Stephen Harper must be wondering if he is losing control of his caucus. First there was Edmonton East MP Peter Goldring ranting about Louis Riel being a “villain” and then there was Helena Guergis foul-mouthing her way through the airport in Charlottetown behaving like Marie Antoinette. Harper could not have been pleased.

One of the prime minister’s greatest accomplishments (if it can be called that) has been controlling the gaggle of mouth-breathers and bottom-feeders who still occupy parliamentary seats for the Conservatives. A lot of the Conservative MPs are old Reform Party members and they are not a pretty bunch. Preston Manning was pretty good at controlling them but every once in a while they get free of their leashes and run wild on topics ranging from abortion, to forcing gay employees to work at the back of the restaurant if they offended customers.

Harper has shut these Neanderthals up but good. I keep expecting to see a photo of MP Myron Thompson (Alberta Reformer) with his lips sewn shut. Whatever Harper has threatened these people with is just as affective. Red neck Myron hasn’t uttered a word in four years — at least not one that any one has reported. Maybe one of them will reveal the secret when they retire.

It was interesting to see how quickly Harper (or rather his press flak, pit bull Dimitri Soudas) distanced the government from Goldring’s ranting. Goldring put out a pamphlet to his constituents to set the record straight on the Metis founder of Manitoba. “Riel didn’t `Father’ Confederation; he fought those who did,” said the ill-informed Goldring. He didn’t stop there: “To unhang Louis Riel and to mount a statue to him on Parliament Hill would elevate anarchy and civil disobedience to (the level) of democratic statesmanship.”

Apparently no one told Goldring that Riel is considered a hero in Quebec — a province where his leader is already in trouble because of his climate change position and cuts to culture. The PMO did not need another insult to drive him down in the polls. Soudas’s apology left no room for interpretation: “This document is absolutely not … an initiative of our government or our party. This is a personal initiative of MP Goldring which we strongly disapprove of.”

But let’s be clear: the disavowal had nothing to do with affection for Riel or the Metis vote. Harper’s long-time mentor and one time political advisor and campaign director, Thomas Flanagan, more accurately reflects Harper’s attitude towards Riel. A one-time on authority on Metis history, Flanagan is now known among the Metis for his vicious slanders against Riel and his very selective use of historical facts to suggest that second Riel Rebellion was little more than the personal vendetta of a mad man. Literally no one in the academic world supported his position but it fit well with the Reform Party’s racist core “values” when he was expressing it.

As for Guergis, the NDP and Liberals have called for her dismissal as junior minister for the status of women. Guergis reflects the Harper government’s contempt for the law — when anyone wants to apply it to him or his government. This is not just a personality disorder (though it may be that, too). Guergis’ nasty and foul-mouthed assault on Air Canada and airport employees is completely consistent with this government’s conviction that they are above the law. Just as the government is spending over a billion dollars to tighten security at airports, Guergis demanded that even existing security measures (taking off her shoes) be waived for her. When she finally had to comply, she declared: “‘Happy f-king birthday to me. I guess I’m stuck in this hellhole.'” That’s the charming, laid-back Charlottetown she was talking about. When she got to the gate she yelled at Air Canada employees (telling them “I’ve been down here working my ass off for you people.”) Then she tried to push through locked doors to get to the plane which was being closed to more passengers — whereupon she unleashed her mouth once again, this time against security personnel.

Anyone else would have been arrested.

These glitches may just be aberrations and Harper will no doubt try to lay down the rules once again. But it may also be that his MPs and ministers are wondering why they should be careful not to make mistakes when their leader makes even bigger ones — like the last one which has them stuck eight points lower in the polls. It’s a lot easier to keep your troops in line when they think their future is safe in your hands. Once that belief starts to falter, anything can happen.


Murray Dobbin

Murray Dobbin was's Senior Contributing Editor. He was a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over 40 years. A board member and researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy...