The road to the 2015 Federal General Election is paved with unanswered political questions for the Harper Government.
by Tom Thorne
These days I keep saying Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s current media and the potential for positive voter responses are pretty good for a PM coming to the end of a mandate. His media relations are quite well managed at least on the international stage.
He’s had good press in China and at the G20 Summit held in Brisbane. He looks like a leader with moxy when he tells Vladimir Putin to get out of the Ukraine. Usually by this time a Prime Minister (PM) has worn out his welcome after almost five years in office. He also he won the by-elections last week in Oshawa and Yellowhead.
Fortunately for Stephen Harper the media and the public appear to have short memories about the PM’s recent experiences. It seems that the scandal pots are currently off boil but some big items now in limbo are coming up to the front of the stove.
The first one is the upcoming Spring 2015 trial of Mike Duffy. You remember him, the Senator who managed to get a $90,000 personal gift from Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright. Mr. Wright just personally decided to give Mr. Duffy the money he needed to pay back his allegedly improperly booked Senate of Canada expenses. Of course it was 100 percent a Nigel Wright decision as we know.
Whether Nigel Wright resigned or was fired by the PM after this mis-step no one is quite sure. Mr. Wright’s actions seem out of character given his heavy weight credentials in the business world before taking over the PMO. He remains unscathed at this time by charges from the RCMP investigation into this sorry affair. However he will likely be called as a witness for the Mike Duffy trial.
Who knew about all of this in the PMO still remains an open point. The PMO was porous enough with many staffers knowing about the Mike Duffy deal as they implemented it for Nigel Wright. However, despite a widespread knowledge of the deal, the PM himself managed to stay out of the fray with an almost angelic yet strangely obscure innocence. The Duffy affair orbited the PMO and the PM for several months so was he in the know about the deal’s final cut? He lied to Parliament if the answer is yes.
The PM’s evasive and obscure answers about Duffy and Wright during Question Period still resound as an enigma wrapped inside a conundrum. Mr. Harper was probed whenever he was in the House of Commons with uncommonly hard precision by New Democratic Leader Tom Mulcair. He weathered Mr. Mulcair’s inquisition, but not without doubts being raised about his knowledge of the Duffy-Wright events. Those doubts remain although softened by the wiles of time.
Mike Duffy’s trial may very well open up these old questions. Answers under oath could bring the PM’s obscurities into a clearer light. The PM and PMO staffers who know the details could summoned to appear on Mr. Duffy’s witness lists and perhaps one of them could even be the PM himself. This is one of the reasons why the election will be in the early Spring before the Mike Duffy debacle begins in earnest.
The Americans are still mulling over the Canadian built pipeline that will bring Alberta crude to refineries on the US Gulf Coast. The Republican House of Representatives and the outgoing Senate voted for the pipeline and lost by one vote for the necessary 60 percent to carry it several days ago.
President Barack Obama may have exercised his veto had their legislation passed. It is not over. The new Republican held Congress will likely go at it again. This situation still contains a lot of concern in Ottawa and Alberta until those elected in the US midterm elections take their seats and they try the pipeline vote again. Of course the decision about what President Barack Obama will finally do is up in the air.
Alberta can only see more difficulties to ship their crude oil in the medium term. It will mean, of course, that more crude will be shipped by railway tanker across Canada through to Eastern Canada. The idea of a pipeline to the Pacific coast can only resurface during the 2015 election with a lot of opposition from British Columbia, native bands and communities where the pipeline runs.
A US presidential veto on this file or any procedural Congressional hold up is a lose for the Harper Government here in Canada. Also the price of crude oil is low at the moment and so Alberta and Ottawa revenues are down with a need to show a surplus for the 2015 federal general election this adds stress. And so it is with resource-based economies.
The Conservative strength in Alberta is losing opportunity if their oil cannot get to market. On the other side until other Canadian pipelines are constructed or upgraded moving Alberta crude will remain the task of using more risky railway cars. It will be hard to defend this situation with memories of the Lac Mégantic fire and 47 dead in the election equation.
Handing out election year goodies like the recent income tax sharing scheme will be harder to fund unless other departments are cut back. This is not a good situation during an election year when the Harper Government is determined to hand out goodies and balance the annual federal government budget while doing so.
The late Jim Flaherty, Mr. Harper’s former finance minister before he died recently, opposed this income tax sharing plan. Obviously Mr. Harper thinks its a good idea. Cutting or lowering taxes always makes a right wing government look as if it hasn’t strayed too far off the less government in your life path.
The Harper Government has also been waffling on green house gases and climate change since 2008 and again in 2011. With the US and China recently signing an agreement on this file it means that Canada now must to get into step.
The Harper Government’s lack of action on this file has been linked to the argument that while the US does little or nothing to stem green house gases there is no way Canadians can make a difference. That is about to change and it is a vulnerable spot on the 2015 campaign trail for the Conservatives.
Generally this government is the most secretive in recent memory. Ministers of the Crown are sparingly available to the media or the public to explain themselves because the PMO sees the media as an enemy to be diligently managed like bad children.
The PMO considers it can only master political events by issuing as little information as possible and controlling the Conservative caucus and what they say and do. There is really only one voice for this government and that voice emanates from the Prime Minister and his office.
They usually use Friday afternoons to launch policies and then take no questions after the announcement so the whole idea can lull through a weekend. They continually deal with unpleasantries that could embarrass the government without any clarity or shame. They answer questions in the House of Commons with contempt for the institution.
Earlier this year Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary Paul Calandra went too far by answering a question from Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair with an response that had nothing to do with the original question.
After an irritated exchange through the Speaker from Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair, Mr. Calandra apologized the following week in tears to the House of Commons for his behaviour after thinking it all through during the weekend. It was one of the only acts of contrition by this government influenced Mr Calandra said by his father’s standards which he had forgot in the rough and tumble of adversarial Ottawa politics.
Paul Calandra is a master of obscurity and when he often represented the government and the PM on CBC’s Power and Politics program he would shamelessly skate around issues and obscure them continually. The Harper Government has not learned that by trying to control their message to the extent they do, it is ultimately counter-productive to their credibility. It is hard to think of this government as being forthright, open and candid. And please notice they are never, ever wrong.
The Government’s Economic Action Plan media advertising keeps reminding us that the Harper Government is a great fiscal manager of public funds spending wisely to create jobs yet youth unemployment remains stubbornly high despite their promotions.
The truth the Harper Government has been running a deficit and spending since their re-election in 2011. To balance the books and have a $1.5 billion surplus for the election means that funds are being reallocated or cutbacks made through the ministries to make the Harper Government appear to be great fiscal managers for the 2015 general election.
Watch now for an intense media advertising barrage by the Harper Government, all done at public expense rather than Conservative Party expense as we go into 2015. This government will use every means to get its propaganda out masquerading their political message as federal government services advertising. That is one of the prerogatives of the party in power but remember who pays for it all.
Finally the record of this government with our veterans is appalling. Services and help are withheld in many cases or veterans are put through insensitive rounds of bureaucracy when they apply for benefits, or fight funding cuts and the lack of help. Veteran’s service offices are cut back and yet the stops are pulled out for Remembrance Day. There is a distaff between the reality and the action on this file that resonates very loud.
© 2014, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved
© 2014, Tom Thorne, Harper Cartoon, All Rights Reserved