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Friday, January 05, 2007

Harper shuffles a face lift

Let’s remember Stephen Harper, since he became Prime Minister, has kept a tight lid on his cabinet, not even allowing them to respond to mail sent to them without his approval. With that in mind, it is obvious ministers, such as Rona Ambrose, were acting wholly under the direction of the Prime Minister’s office. If Ms. Ambrose came under pressure for a poor job performance while in the Environment portfolio, it was at the behest of the PM, and therefore, it was not Ms. Ambrose who failed in the postion, but the PM, who not only selected her for the position, but directed her activities while in the job.
By and large this shuffle is an attempt by the PM to deflect criticism. While doing nothing to improve the environment, the PM can now say, “Look, I’ve made changes.” But has he really made a change?
No, and he really has no intention of making any real changes to his policies. Stephen Harper is a Bay Street industrialist. His campaigns have been largely financed by big league industrialists. As such, he’s not about to do anything that would seriously affect the support he receives from those sources. Any major attempt to clean up the environment and to institute environmental protection policies would have a serious effect on big business. Such policies would most certainly dig into corporate profits. This in turn would weaken the support Harper receives from those sources. With only a slim minority government, and with another election looming, it is not likely Harper will do much to hurt campaign finances. So, Mr. Harper has made a cosmetic change. He’s removed Ambrose from the portfolio, hoping to diffuse the situation. He is not introducing any new policy, or approach. He’s just changed the face, and is hoping that will be enough of a distraction to take the electorate’s mind off the problem.
In reality it doesn’t matter who the new minister is because his strings are still attached to Mr. Harper’s hands. Yes, the new minister will employ a few different tactics, as he already has by coming out and admitting “things are heating up.” His job will not be to change the Tory plan, but to appear to be more willing to listen and acknowledge the problem. However, when its all said and done, the new minister’s job will be to carry through the Harper plan, which is to maintain the status quo.
Mr. Harper has also appointed a few more ministers, most of them former Mulroney insiders. Why, because of recent news stories that claim Mulroney was the most environmentally conscious PM in history. Its a load of hogwash, but it seems to play well in the media. Fact is, the environment wasn’t a major issue when Mulroney was PM, so it was pretty easy to deal with. Truth be told, Mulroney wasn’t all that good for the environment, and it was during his years in the house that things really started to fall apart. Remember, it was Mulroney who changed the deal with Canada’s railroads and expanded the use of semi-trucks to transport our nation’s raw materials. Semi trucks are big time polluters, they require highways, which have their own negative effects on the environment, and they use fossil fuels. By and large trains are far more efficient than trucks. So, if Mulroney was an environmental thinker, why did he put more trucks on the road and less trains on the tracks?
It seems to me Harper and his cronnies are counting on Canadian’s short term memory with all this stuff about Mulroney. Mulroney was one of the most divisive political figures this country has ever seen. He presided not only over major over political and geographical divisiveness, but even managed to split the right, and quite nearly demolish his own party. It was during the Mulroney years that the Reform Party got their start and that Canadian’s decided to reduce the Conservatives from a majority to two paltry seats! The Canadian electorate was so fond of Mulroney and the Conservative party they nearly wiped them off the political map. At the time there were good reasons for that. Mr. Harper is hoping we’ve forgotten those reasons.
When its all said and done, Mr. Harper’s cabinet shuffle is little more than a trip to the coiffure, with a side stop for at the cosmetic counter. He’s hoping the new look will make us think better of him and his government, and while they may suddenly be easier to look at, underneath its the same old tired right wing loonie coming around looking for support.
From the start Harper knew the Environment portfolio was going to be contentious. He placed Ambrose in that portfolio with that in mind. He chose her to be his scapegoat knowing full well he would have to move her out. She was a relative unknown, not someone who was necessarily viewed as a Harper insider, and far enough away from the PM that he would not necessarily be tainted by her performance. He offered her up knowing full well it wouldn’t hurt him too much when she got shot down. Now he’s placed another relative unknown in the job, for much the same reason.

Now some pundits out there seem befuddled by the fact Harper has yet to bring long time supporter and reformer Diane Yabloncy into cabinet. Yabloncy is a major player in the Conservative ranks, and is a top contender to be the party’s next leader. She is also an experienced corporate dealer and business woman in her own right, and is quite smart for a righty. Her absence from cabinet is a mystery to some, but I think there’s good reason for it, and it has nothing to do with Harper not liking her. This is a woman who has run major Canadian businesses. She’s her own woman. Such a person is not going to be willing to operate in an environment where she’s not allowed to receive or respond to her own mail without first running it by someone else. The top-down management style of Harper is not the sort of work environment Yabloncy is going to want to get involved in. She likes to be on top!
There is also the matter of her future. Although she’s been a strong supporter of Harper, she’s also thinking about the future. Chances are she supported Harper because it was clear he would win. She likes to be in the winner’s column, and is smart enough to pick a winner. However, she’s also planning to one day lead the Conservative Party and she knows that appearing too close to Harper might not be the best prerequisite for that job. Harper is a divisive character, Yabloncy knows that. She also knows the current Conservative Party, and has seen them turn on their leaders before. Too close a relationship with the current boss could hurt her long term plan. For now she is keeping her mouth shut and towing the party line, but there will come a day when she positions herself against the current leadership in order to gain the leadership. At that time, she’s not going to want to be seen as having been part and parcel of the current regime. Its not that Harper doesn’t want her, its that she doesn’t want in under Harper!
When its all said and done the new Harper cabinet is lest garrish in hair style, the makeup is a tad more subtle, and the costuming less Hallweenish, but the emporer is still the same old emporer and nothing has really changed.


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