Two kinds of backbenchers
Conservative backbencher James Rajotte has been hard at work on an extremely timely and worthy subject -- financial literacy for Canadians, and today will introduce a motion in the House of Commons to further that aim.
Reading that report, watching Rajotte, I was reminded of another backbencher, back in the 1990s, who kept his head down, working on an interesting legislative project to make Canadians more informed/literate. It was called the Quebec Contingency Act, a clear-headed response to the high drama and emotion surrounding the 1995 referendum and aftermath. Because it came from the Reform Party, however, it never became law. Instead, the governing Liberal party came up with something called The Clarity Act. (Which, I digress for a second, is also being eyed by Scotland, we hear in the last few days.)
Long-time Canadian politics-watchers know where I'm headed with this. The author of that bill was none other than Reform Party backbencher Stephen Harper, then an MP very much like Rajotte -- quiet, diligent, friendly to the media, constructive in his approach. Harper, as a backbencher, wasn't a talking-points kind of guy. You wouldn't find him at the microphones in the foyer, reading aloud the attack lines dreamed up in the leader's office.
So it makes you wonder why, in Harper's government, the backbenchers who thrive in the spotlight are the MPs so unlike Harper, circa 1993-97. This little display in the Commons yesterday, featuring two MPs who have served as parliamentary secretaries to the PM (del Mastro and Poilievre) illustrates exactly the kind of things that their boss, in his backbench days, would never do. As I recall it, Harper was viewed as sort of a frustrating MP to manage, often because he put his self-respect and dignity ahead of playing for the team.
Of course, good managers often surround themselves with people who are able to do what they can't or won't. It still seems odd, though, that the public face of this government backbench most days comes from MPs such as Poilievre or del Mastro, instead of MPs like Rajotte, a politician more similar in style to the boss. Or at least who the boss used to be.