We seem to be mired in the muck of the dark side of power-brokering which passes for political process in Ottawa these days, with the depressing details of perfidy acted out daily to the anxious jaws of a slavering media feeding frenzy. It seems at times we are doomed forever to be witnesses to a schismatic morality play in which there are no heroes — only villains groveling deeper and deeper into the national psyche like those devilish little bugs in the television advertisement which burrow under our toenails.

Except we seemingly have no antidote to protect us.

Stephen Harper stands by his vassal, Gurmant Grewal. To the Conservative leader there was no perfidy in the Conservative Member’s attempt through an intermediary to approach the Liberal Government seeking whatever he could get for trading the votes of him and his wife.

Grewal went to the subsequent meeting in Ujjal Dosanjh’s home wearing a wire, to secretly record the conversation he had with the Liberal Cabinet Minister and Tim Murphy, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff. There he tried to lure the Liberal representatives into absolute offers of a Cabinet post, a Senate appointment for his wife, and whatever other inducements he might squeeze from the powers that be.

In that endeavour he did not succeed, evoking only vague suggestions of potential rewards in the future should he and his wife cross the floor, thereby ensuring what Belinda Stronach had instigated just a few days before.

What he did come away with, were four hours of tape that did not exactly convict the Liberals of malfeasance, but did not exactly clear the governing party either.

What is clear from Mr. Harper’s stance is that a violation of personal trust is perfectly permissible in today’s political discourse and that there are no ethical considerations of importance that would constrict a member of parliament from setting up what amounts to a personal sting operation to entrap the opposition in political scandal.

It all seemed much more simple and clearer only a few decades ago.

There have always been two underlying values in the practice of politics in this country. One is trust between the people and those it chooses to govern them — trust between politicians of all parties that no matter who or how many were elected, Parliament was the place where all parties were concerned with the people’s business no matter from which perspective they bestrode an issue at any given time.

The second flows from the principle of trust between politicians — it is the principle of the political favour: I do one for you, and you owe me one in return. That made political horse trading possible. It created a practical and pragmatic escape hatch to get on with the people’s business. It allows the crossing of party lines on a particular issue, or trading off between the national governing party and a provincial governing party of a differing political stripe.

Thus it was that the late Joe Ghiz, then Premier of Prince Edward Island, earned his favours with Brian Mulroney when he came to the Prime Minister’s aid during intense negotiations between the Premiers over the now almost forgotten Meech Lake Accord. At the time, it may be recalled, Meech Lake was perceived as either a remedy for placating Quebec to hold Canada together, or a national sellout of Canadian unity. In any case it was an issue evoking vociferous debate all over the country.

Meech Lake failed but the country held. It didn’t matter; Mulroney owed one to Joe Ghiz. And soon an occasion arose where the Prime Minister could reward the Premier by returning the favour.

It began with the closure of the Summerside air base and the loss of several hundred mostly menial and low paying, but steady year-round jobs. Summerside was devastated by the federal announcement. There was loud and mostly useless debate in the provincial legislature. The pressure was on Joe Ghiz to do something, anything.

The Premier told Islanders he would personally go to Ottawa and demand action to reverse the decision. He boarded an aircraft with a small delegation and several local media folk. The next day he marched up to Parliament to the Prime Minister’s office with a gaggle of media representatives in tow. They set up outside the office as the Premier and Percy Downe — now Senator, then executive assistant to the Premier — went inside.

Joe Ghiz told me a couple of months before his death, what then ensued.

He and Percy Downe were ushered into the inner sanctum of the Prime Ministerial office by Stanley Hartt, then Brian Mulroney’s influential advisor and Chief of Staff in the PMO. Mulroney greeted the Premier, and then told him he didn’t have much time to give him, at the same time promising he would do “something.” Mulroney couldn’t say exactly what that “something” might be, but he assured the Premier he would make good on his word.

As Joe Ghiz recalled the encounter years later, Mulroney then rose to his feet and began to extend his hand, indicating the meeting was over.

“I knew the media were waiting for me just outside the door,” he recalled. “And I knew that if I left that office after the five minutes we had spent, I would have some difficulty justifying that I hadn’t been given the brush-off by the Prime Minister.”

“As the Prime Minister began his farewells, I could see Stanley Hartt’s arm reaching for the door. I knew if he reached that latch before I came up with something, we would be out of there. Hartt’s arm was just touching the latch when I said to the Prime Minister, “How are you making out with Clyde Wells these days?”

According to the Premier, it was 20 minutes or so before Mulroney finished his rant about the obdurate Clyde Wells, Premier of Newfoundland, who had bucked unanimous consent amongst the Provinces on the Meech Lake Accord with a negative vote in his Newfoundland legislature, causing the measure to fail.

Then, Joe Ghiz thanked the Prime Minister and went out to face the media horde with a statement that he and the Prime Minister had held deep and meaningful discussions that he felt confident would lead to some kind of solution for Summerside and Prince Edward Island.

Mulroney’s solution came some time later.

One evening Joe Ghiz answered the telephone. The voice on the other end of the line identified itself as Brian Mulroney. The two political friends exchanged pleasantries, and then the Prime Minister got to the purpose of the call.

“Remember, I told you I would do something about the air base,” said Mulroney.

“I do, indeed,” responded the Premier.

“Well, Joe, I’m over here in New Brunswick,” said Mulroney, “and I thought I might just come over in the morning and announce that we are going to build a tax centre in Summerside to replace some of those jobs you lost when we closed the air base. Think you can arrange something of a press conference for the announcement?”

Joe Ghiz allowed as how that could be arranged, and so it was that the building just recently named the Joe Ghiz Building Joe Ghiz Building came to Summerside with several hundred jobs, beginning an economic revival of the city that with the 700 or so jobs created at the old air base has made Summerside an economic force within the province.

What we have lost, it seems to me, is that sort of essential civility in our political discourse. Stephen Harper’s politics are grounded in a war-like ideological base that in turn has its roots in religious fundamentalism: a take-no-prisoners morality crusade in which any tactic, however immoral, justifies the end game of political power for its own sake.

It is a ruthless and heartless sort of politics dictated by the belief that Canadians can eventually be jammed into an ideological fit regardless of the social consequences, or the means employed to achieve the end.

Mr. Harper is a false prophet.