rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Everyone liked Flaherty, but Poilievre is true face of Harper's government

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Image: flickr/pmwebphotos

Everybody, we now discover, liked or admired Jim Flaherty. Even those who strongly disagreed with his policies -- and many of those policies merited intense criticism -- had warm words of praise for the man himself. The longer he remained in public life the more human and self-effacing he seemed to become. Sure, the elbows were always en garde just in case, but good humour became his most effective weapon. If he looked like a leprechaun, he was glad to play the role to the hilt -- impish, mischievous, a bit of a devil, sure, but the good kind. As Jeffrey Simpson wrote, "He could actually tell a joke, including on himself, which made him stand out in a government that is utterly without humour."

Both allies and opponents testify to his increasing willingness to work together with others. Several former Quebec finance ministers, non-Conservatives every one, all talked positively of their relations with Mr. Flaherty. Ontario's Finance Minister Charles Sousa, a Liberal, agreed: "One of the things I most admired and respected about Mr. Flaherty was his determination to find, where possible, some common ground."

Conservative MP Kellie Leitch underlined the point: "He reached out across Canada, across party lines, across business and labour to seek consensus and advance fairness." Kevin Sorenson, an Alberta Conservative MP, called him "a champion listener."

And though his policies were often ideologically-driven and damaging, his Conservative colleagues stressed his caring nature. Jason Kenney, for example, noted that despite his toughness, Mr. Flaherty showed his party how to mix compassion and practicality with conservative ideals.

So everyone liked Jim Flaherty, for a whole gamut of good reasons. At his state funeral, the Prime Minister had some fun with this: "It is a fact that Jim, as fiercely partisan as he was, was also genuinely liked and respected by his opponents, liked by his enemies. That's something in this business, something I envy -- I can't even get my friends to like me." So Jeffrey Simpson was wrong about the Harper government being "utterly without humour." Statistics Canada reports that this was the fourth joke Stephen Harper had cracked since winning office but because of cutbacks cannot find the first three.

There are some obvious questions that beg to be asked here. Is there a single other member of the Harper government, including the leader himself, whose passing would elicit the response that Mr. Flaherty's did? Is there a single other Harper cabinet minister who would be eulogized by the entire country? How many other government ministers are "genuinely liked and respected" by those beyond the Conservative base?

Who else is known for a sense of humour? Who else has self-deprecating wit? Who else is known for compassion? Who else is a "champion listener"? Who else regularly seeks common grounds with their opponents? Who else is admired by their provincial counterparts? Who else, in Kellie Leitch's words, "reached out across Canada, across party lines, across business and labour to seek consensus and advance fairness"?

Is it not curious? If Mr. Flaherty's own Conservative colleagues understood that these were endearing characteristics, why did none of them -- not one of them -- adopt those characteristics? This is a government passionately committed to not reaching out, to not seeking consensus. This is a government that scorns fairness and honour. In Lawrence Martin's words, Mr. Harper is "known more for his classless smear campaigns against opponents than any degree of soft-heartedness". You have to wonder how and why Jim Flaherty tolerated it for so long.

And wasn't he a bit miffed that, despite his cabinet colleagues unbounded esteem for him, they're going to proceed with the retrograde income-splitting policy that Mr. Flaherty repudiated shortly before he retired?

The truth is that this is a government whose public face, whose brand, is most accurately represented not by Jim Flaherty but by Pierre Poilievre.

The Prime Minister is right about one thing, though. He can't even get his friends to like him. Here's how one of his once-close advisers, Tom Flanagan, now recalls Mr. Harper: "He can be suspicious, secretive and vindictive, prone to sudden eruptions of white-hot rage over meaningless trivia....I feared, as I still do, that he might some day bring himself down Nixon-style by pushing too hard against the network of rules constraining authority in a constitutional government…[Like Richard Nixon, he] believes in playing politics right up to the edge of the rules, which inevitably means some team members will step across ethical or legal lines in their desire to win for the Boss."

Yet like his entire government, Stephen Harper understands perfectly well what made Jim Flaherty admirable as man and politician. It's just that he and his government choose to operate in precisely the opposite way. The Prime Minister has chosen the Poilievre Way. Too bad for Canada.

This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail.

Image: flickr/pmwebphotos

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.