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HARPER IMPRESSIVE AS PM ’06 « Douglas Fisher

Fisher

 

HARPER IMPRESSIVE AS PM ’06

The new government, sure-footedly led by Stephen Harper, has made it to the summer break with less trouble than most watchers expected. It now has a higher acceptance — one might say “legitimacy” — than seemed possible in late January.

Thinking back on other new governments in Ottawa, it strikes me that Harper has had the most successful first half-session of any new minority prime minister. Yes, more successful even than John Diefenbaker’s, 49 years ago.

But a caution. Today’s Conservatives ought to remember that although Brian Mulroney had a huge majority and got off to a grand start in 1984-85, his government sputtered in less than a year, mostly because of the antics of the Liberal “Rat Pack,” abetted by a limp House Speaker. Sheila Copps, Brian Tobin and gang sustained weeks of noisy, mean and effective personal attacks on Mulroney’s honesty and his ministers.

This past fortnight, about a dozen Grit MPs, most of them newcomers, seemed to mimic the Rat Pack, boldly slanging Conservatives for alleged ethical lapses. If they keep going, Harper will be stuck with Rat Pack II from this fall through to the arrival of the new Liberal leader in January.

That aside, Harper seems to be in the good books of most Canadians, notably with the near-majority of voters without fast ties to a particular party. To them, he looks and speaks as a prime minister should. His poise does not seem posed.

OPPONENTS’ RESPECT
Even those antagonistic to him for his allegedly reactionary social values and his intention to shrink Ottawa’s role in the federation, readily admit Harper and his team will be harder to defeat than they expected late last winter.

Sticking to five priorities has helped: Cleaning up government; reducing the GST; cracking down on crime; paying parents a child care allowance; and working with the provinces on a wait-time guarantee for medical patients.

Add to these that Harper speaks in understandable sentences, gushes less than Paul Martin, and publicly reasons more clearly than Jean Chretien did. He addresses the lunchbox crowd far better than those polysyllabic profundities Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff — indeed, even better than those world-class orators, Stephen Lewis and Brian Mulroney.

The tough-minded among his partisan enemies think Harper is doing well because he so quickly and directly demonstrated that he is boss. He is in charge — of himself, his ministry, and his caucus. He openly follows a strategy of keeping the ball rolling, making progress on his undertakings without moaning about the difficulties posed by a shortage of MPs.

NO CABINET DISASTERS
It helps that the exposure of his ministers has not to date resulted in a string of disasters — as Pearson had in 1963, and Mulroney in 1984. Finance Minister Flaherty, for example, comes across as warm, affable, and at home in his portfolio. Four of the toughest jobs are held by articulate, confident persons — Jim Prentice in Indian Affairs, Tony Clement in Health, Vic Toews in Justice, and John Baird at Treasury Board.

Meantime, the opposition uproar over David Emerson switching parties and Senator Michael Fortier’s appointment to cabinet has faded. And, despite all the mud thrown at Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, she looks able enough to redeem herself in the fall with new anti-pollution programs.

A good cabinet is important to a government’s stability. So is a backbench sticking to the PMO’s disciplinary line. But the best thing going for this government — the prime agent of its achievements and standing in the polls — is Stephen Harper, a more engaging prime minister than seemed possible just months ago.

Source: BY DOUGLAS FISHER, TORONTO SUN

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