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New' government showing its age

observor 69

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New' government showing its age
TheStar.com - columnists - `New' government showing its age

April 24, 2007
James Travers

Aging is inevitable even for governments that perpetually boast about being "new." Wear and tear, the revenge of rookie mistakes and the temptations of power all take their toll.

So it is that an administration still claiming to be in its prime now seems a little old and tired. At a time in the political life cycle when most governments are peaking in public opinion, Stephen Harper's is back about where it was on election day in January 2006 and keeps bumping up against the trust ceiling.

No single reason fully explains that reality. But somewhere in the mix now poisoning Conservative majority prospects are a pair of early appointments a more experienced prime minister wouldn't have made and Harper surely must now regret.

One is Gordon O'Connor, the defence minister in the news again over Canada's see-no-evil handling of Afghanistan prisoners. The other is Michael Fortier, the unaccountable senator who is also the unaccountable minister of the same big-spending, historically corruption-prone public works department that sheltered the Quebec sponsorship scheme.

It's said that no good political deed goes unpunished. Harper's generosity to a former arms industry lobbyist and loyalty to his former leadership co-chair inflate that axiom from warning to prophesy.

Predictable from the start, O'Connor's troubles would be bad enough if limited to huge new military spending that's already attracted Auditor General Sheila Fraser's close attention. But they are mushrooming to intolerable along with a prisoner controversy that suggests the minister is at best misinformed or at worst negligent.

Along with either misunderstanding or putting a jolly face on Ottawa's suspect arrangement with Kabul, the minister somehow missed that what happened at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq made humane treatment of detainees in Afghanistan a precondition for mission support here at home.

Even if O'Connor doesn't get it, Canadians grasp that our behaviour there is inextricably linked to our declared purpose of advancing human rights, democracy and rule of law.

With the exception of the few still clinging to delusions about how modern conflicts are resolved, most Canadians also understand that the way we treat others is principally about us. It reaffirms our values, declares how we expect our troops to be treated and offers hope to ordinary Afghans that the future won't be just a replay of the past.

A country both at war and rebuilding the armed forces requires a credible minister. Voters and taxpayers must have confidence that life-and-death decisions are being taken wisely and believe that there's nothing driving sole-source contracts beyond urgency.

It's also true – although not as seminal – that a "new" government still campaigning against the failures of the old must match actions to words. That's not happening and makes Harper a victim of his own contradictory commitments.

Having already diluted campaign promises to be accountable, Harper is now forced to defend public works contracts that don't pass the critical smell test, as well as the judgment of a minister who can't be questioned in the House of Commons and, in the perfect Conservative fixed-election-date universe, won't be until October 2009.

There's no proof that a pending $400 million public works contract was influenced by alleged corporate connections to Fortier. But Parliament is the appropriate place to ask those questions and others, like his curious decision to appoint a former Quebec separatist minister to head an inquiry focused on Liberal advertising spending.

Those sympathetic to the Prime Minister will note that he can't win. One minister is a problem because he's being hounded in the Commons and the other because he's out of reach in the Senate.

Those who aren't say Harper is in a box of his own making. His government would be less vulnerable on Afghanistan and more accountable to voters if the Prime Minister hadn't taken a flyer on O'Connor or breached trust by appointing Fortier to the Senate, cabinet and public works.

One option is a cabinet shuffle. A defence minister contributing to public uncertainty about a difficult mission would be heaved and Fortier would be told to get the necessary stamp of approval in the next by-election or step aside.

But a Harper weakness is that he won't admit mistakes. Just as he did when his campaign backroom wrongly accused then prime minister Paul Martin of supporting child pornography, Harper is prolonging the agony and eroding his own carefully crafted leadership image.

Prime ministers resist tossing ministers to the wolves fearing that feeding only encourages howling. But protecting the vulnerable only makes governments weak and old before their time.

James Travers's national affairs column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. jtraver@thestar.ca.

Even if you are a Conservative/Harper supporter you can see where Harper would be tempted to move O'Connor in a cabinet shuffle.
If we had a Defence Minister who could do a better job of explaining to the Canadian public why we are in Afghanistan one would hope support for the mission would increase.

This is written by the Star.  A very Liberal paper, and it shows in this peice.  There might be some points of truth in it, but its dated and its pro liberal point view makes its hard to read, and even harder to beleive.
If there is no election this spring, it would be a good time to replace O'Connor. This would leave the summer for the new MND to get up to speed, people's attention would be elsewhere, and, come fall, he/she would fit right in.

Hmmm, who's in trouble?

Afghanistan is a sovereign nation, we must let them BE sovereign over their own territory and people or we will soon be looked upon not as helping but conquering.

There is no legal reason why Fortier can not be a member of the caucus.  Someones just pissed that Harper included him and therefore they can not say that the Harper caucus has no representation from Montreal
Reccesoldier said:
There is no legal reason why Fortier can not be a member of the caucus. 

The question is not that Sen. Fortier is a member of his party's caucus, of course he is.  The point is that the Senator can not be questioned in the Commons regarding his Cabinet portfolio.  And as Senators do not represent individual constituencies, but (supposedly) provinces as a whole, there still is no representation from Montreal in the Conservative caucus.  But so what, there are a lot of cities, towns, and villages in Canada that do not have "representation" in the Conservative caucus or Cabinet.

The usage of caucus in Canada .... refers to all members of a particular party in Parliament, including senators, or a provincial legislature. In Canada, these members elect among themselves a caucus chair who presides over their meetings and is an important figure when the party is in opposition and an important link between cabinet and the backbench when the party is in government.

This is one of the few moves the Conservatives made that is bothersome to me. If they didn't win a seat in Montreal, c'est la vie. By throwing in a cabinet member from a house that isn't representative or elected is a slap in the face to those of us who try to believe in Electoral reform. And, perhaps I'll be the first to say it, (and yes, I started with a preposition) but why shouldn't the cabinet be made up of the MOST qualified/intelligent/charismatic people? The whole idea of representing every area of the country in cabinet is tenuous at best... just get the right person for the right job...

Blackadder makes a very good point re: representation in the HOC. This guy is supposed to be accountable to Parliament. If we're tooting the horn for electoral reform (Triple E etc) perhaps we should actually put people in positions where they are...

Equal (pop rep)
Effective (accountable)

Just my eighteen cents
>The point is that the Senator can not be questioned in the Commons regarding his Cabinet portfolio.

This is true.  And if Question Period were more than a "Gotcha!" game and it were impossible for questions to be answered by other people delegated to answer, I might include myself among those who GAS.  As the game is played now, it's an irrelevant point.  Fortier is not the first cabinet senator.
And as Senators do not represent individual constituencies, but (supposedly) provinces as a whole, there still is no representation from Montreal in the Conservative caucus.

Spoke too soon there, as Quebec (as in many things) is different than the other provinces.  The province of Quebec has 24 senate divisions which are constitutionally mandated.  In Quebec, Senate divisions are fixed and represented by one member, unlike other provinces where no such divisions legally exist.  Senators must also either own property worth $4,000 or maintain a residence in their division.  In all other provinces, a senate division is strictly an optional designation of the senator's own choosing, and has no real constitutional or legal standing.

Sen. Fortier is identified as the Senator for Rougemont senatorial division which is defined in the Consolidated Statutes of 1859 as: "The remainder of the County of St. Hyacinth, the Counties of Rouville and Iberville." The statement: "The remainder of the County of St. Hyacinth" refers to the description of the Saurel senate division limits.  (I don't know where that is though)

St Hyacinthe and Rougemont.... just off the island of Montreal - heading north east towards Quebec city.
Since an elected senator is soon to join the Red Chamber, the problem can be resolved  ;)

Actually, although Prime Minister Harper should be praised for trying to put the best and brightest people into his cabinet (remember a certain minister from BC?), the "gotcha" campaign will continue into the indefinite future. If there is no traction on this, then there will be the environment, or "fiscal imbalance", or Canada being too close/far/north of the United States or some other "problem de jour".

So far, the PM and his team have shown considerable skill stick handling legislation through the commons, so I will leave them to their job. When the time comes to consider their record I will look carefully at their record and what each party offers before casting my ballot.