Sunday, May 02, 2010

A Question of Character

The day after Peter Milliken delivered his historic ruling on the Afghan prisoner file, the Prime Minister rose in the House and declared, "The government cannot break the law, it cannot order public servants to break the law, nor can it do anything that would necessarily jeopardize the safety of Canadian troops."

That comment led Don Martin, in The National Post, to opine:

Silly people. Have they learned nothing about this prime minister in the last four years? Mr. Harper allowing Bloc Quebecois MPs access to secrets deemed a threat to Canadian security? Never happen. And even if rival MPs are granted seek and find powers, any smoking gun detainee documents would be declared a matter of national security and never see the light of parliamentary day.

And Andrew Coyne, in Macleans, was having none of the prime minister's argument. Mr. Harper, he wrote, was trying to create "total strategic confusion."

. . . the whole argument's bogus. No one is asking the prime minister to break the law. The conflict of which he complains exists only in his head. This was a key point of the speaker's ruling: a law may impose a general prohibition on the release of certain documents, but unless it expressly states that the ban applies to Parliament, it doesn't. The presumption, that is, is in favour of parliamentary privilege.

When commentators on the right see through the prime minister's posturing, it is obvious that something is seriously amiss. Mr. Coyne has been skeptical of Mr. Harper's "conservatism" for some time. The late Dalton Camp saw through the ruse early. The prime minister is a libertarian, not a conservative; and his path to power has been -- and is -- a carefully managed bait and switch campaign.

It may be that Mr. Harper will conclude, with Falstaff, that "discretion is the better part of valour." It may turn out that there is no -- as Mr. Martin suggested -- "stink bomb somewhere in the paper mountain or sitting at the bottom of a shipping container en route from Afghanistan." If there is no damning evidence in the files, then Mr. Harper's contempt for his opponents has assumed pathological proportions. If there is a stink bomb in those files, we are all besmirched. In either case, the man should be removed in office.

It seems pretty clear that, in the next election, Mr. Harper will run as a competent and patriotic manager. It is now up to the opposition to reframe the debate. It comes down to a straightforward question: Is the prime minister a democrat? Or is he the man who would be king? It's all about character.

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