Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The potential for misuse of power by Harper's new majority government is a real threat.

A majority from a minority of voters. Harper needs to prove that he will not run roughshod over parliament and those who oppose him this time.
by Tom Thorne
Two distinct types of change emerged from the recent Canadian federal election.  A minority of voters (40 percent) produced a majority for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Then the majority of voters attempted to break the old rancorous patterns of the parliamentary impasse by giving the NDP the official opposition in parliament leaving the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois reeling in shattering defeats. 
The problem is the NDP has less clout than it had when the Liberals and the Bloc had more seats in the previous parliament. The majority given by 40 percent of voters to Harper means that we are now embarking on a tenuous experiment where we can only hope that  the Conservatives can be disciplined enough to listen to Canadians and realize that their majority is not a fully popular one when 60 percent of voters didn’t vote for them. 
Hopefully we won’t see the worst excesses from the Harper Conservatives of Lord Acton’s well known dictum that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. It may be wise to suspend any judgement until we see where Harper goes in the reintroduction of the budget. That will set the tone for the next session before the Summer recess.
Previous performance was not encouraging
However, given Harper’s performance in the past using his office as a presidential all-knowing centre there is a real need to keep a close watch on the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the party apparatchiks who manage it, as we venture into the world of a majority mandate created largely by vote splitting. 
Even in a minority situation Harper or his PMO minions dispatched Helena Guergis from cabinet and the Conservative caucus on trumped up charges later shown by the RCMP to be groundless. Although Guergis was not re-elected as an Independent Conservative this time, her case nevertheless, demonstrates how far the PMO will go even without a majority.
We all have seen for as long as Harper has been prime minister a style from the Prime Minister’s Office that is more presidential than parliamentary. This was especially true when he prorogued parliament twice to avoid meeting opposition concerns. Then there have been tight controls on the cabinet and what they can say to the press and to the public. It does not demonstrate an open dialogue or a transparency that should be a prerequisite in a democracy doing the public’s business using public funds. 
Finally there is the calculated destruction of political opponents besides those in Harper’s own caucus and cabinet. Former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was the brunt of vicious personal attacks for over two years and throughout the election by Harper’s propaganda machine. The attack ads unfortunately worked to destroy the public’s confidence in a Canadian of consequence. 
In addition, the Harper machine chopped up St├ęphane Dion, the previous Liberal leader. During the election the Conservative tried to stem Jack Layton’s rise by dredging up some 15 year old story about Jack’s visit to a massage therapist that the police were watching as a site of a bawdy house.
The lesson here is to watch what happens as the Harper Conservatives enjoy their victory and keep a close eye on the PMO types as they wallow in the power that comes with a majority. Hopefully they are aware that they need to be extra responsible and accountable to the majority that didn’t vote for them.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

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