Harper and Chretien
Lawrence Martin, who wrote a biography of Jean Chretien and is currently working on a new book about Harper's government, is well-placed to observe the similarities between the former prime minister and the current one. He's penned a good column today on that subject.
Martin's point is important -- Harper has chosen to imitate all the worst things about Chretien; not his strengths. In Ottawa these days, where institutional memory runs to about two weeks, it's easy to forget that Chretien could be partisan and bullying too - never so much as he was with his perceived enemies within his own, Liberal party. And we saw how that worked out. Let's not forget that Chretien, by 2002-03, could not muster his own party behind him. It makes that little line of Chretien's the other day to Harper -- about how someday he'll face a hanging too -- a bit more than a throwaway joke.
Coincidentally, I was talking last night about the similarities between Harper and Chretien's style of government and the way both take advantage of the media's need to focus on news. We are incapable, it seems, of reporting on things that don't happen or words that aren't said. And in that situation, the best kind of ministers are those who babble on with empty talking points, as Bev Oda and Rona Ambrose did yesterday at the Commons committee on the status of women.
One would think, with abortion and maternal health at the top of the news agenda, that hearing from these ministers would be a significant event on Parliament Hill this spring. But in one hour, the two ministers simply talked out the clock with empty rhetoric, avoided any questions and kept changing the subject in a bid to talk about (yawn) the bad old Liberal government and bad bad things that anyone but Conservatives stand for. The most spirited part of the day was when Oda was chased by reporters all the way to her car (including a bathroom stop) by reporters who wanted to know her contribution to the decision-making process in which Canada banned support for abortions overseas. Nothing happened. Nothing was said. Hence, no news. This is ideal in a government -- like Harper's or Chretien's -- in which the objective is to keep voters bored, apathetic and tuned out. Just watch Question Period any day and see how many times the government talks about Liberals. You'd swear the Conservatives were still in the opposition benches, even now, four years after moving to the other side of the Commons.
But make no mistake, Harper's government knows this is boring and meaningless. That's the idea. If you tune them out, chances are better that they'll stay in power. Chretien benefited for years from a divided opposition and Canadians' vague idea that if they weren't hearing anything about politics in Ottawa, things were probably just fine. Harper has learned that lesson well.