There is no love lost between Stephen Harper and Joe Clark. When Clark's official portrait was hung in the Centre Block four years ago, Stephane Dion and Paul Martin attended the ceremony. But, breaking with tradition, Harper managed to be away in Europe.
So, when Clark came out in support of Theresa Spence last week, it's a sure bet that Mr. Harper was not pleased. Michael Harris writes:
But for a former prime minister, and a Conservative one at that, to pay his respects to Chief Spence presents a challenge to the sitting PM. After all, Harper has shown himself to be the Tin Man of Canadian politics, a calculator on two legs who lacks a heart. You get the feeling he would rather have a root canal than a discussion with someone who had a beef with him.
Instead, Harper enlisted Senator Patrick Rousseau to carry his water. Rousseau told Spence she should call things off. But he's in the Prime Minister's pocket. And his relationship with First Nations organizations these days are rocky:
This is the guy who effectively called a CP reporter a bitch, who dubbed the former native organization he headed up a “Mickey Mouse” operation, and who is now suing that same organization — which he says should cooperate with him as a Canadian senator. Brazeau claims that Theresa Spence isn’t a good role model for native kids. Maybe Justin Trudeau punched him a little harder than anyone knows.
Mr. Harper won't come to a premiers' conference. Why should he meet with Chief Spence?
And so Stephen Harper has placed his bet. It is clear from his strategy that he believes he will be going neither to a meeting nor a funeral and that sufficient pressure can be brought to bear on Chief Spence that she will voluntarily discontinue her hunger strike. That is why he has placed the prestige of Leona Aglukkaq and Patrick Brazeau squarely on the barrelhead by having both of them support the government’s position.
If Harper is right, his victory will be, at best, a partial and temporary one. Yes, there will be people who will praise his steadfastness on matters of protocol as a sign of leadership. But those will mostly be white people who are simply tired of wrestling with the profound issues raised by Chief Spence.
Harper is betting that Theresa Spence -- and the problems she personifies -- will go away. He doesn't understand the desperation of Canada's native peoples. The man at the top is truly out of touch.