When the opposition demanded the Finance Minister's resignation last week, the prime minister had a curious response. "I cannot fire the Leader of the Opposition," he opined, "and with all the tapes I have on him, I do not want to." When under pressure, Mr. Harper displays his dark side. He is a man who sees enemies on all sides -- a man who likes to portray himself as a victim -- a mean spirited man, who has always had a chip on his shoulder.
Given the job the Conservative War Room did on Stephane Dion, the current round of attack ads -- which rely heavily on clips of Ignatieff functioning outside Canada -- were to be expected. What they reveal, however, is not an arrogant Leader of the Opposition, but a government which is intellectually bankrupt. Like the Fathers of the Church, when presented with Galileo's evidence that the universe did not operate on the rules they assumed were self evident, the Conservatives have retreated into noisy denial and attacked the man, instead of rethinking their theology.
For the real issue, as Lawrence Martin wrote last week in The Globe and Mail, is credibility. "In the case of the Finance Minister," he declared, "it's hardly in abundant supply." One only needs to add that Mr. Flaherty has been absolutely true to form. As Ontario's Minister of Finance -- despite his assurances to the contrary -- he left the province with a $5.5 billion deficit.
It's true that making predictions in a recession is difficult. As Bob Rae has testified, the numbers at least at the beginning -- keep getting worse. The problem has been that Flaherty refuses to acknowledge that fact. During the election campaign, and immediately after it, he refused to acknowledge that there even was a recession.
The truth, of course, is that Flaherty is a front man. It is Harper who considers himself the government's economic guru. And it is Harper who has failed to understand what is happening. So there will be no resignations. Faced with immediate execution, the Prime Minister might change course. But his behaviour in November suggests that he would rather prorogue Parliament than face it. Until then, his defense will be to call Mr. Ignatieff names -- the same technique he used against Mr. Dion.
Mr. Harper, according to some, is a very smart man. Unfortunately, his education has been very narrow and not very deep. He is not a man given to critical self examination. He embodies Franklin Roosevelt's definition of a conservative -- someone, "with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward."