means to move the party closer to the centre and more accurately reflect the aspirations of average Canadians. I suspect, with her departure, moderate members and MPs may be feeling many glares of suspicion on their backs from the true blue types, wondering if they will be the next ones to go.

Perhaps for this reason, the criticism from the moderates has been the loudest of all (although most haven’t taken the petty step of posting Belinda’s personal cell-phone number online). They feel really hurt and betrayed, and they don’t have the fall-back of saying, as the true blue types are saying, “well, we told you so. She wasn’t a real Conservative anyway.”

As an aside, some of the gender-specific swearing aimed at Belinda says more about the people using the epithets. Belinda has been called a dumb blonde, a bitch and a whore, and I’m absolutely certain that those invectives would not be sent her way if she were a man. Scott Brison didn’t receive this treatment.

But back to the moderates, who are calling her traitor: that’s a defensible and understandable epithet that will probably last a few months before it gets really tiresome. Her departure has been linked to her ambition, however; and I don’t think that’s a particularly fair or accurate statement.

Belinda was one of the people who brought Peter MacKay and Stephen Harper together to found the new Conservative party. Her performance as a neophyte in the inaugural leadership race assured her of a hefty cabinet post and a position as the most prominent woman in a Harper government. She was probably the odds-on favourite to replace Harper should he fail. As a Liberal, she enters an overpopulated field of leadership candidates, and her recent turncoat status puts her at a considerable disadvantage. Even with the transfer of her vote, there is still a good possibility that she’ll be at her new job as Minister of Human Resources for just 48 hours before it’s swept out from under her, and in the election that follows, there’s a good chance that she might find herself on the opposition benches again, assuming she can keep her seat in Newmarket-Aurora, which at this point sounds like the only safe bet she’s made.

Say whatever you like about Belinda’s thought processes, or her inability to form lasting relationships, but what’s motivating her is not ambition.

Recent articles, if they are to be believed, would seem to confirm that Belinda was pushed from the Conservative party by Harper’s paranoia and by the inability of the social conservatives to compromise with the more moderate factions within the party. With the Conservatives turning off mainstream Canadians with their stance on same-sex marriage, she may have the ability to say that she created a monster and she couldn’t reform it.

I hope she doesn’t go that route in campaigning, because it means we’re back to fearmongering. And that’s empty politics.

Ah, forget it! Let’s see what’s on television.

The Best Two Hours of Television I’ve Enjoyed in Quite a While

The Long Game

With The Long Game, Doctor Who came down slightly from Dalek, but only a little. What was left was an engaging hour of television — nicely paced, this time around — with a guest performance that was just the right shade of quirky, and a message that bludgeoned with a brick wrapped with a nice slice of lemon.

Leaving Van Statten’s compound with Rose and Adam in tow, the Doctor takes his two companions to the year 200,000, to the centre of the Great and Bountiful Human Empire. They land on Spacestation 5, the broadcasting centre of the Empire, and the Doctor allows Rose to pretend like she’s in charge to impress Adam. Very quickly, however, the Doctor figures out that something’s Not Right (tm).

He’s not the only one. A mysterious figure known as “The Editor”, senses a small discontinuity in the information being fed to him by the journalists on the station. In a nice piece of misdirection, he spends a lot of time looking at the Doctor and Rose before settling on Suki, one of the journalists. He promotes her to floor 500, where he is, and where people go, but never come back.

The Long Game was sold as the Doctor and company landing inside a reality show, but the reality is very different. This is a tale about the manipulation of the media. The parallels are more than obvious, but that doesn’t make the episode any less fun. The story holds together with a witty script (upon finally discovering that the Doctor and Rose are on board and that, more puzzling still, neither of them have identities, the editor says “we know what happens to non-entities, don’t we? They get promoted!”), the fine acting and directing that we’ve come to expect from this revival and, most importantly, Simon Pegg.

Yes, Simon “Shawn of the Dead” Pegg. He plays the editor, and he lends the roll a rich, quirky gravitas that is just delightful to watch.

Adam (a.k.a. “Adric II”) was also fascinating. An obnoxious and irritating companion, deliberately written as such, he lends the story wonderful comedy as he makes some of the most supremely stupid decisions imaginable. And he caps off the ending with a final belly-laugh-inducing gag that the original series was never able to achieve.

In many ways, The Long Game was Doctor Who’s take on Shawn of the Dead; the mix of quirky humour and horror, Simon Pegg, the surprising depth of this tale, all match up. There are even corporate zombies, who continue working at their posts long after their minds have died off. It’s a perfect story for winning over new audiences to the program, and hats off to Russell T. Davies for writing it.

But that wasn’t the best thing that was on this night.


Dave at Blogography sums up my feelings about House when he describes the show as well cast and well scripted, but entirely too formulaic for it to sustain itself. And he’s right. If the show had stuck to its formula, it would be dead by now. You can only bask in the unholy greatness of Hugh “flipping” Laurie for so long.

But in this episode, the writers played with the formula and delivered the best episode of the season. The story opens with Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) meeting his estranged wife. She’s come to him with a case: her new husband. He’s in pain and nobody else can find out what’s wrong, and only Dr. House can help him, but Dr. House is not sure he wants her new husband to live. He refuses the case. Then House meets with his boss, Dr. Cutty, who tells him to fill in for a sick doctor and give a lecture on diagnostic medicine to a room full of interns.

House does this reluctantly after a fun “negotiating” scene with Cutty wherein Cutty refuses to play by his rules. He enters the lecture hall and, after some thought, and starts telling them the story of three patients admitted to hospital with leg pain: a farmer who collapsed while working on his fence (possibly from a snake bite), a 16-year-old girl who pulled a tendon during vollyball practise, and a possible addict looking for a Demerol hit. One of these people is faking. But who?

The story flips in and out between the lecture hall and the cases as they’re being diagnosed. Laurie plays around with his storytelling, casting Carmen Electra in his fantasy retelling at one point, and bringing in the Interns to watch at others. The farmer may have been bitten by a poisonous snake. The 16-year-old girl may have tendinitus or depression. The possible addict is bleeding into his urine, and may not actually be faking his pain.

As the stories continue, House’s team, his Oncologist friend, and finally Dr. Cutty enter the lecture hall to listen in, because they sense something is up. And as House continues to tell his story, it becomes clear that the tale of the possible Demerol addict is himself, at the time he almost lost his leg due to an aneurysm.

And the story, which had been inducing belly laughs because of House’s playing with reality, hits us between the eyes as we walk through House’s pain, his desperate plea to be put into a coma to sleep through the worst of it, and his wife’s agonizing decision while he’s under to carry through with the surgery that House refused.

With this, House breaks out of its formula and focuses on what’s important, here: the interplay between the characters, and the sheer strength of Hugh “Flipping” Laurie’s performance. The show has proven that it’s got legs, and it should remain on television for years, if there’s any justice in this world.

Between the two, we had the best two hours of television in quite some time.

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