Members of Parliament head off for a three-month break this week. Animal house mercifully shuts down, not to be reconvened until late September.
The consensus around the capital is that this session ranks as one of the more ugly ones, which is saying a lot.
Rancour ruled. No one ended up looking better than when the mean-spiritedness and fake fury of the session began.
For top story, there were many contenders: the election that never came, Afghanistan and the brawl over the treatment of detainees, the global-warming wrangle, the feud over the Atlantic offshore accords, the Liberals' semi-alliance with the Greens, the big-spending budget, the startling flip-flop of Gilles Duceppe, the RCMP scandals.
But if there was a driving theme, it was none of those. Rather, it was the character of the Prime Minister. Angry-man syndrome took over Ottawa. Stephen Harper set the tone, carried the tone, laid the tone in stone.
Governance in Canada, most experts would agree, is about consensus-building. Patience, compromise, reaching out. Mr. Harper demonstrates opposite tendencies. For him, politics is chiefly about confrontation. He took on the provinces, threatening legal action. He took on the media, creating unnecessary frictions. He even took on Bono. He filled the Commons with below-the-belt accusations, outfitted his committee chairmen with a dirty tricks handbook, disciplined anyone in his caucus who declined to exhibit trained-seal subservience.
As the session ends, many, including members of his own team, look upon Mr. Gloom and are left to wonder, "Where does all the bitterness come from? Is life all that bad? What is bugging this guy?"
Accounts of Mr. Harper's early life provide some clues as to his current-day comportment. William Johnson's flattering biography notes how he was quiet and apart as a youth. Never a people person, there was a tendency in him to turn away. The top student in his high school, he enrolled at the University of Toronto but got quickly disillusioned and quit. It was a type of behaviour that would be repeated.
In his book Full Circle, Bob Plamondon makes note of periods in which, when the going got tough, Mr. Harper would "go dark."
Very telling is Preston Manning's character sketch of the young Harper in his book, Think Big. Despite coming out of the grassroots Reform movement, Mr. Harper showed little interest in listening to the rank and file. The Harper idea of consensus-building was through consultations - with his own mind.
"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." On many occasions when team-play was being called for, Mr. Manning says, Mr. Harper simply withdrew.
As Prime Minister, though, he can't withdraw. He stays, and if the past few months are any indication, he stews.
This was a man who spent little of his life in a real-job atmosphere - in the type of jobs that aren't always about us versus them. His life in the cauldron of politics has seemingly taken away soft edges, making him even more partisan and more contemptuous than other practitioners of the sport. He learned to detest the Liberals over their national energy program. He came to loathe the Ottawa media when they depicted early Reformers as a bunch of yahoos. These are antagonisms that run deep and endure.
Consensus-builders are the types who can concede mistakes. Through his career there has been little evidence of Mr. Harper conceding error.
His heavy-handed dictatorial style reminds some of Jean Chrétien in his final years as prime minister. But there's a big difference. Mr. Chrétien's life was driven by lack of security, intellectual and otherwise. Mr. Harper is driven by a surfeit of it. The guy from the streets of Shawinigan always felt looked down upon and would employ whatever tactics necessary to prove he was as good as the others. The intellectually gifted Mr. Harper expects to have his own way, and when he doesn't get it, resorts to pouting and bouts of belligerence.
If he is to win another term as prime minister, it is a tendency he is going to have to overcome. Those who reach out last. Those who turn in don't.
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