Harper: Making Martin look good

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After a week of high parliamentary drama, it is fitting to assess the performance of the players.

The leading role was taken by Conservative leader, Stephen Harper. He demanded a vote of confidence, but failed to get a parliamentary majority against the government. Usually cast as Achilles sulking in his tent, Harper has been in the front lines calling for full scale combat. Nothing less than an immediate general election would satisfy him.

The motives of the Bloc Quebecois in joining Harper's call for an election were being scrutinized by Conservative party sage and former Ontario premier, Bill Davis. Belinda Stronach was listening. But Harper was ready to ignore the national unity file in order to advance his parliamentary ambitions, not the best way to audition for the role of prime minister.

Judging from his comments about his Liberal adversaries, now numbering among them Belinda Stronach, who crossed the floor over a series of policy disagreements — about the budget as well as strategic concerns surrounding Quebec — Harper looks to suffer from the worst of character flaws in a politician: excessive hubris.

Every opinion poll is showing Canadians do not want an election. Harper pays these no attention.

Listening to him explain the departure of Stronach as a case of her looking to fulfil leadership ambitions as a Liberal that she was denied as a Conservative, smacks of “I know more than she does about what she wants.”

Generally, this is not recommended as a way of working with others, obviously, but in politics it is fatal.

By definition the political process requires accommodating oneself to the views of others: the public, allies and adversaries. Being “smarter” than everybody else gets you nowhere.

What works in politics is knowing what you stand for, taking account of what others are saying, and positioning yourself and your party accordingly.What Harper is saying is, “I know the Liberals are corrupt and unfit to govern: look at the Gomery inquiry; see how Liberals are prepared to spend money to make the NDP happy; therefore we need an election.”

This will not work. Instead he needs to assess how he can make the public want an election they do not want.

In fact, as was widely noted, by denying him an election the House of Commons took him off the hook. Entering the lists with the prospect of finishing second again would have endangered his leadership.

Harper is doing his best to make Paul Martin look good. Here is a prime minister whose achievements to date were well summed-up by Mulroney cabinet minister, Don Mazankowski (as related to me by a longtime Liberal operative): So far, Martin has managed to unite the right, reactivate the Bloc, and divide his own party. Not a bad start, eh?

In order to get himself out of a mess of his own making, Martin had to rely upon the New Democrats who helped him rewrite his budget so there was something in it for Canadians. In the process he has reminded voters why it is a good idea to elect New Democrats to Parliament.

With the media spotlight shining, people are more able to see what Jack Layton has to offer and assess the concern for others that has motivated his career in politics. His respect and understanding of Parliament stand out, in contrast to the Conservative leader.

If Harper goes back to his tent to sulk, and Martin continues his hapless ways, maybe more people will want to hear from the NDP leader.

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