Stephen Harper found himself fighting battles on several fronts this week. First, there was the controversy surrounding the insurance policy which two senior Conservative operatives allegedly offered independent MP Chuck Cadman shortly before he died in 2005. Harper maintains that Cadman was offered "financial considerations" to help him pay election expenses, if Cadman's vote to defeat Paul Martin's Liberals forced Cadman to run in the next election. But whether Cadman was offered an insurance policy or money to pay election expenses is immaterial. The whole story doesn't pass the smell test. Cadman had been evicted from the Alliance Party, the original vehicle which Harper rode to the leadership of the new Conservative Party of Canada; and the new party had already chosen its candidate to run against Cadman. Why would the Conservatives offer financial support to their rival? The implication is that Harper, or envoys acting as his agents, were trying to buy Cadman's vote. When the Liberals had the gall to level that charge, the Prime Minister vowed that he would see them in court.
Then there was the leak of a memo from the Canadian consulate in Chicago, claiming that, while Barack Obama was threatening to reopen NAFTA, he really wasn't serious about it. The memo led to charges that Canada was interfering in the American Democratic primary. When ABC News released the story that Obama's apparent duplicity on NAFTA originated with Ian Brodie, Harper's Chief of Staff, Harper denied the claim -- until it was verified. Now, he says, he will investigate everyone connected to the leak. As James Travers noted in the Toronto Star, discretion is the soul of diplomacy; and, while the Harper government is not the first to throw discretion to the winds, the whole affair suggests diplomacy is not this government's strong suit.
And, two nights ago, Dan McTeague's private member's bill (which offered parents an annual $5000 tax break for each of their children who eventually attended institutions of higher learning) passed the house. The cost of the program was estimated at one billion dollars a year. Claiming that the government didn't have "money to throw around" the Conservatives vowed to kill the bill in the Senate -- a body they want to abolish. Having decreased the government's revenue stream by $10 to $12 billion a year after cutting the GST 2 percent, Mr Harper and his associates claim that the cupboard is bare. They know how to cut costs. But this government, led by a professional economist, doesn't know how to invest in the country's future.
More and more, these folks are beginning to look like The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. Despite their sound and fury, their wounds are self inflicted. A recent Canwest Global poll suggested that one in three Canadians believes Harper is lying when he claims that he knew nothing specific about the offer made to Cadman. Mr. Harper is someone who insists that everything the government does be routed through his office. It's hard to believe that he was unaware of what was going on behind the scenes with any of these files. However, knowledge and judgment are two different things. One does not necessarily proceed from the other. And trying to mask that fact with half truths merely calls attention to one's shortcomings.
The last Conservative Prime Minister of Canada developed a reputation for embroidering the truth. That reputation haunts Brian Mulroney to this day. As Lawrence Martin wrote this week in The Globe and Mail, "it's hard to give the government the benefit of the doubt. . . its credibility is suspect." Like Samson in Milton's poem, Mr. Harper could bring the whole edifice down around his ears.