Monday, January 04, 2010
The Northern Magus?
We have reached one of those standoffs and somebody has to blink. The opposition has asserted the supremacy of Parliament, by demanding uncensored copies of documents in the Afghan detainee file. The Prime Minister has refused to cooperate. Instead, he has declared that Parliament sits at his convenience; and he can make it go away when he chooses.
When commentators on the right -- like Andrew Coyne -- declare that, "What the government has done is not illegal. It is merely wrong: an abuse of process, an insult to Parliament, another step on Parliament's long slide into irrelevance," it should be obvious that this is no minor bump in the road. Mr. Harper's gambit should come as no surprise. When the Conservatives threatened to go over Michaelle Jean's head a year ago -- if they did not get the answer they wanted -- the stage was set for what has now happened.
The problem is that there is a general perception -- at least among some members of the press and the public -- which has no basis in fact. Tim Powers declared in The Globe and Mail last week that "what few appreciate is that the guy likes to govern and arguably does it well." When 32 of the government's 60 odd bills die on the order paper, that's not governing. This standoff is not about governing; it is about control. A democracy --a real democracy -- spreads control around. For Mr. Harper, democracy is a constant annoyance.
Perhaps when he was in high school, the Prime Minister read Richard Gwyn's book on Pierre Trudeau, The Northern Magus. Gwyn concluded that Trudeau was an excellent showman, but not really a magician. The image of the prime minister as a magician would have appealed to a bright, awkward kid who felt his talents were unappreciated. Whatever the source of Harper's hunger for power, the fact is that magicians don't really make things disappear. It's all about sleight of hand and distraction.
That is why the opposition can't blink. They must not disappear. They must continue to meet -- in another place, as Mr. Coyne suggests. They should continue their investigation into prisoner abuse; and, as Mr. Harper seeks to pack the senate, they should repeat all the nasty things he has said in the past about that chamber being a resting place for party hacks. In fact, there is a great deal of damning evidence to be found in the Prime Minister's own words.
If necessary, the opposition should continue to meet during the Olympics. It would be a national embarrassment. But Mr. Harper has already been a national embarrassment in Copenhagen, where -- in an attempt to be seen as a magus -- he made himself disappear. In the end, the voters will have to show him to the stage door.