Definition of leadership escapes Parliament Hill pundits
Every now and then we make an effort to clear the backlog of newspapers sitting on chairs in our office in the Baxter Building. And like prospectors panning for gold, we usually stumble across a nugget or two that makes the effort worthwhile.
This week it was a column, on the end of the latest session of Parliament, by Lawrence Martin in the Globe and Mail.
The piece, 'Harper's angry-man syndrome dominated Parliament', (June 18/07), at first got a cursory skim-through. Blah blah, the usual, blah blah, Stephen Harper is bad, the Conservatives are bad, if only they were more liberal everything would be good, blah blah. But as we turned the pages, a nagging something kept saying "Go back." We've learned to listen to that little voice, so back we went.
Blah blah, Stephen Harper is bad, the Conservatives are bad, blah blah. Same old...
But 'nagging something' said keep reading. So, again, we read the column. Slower, line by line.
"He took on the media, creating unnecessary frictions." Was that it?
A small, cheap shot.
Martin fails to mention he's a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery that is openly feuding with the Prime Minister. As such he's not an unbiased observer of Parliament, he's an open adversary to Stephen Harper. The Globe and Mail proudly maintains a boycott of Harper press conferences and as such must be considered biased in its coverage of Stephen Harper until proven otherwise.
Martin, more than other Globe journalists except maybe Jeffrey Simpson, has an extra reason to slag Stephen Harper.
Martin was exposed as one of the journalists (like Simpson) who got tossed an extra bone or two by the Liberals for his, uh, expertise. Records show Martin collected $2,500 in 2005, to speak to managers in the Department of Justice on "Leadership in the New Canada." and another $4000 the same year for a speech to civil servants in training.
Now, he'll say it was only a measly $6,500 in walking-around money. Sure it was in what was expected to be an election year but that little bit of change couldn't buy him off--- he's a professional, he's above bias, yesserie Bob, he's got editors, and he doesn't write in his pyjamas.
So, maybe it wasn't his Press Gallery allegiance that was calling out to us. What was it?
The column was all about how the last session of Parliament was ugly, rancourous, and mean-spirited and it was all Stephen Harper's fault. Why? Because he's angry.
'Angry' has replaced 'scary' in the lexicon of liberal pundits.
"Where does all the bitterness come from?" asked Martin, who proceeded to indulge in some crackerbarrel psychoanalysis. Harper was "apart as a youth." He had a tendency to "turn away." Sometimes he would "go dark." (Okay, we don't know what he's talking about either.)
But it's got to be bad, because, dammit, he's just not a team player.
"Governance in Canada, most experts would agree, is about consensus-building. Patience, compromise, reaching out...For him, politics is chiefly about confrontation."He gives some examples. Harper wasn't conciliatory enough to Bono, the rock star Liberals love. He actually expected members of his party to vote for the budget rather than vote to bring down the government.
"He took on the provinces, threatening legal action." Actually, Lawrence, it was the other way around, Harper challenged the provinces to sue him -- but we quibble over the facts.
And then it dawned on us.
Lawrence Martin was exhibiting the signs of Harperphobia --- a specific fear of something he hadn't seen before and couldn't understand. Something known as---a leader.
It's a strange animal almost never seen on Parliament Hill, hence the attempt to put it into the safe, familiar context of liberal mythology --- "consensus-building, compromise, reaching out---oh God, yes, reaching out."
Harper, well, he's just un-Canadian. Can you believe he once actually enrolled in the University of Toronto---Toronto, dammit---and quit, Martin chokes. How much more proof do you need?
Just look at the evidence. "The Harper idea of consensus-building was through consultations - with his own mind."
Oh, no. He thinks a matter through, weighs the pros and cons, and reaches a conclusion which he then uses to make policy. He's so sure of himself, he challenges you to challenge him, in court if necessary. Yikes, what's wrong with him? He's acting like --- a leader.
Martin even quotes Preston Manning to bolster his point.
"Stephen had difficulty accepting that there might be a few other people (not many perhaps, but a few) who were as smart as he was with respect to policy and strategy."
In other words, he's at the top of his game with few peers as smart as him in what he does.
And that's bad, why?
Well, because, says Martin. "His heavy-handed dictatorial style reminds some (read Martin, who wrote the book on him - ed.) of Jean Chretien in his final years as prime minister." But Chretien was driven by a lack of intellectual security, says the Globe columnist, while "Mr. Harper is driven by a surfeit of it."
Translation: Harper is sure of himself and doesn't hide his confidence.
Ottawa hasn't seen the likes since --- dare we say it --- Pierre Trudeau.
But he was from Quebec, which is close to Toronto, which is good enough for pundits who have the onerous task of deciding who is "Canadian" and who is "un-Canadian."
Now the only thing out of Quebec is Liberal leader Stephane Dion.
He's a citizen of a foreign country.
He's a real man of the people (snicker)---he eats a hot dog with a knife and fork.
His wife wears the pants in the marriage---as Chatelaine magazine put it in a profile:
"She does the banking, writes the cheques, keeps the books, files the taxes and buys all of his clothes - even his underwear. ... It's comments like this that have backroom Liberals shaking their heads. Says one, "Many suspect she controls him. She reads his briefing notes. He takes her advice and brings it back to staffers. She's the one people need to go to in order to get to him."
And despite his penchant for tossing insults at Stephen Harper in every interview he gives, nobody confuses Dion with a leader. Heather Mallick, CBC's own far-left commentator (how far left do you have to go to be far left at the CBC?- ed.) gushes at Dion's ability to admit his own weakness, including this tidbit:
"Truthfulness, a certain dignity and a comfort with intelligence are actually seen as handicaps in a Karl Rove world.
But it doesn't work this way with Canadians. We are more straightforward.
Take for instance this business of "flip-flopping" being seen as a sign of weakness among American politicians. It is considered a deadly insult. But here is Diebel on Dion reconsidering his insistence a decade before on a particular clause in any constitutional deal with Quebec: "I don't agree with myself, " Dion said, and that was it. Such a thing seems fine to Canadians, who are known to change their minds over time."
"I don't agree with myself."
We couldn't make this stuff up if we tried.
This is what the Parliamentary Press Gallery is used to in Ottawa.
Whether you agree with him or not, whether you support his party or not, whether you like it or not, Stephen Harper acts and thinks like a leader.
And to Ottawa pundits---that's scary.