This week, the Harper government began walking two more civil servants -- Veterans Ombudsman Col. Pat Stogran and RCMP Chief Superintendent Marty Cheliak -- to the exits. Both men were charged with holding the government accountable for its actions -- something Mr. Harper claimed he and his party stood for, without exception.
But that was before Mr. Harper became Prime Minister. Now Stogran and Cheliak join a long list of people who were fired or let go because they did their jobs. Meanwhile, Mr. Harper has retreated to his bunker, staying out of the limelight, while other ministers -- like Tony Clement and Stockwell Day -- take the heat for his decisions.
What is interesting is that this is nothing new. In his book, Think Big: My Adventures in Life and Democracy, Preston Manning recounts how Stephen Harper simply had a hard time working with others. Manning writes, for instance, of how Harper objected to the appointment of Rick Anderson as the Reform Party's campaign director. Anderson had supported the Charlottetown Accord; and Harper simply didn't trust him. But it went beyond that. Anderson was Harper's intellectual equal. And, Manning wrote, Harper
had difficulty accepting that there might be a few other people (not many, perhaps, but a few) who were as smart as he was with respect to policy and strategy. And Stephen, at this point, was really not prepared to be a team player or team builder.
Mr. Harper has never been one to work collaboratively. Manning recounts how, in 1992, he quit as the party's Chief Policy Officer to concentrate on his own election campaign. This was "a blow to our overall campaign effort, and it put more of a burden on those who had to fill the gap left by his withdrawal." Despite his desertion, Harper was one of 52 Reformers elected to Parliament in 1993.
But, as another election approached in 1996, he began to fear that the team, which he had done so little to build, was going to lose:
Rather than pitching in to help turn things around [Manning wrote] Stephen again chose to withdraw. This was now the third time that Stephen had vacated the field prior to a battle -- the first time when he retreated from our Charlottetown Accord campaign, the second time when he withdrew from the 1993 national election campaign to concentrate solely on his own riding.
And six months prior to the election, Harper resigned his seat and went back to Calgary, to become the head of the National Citizens Coalition, where the only other person who worked in the organization's office was his secretary.
Those who know Stephen Harper best -- those who have worked with him from the beginning -- long ago reached the conclusion which Andrew Coyne voiced this week in the pages of Macleans:
And the Prime Minister? Consider how his image has changed over the years. Once he was viewed as rigid, but upright; doctrinaire, but with a certain integrity. Over time that gave way to a more Machiavellian cast. Perhaps it was true, it was said, that he would do anything and say anything to hold on to power, but you had to admire his cunning.
But now? After so many miscues, unforced errors, too clever tricks and utter botch ups, does anyone still cling to the "strategic genius" view of Stephen Harper?
Holden Caulfield had a simpler, more direct phrase to describe people like the Prime Minister. He is, to put it plainly, a "phony."