The Conservatives the Liberals can’t be bothered with
With myriad other worthy targets among Stephen Harper’s ministerial ranks, why must the opposition waste its time on Rahim Jaffer and Helena Guergis?
With the most reactionary and unpleasant cabinet in history facing them across the aisle, the opposition in Ottawa is consumed with two fallen Canadians of no public consequence. No wonder the public is rewarding Michael Ignatieff with poll numbers that rival Stéphane Dion’s.
Day after useless day, week after week, for all eternity, it seems, Mr. Ignatieff and his team waste their time and public resources trying to prove something, anything, that links Helena Guergis and Rahim Jaffer to the Prime Minister in a harmful way. The apparent needle, if it can be found in this haystack of wasted energy, is to cast doubt on Stephen Harper’s judgment in firing Ms. Guergis based on unconfirmed rumours. Presumably his judgment on other matters is impeccable.
This perverse strategy creates an unexpected and singular symmetry that may well earn a place in future Canadian school texts – perhaps the most ineffectual opposition in history facing the most dangerous government.
Look at the high-level democracy and sophisticated public policy debate that this pursuit offers. The Liberals are demanding the release of a letter about Ms. Guergis sent by Harper chief of staff Guy Giorno to Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson.
“Come on,” a senior Ignatieff official dares. “Let’s see that letter from Guy to Mary Dawson.” The Prime Minister's director of communications, Dimitri Soudas responds: “Come on, let’s see where the missing $40-million from the sponsorship scandal is.” For the freedom to conduct such an exchange, which makes the notion of childishness seem precocious, men and women have given their lives.
The Prime Minister’s real sin, of course, was appointing a minister for the status of women’s in a government that repudiates gender equity. But that’s par for the course in a government where the labour minister would love to destroy the labour movement, the justice minister promotes egregious injustice, and the environment minister watches CNN all day to learn the U.S. government’s latest environmental move.
These examples lead to the obvious question: Are Mr. Harper’s ministers damaging the public good more by doing nothing or, under orders from the Big Dog himself, by doing their worst.
The Canadian PressDefeated Tory MP Rahim Jaffer and disgraced former cabinet minister Helena Guergis, shown in a file photo, are a favoured target for Michael Ignatieff's opposition Liberals in the House of Commons.
I don’t pretend to know all his ministers. After all, from his original cabinet of 27 – “designed for work, not for show,” as he put it – the Prime Minister now finds he can’t do without the current 38 members. No one can say who most of them are or what they do because they are compelled to remain silent and invisible. But a few are a proud refection of Harper conservatism.
Look at the extraordinary riches the Liberals could choose from if they weren’t uncontrollably obsessed by Guergis-Jaffer:
Bev Oda, likely the worst CIDA minister in history and one of the few ministers who has ever publicly attacked the competence of her own public servants.
Peter MacKay, who repeatedly and categorically asserted that diplomat Richard Colvin was wrong about what happened to Afghan prisoners taken by Canadian soldiers.
Peter Kent, who looked shiftily into the camera and announced that Hillary Clinton’s famous statement rebuking our government on women’s health was personal and not official. I saw it with my own two eyes.
Jason Kenney, who’s made himself the court favourite of hate-mongers and Jewish community leaders by politicizing and cheapening the eternal fight against genuine anti-Semitism.
Rob Nicholson, whose idea of criminal justice is to do the exact opposite of what all authorities say actually works – adding billions to the budget in the process.
John Baird, who single-handedly makes a mockery of Parliament each and every day he’s in the House.
Lawrence Cannon – yes, that loose cannon Minister of Foreign Affairs – who, under the guidance of his Great Helmsman, has reduced Canada’s reputation in the world to somewhere lower than a snake’s belly.
Peter Van Loan, who is eagerly negotiating trade deals he doesn’t understand with Colombian human-rights abusers he warmly embraces.
And even though he’s not a minister, we mustn’t ignore Pierre Polievre – a one-man rat pack and the Prime Minister’s personal choice as his parliamentary assistant (there are no accidents), named by peers, the media, NGOs, the churches, professional associations, ethnic groups, civil society and 33 million other Canadians as one of the most insufferable, self-satisfied young men on Earth.
Some faithful readers may be blissfully unaware that Parliament has actually been on break this week. But alas, the honourable members return in a few days so the Liberals and Conservatives can continue their determined conspiracy to undermine respect for our governance system. What if they held an election and no one bothered to vote?
The public good, building a more just society, relief for the vulnerable – none of these are on the main parliamentary agenda. Game-playing, manoeuvring for petty advantage, preparing gotcha points for an election that both parties fear – these are the preoccupations of the government and opposition alike. There are many limits to democracy at the best of time, and these are not the best of times.