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.


Colette Amelia said...

The sad thing is the average voter who knows nothing about politics and governing think he is great!!!! And that is sad indeed.

Where do we go from here? How bad does it have to get?

Thanks for your thoughts it is encouraging to see there are some who see the wrong that is being done.

Owen Gray said...

It seems to me that the opposition parties are going to have to cooperate with each other and present a united front.

This does not mean they should engineer a formal coalition. But it does mean that they will have to make Mr. Harper the target, instead of each other.

djn said...

Your point about the misperception of Harper being good at governing is well taken.

The same goes for this notion about Harper being "clever." He's not clever at all - everything he does is completely obvious and transparently machiavellian. We all know he's trying to dodge every bullet possible and situate himself for springing an election where he wins a majority. Clever would be doing this without trampling all over democratic norms and customs, violating laws, slandering opponents, and exhibiting extreme degrees of control freakery within his own party. And the two times he really saw the precipice (with the coalition and with the torture scandal) he prorogued.

Clever? I don't think so. Lucky? Yes - because there hasn't been an opposition of any merit for the past four years.

Chrystal Ocean said...

Good post. Agree with Colectte. Average Canadian is either oblivious or couldn't care less what's happening in Ottawa. As long as the people believe, without effort at investigation, that our party and electoral systems deliver democratic representation, they'll do nothing. In which case, they get the government and dictator they deserve.

Owen Gray said...

Mr. Harper's constant need to over reach makes him his own his own worst enemy. Whenever his numbers get into majority territory, he always trips over himself. No, "clever" isn't the right word.

And yes, Chrystal, we get the leaders we deserve. Our opposition leaders have not been particularly stellar of late -- and, when it comes to Mr. Harper, well . . .

ChrisJ said...

I've heard in the last couple of days that his popularity numbers are slipping. Here's hoping!

Owen Gray said...

Mr. Harper has assumed -- once again -- that he can do as he wishes. If the opposition parties are wise, they will use this time to present another version of what we can and should be. More on that next week.