I have been surprised at how the David Emerson story has had legs. When I posted my initial reaction, I predicted that the story would be dead by the end of the week. Well, the end of the week has passed, and is the story dead? Nope. Various factors have conspired to keep the story in the news, from the fact that it’s been a relatively slow-news week in Canada, to the drip-drip-drip of angry Conservative reactions (including the pressure brought to bear on Garth Turner after he spoke out) on Harper’s apparent hypocrisy.
And we haven’t really gotten into the issue of the three other controversial appointments to cabinet, including an unelected Senator appointed after Harper promised Senate elections and a Justice Minister who’d been previously convicted of violating the Manitoba Elections Act.
All told, the Harper Conservatives have been given the first week of the true media glare that governments receive, and it hasn’t been kind to them. I’m reminded of the rookie mistakes made by the Bob Rae government during the first six weeks of its administration. It really set the tone for their next four years in power. And these guys had a majority term to correct things, but were unable to shake off the sense of constant incompetence that dogged them, even though I believe Bob Rae gave us the best government that was possible in Ontario at the time.
What has been heartening, even though it has helped perpetuate the story, is the number of true-blue Conservatives who are standing by their principles. What has been discouraging, is the number of partisan Conservatives who have attacked their brethren and have defended Harper’s move as “just how politics is done in this country.” To insult those who would criticize their leader, they have called the doubters “Liberals”.
Well, let’s give the Liberals credit, here. The Liberals have governed this country for most of the twentieth-century by having a very good sense of what the electorate wants. They’ve poached NDP, Conservative and Reform policies both out of a sense of pragmatism (this is what works for Canada) and out of political opportunism (this won’t work, but it will give us votes). The Liberals have always had incredible survival instincts. They pulled a prominent Conservative MP across the floor to save their skin during a confidence vote. They pulled off twelve years of a dynasty when they really deserved far less.
The Liberals would not make rookie mistakes such as this most of the time (Paul Martin is a different type of Liberal), setting a bad tone for themselves at the beginning of a parliamentary session. The Liberals would know how to manage this story.
And it is against the Liberals that most Canadians have voted. After twelve years, they are sick of a party that governs without principles, that is out for power more than for what is best for their constituents. That uses cabinet perks to entice unprincipled opposition members to cross the floor. That says “screw you” to anybody who dares to speak out.
Emerson essentially perpetrated a fraud on the voters of Vancouver Kingsway, and Harper cared not a whit for that in accepting Emerson into the cabinet. The fact that I thought this story would be dead by now was a type of cynicism on my part. The fact that I’ve been proven wrong is, ironically, a sign of hope in the electorate that they aren’t willing to take politics as usual. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that, although Harper has stabilized his government and gained cabinet representation for Vancouver, he has turned his back on a Canadian electorate that turned to him to give us something different in government. In this respect, in ignoring the wishes of the electorate, in caring for power moreso than principle, Harper has shown himself to have the political sensibilities of a Liberal.
And that’s not a compliment.