Friday, June 12, 2009

Paul Wells nails it: the real shame in the Raitt scandal

Yesterday I wrote and complained about Raitt's approach to policy. Paul Wells today makes a similar, though fuller and more subtle, point today (link):
There’s no point getting on too much of a high horse about all this. Everybody likes to get credit, and in politics when you enhance your reputation by doing good it puts you in a position to do more good. But that conversation was recorded in January. And since it is now five months since Raitt was so eager to be thanked, it would be cheering if she had done more in that time that deserved thanks. No such luck: Chalk River was shut down after she made these comments, it remains shut down, and there is no reason for optimism about its chances of starting back up any time soon.
Wells extends his analysis to make a sociological observation about the nature of minority government:
This is how it goes lately in Ottawa. We are now five years into a string of successive minority governments that began when Paul Martin nearly lost the 2004 election. There is no reason to expect the winner of the next election to have a majority either. It could be Stephen Harper, it could be Michael Ignatieff, but neither will command a majority in the House. So the distinguishing feature of post-Chr├ętien Canadian politics—its precariousness—will continue.

Which means just about every parliamentarian will continue to spend part of the day thinking the way Lisa Raitt did on that tape. Will your staff shield you on the issues? Or will you roll the dice and hope for all the credit? It’s all about jockeying for position, because in a state of constant combat readiness, position is all you have. In government you can’t plan, because in six months you might no longer be the minister. In opposition you can’t say what you would do differently, because even if you know, you need to keep it under wraps until the campaign that’s eternally around the corner.
This is, of course, correct. But just because there is this danger implicit in minority governments doesn't mean that it we can't hold someone responsible. Who?
Note that this eternal short-term memory syndrome isn’t the certain fate of any minority Parliament. Just this one. Stable minorities have often formed, in various provinces or in Ottawa’s past, when a governing party could reach out to one or two other parties. But Stephen Harper doesn’t trust anyone enough. He keeps power and authority too close to him to build stable relationships with any of his opponents. In fact, he keeps his own ministers out of the loop on any serious issue. Bureaucrats in the ministries talk about getting “the full Langevin,” when the Prime Minister’s staff in the Langevin Block, across the street from the House of Commons, take over a hot file and push a minister’s department out of the way.