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Stephen Harper presiding over Tories’ self-destructive madness by Chantal Hébert

May 30, 2014

What will historians make of the institutional wreckage left by Harper’s years in power?

Source: Toronto Star

When historians look back on Stephen Harper’s (first?) decade in power, what will they make of the trail of institutional wreckage that his government is leaving in its wake?
Will they conclude that a mastermind determined to change the course of the ship of state at all costs was in charge, or just a bunch of drunken sailors?

The Conservatives came to power in 2006 as institutional reformers. But three mandates later, one would look in vain for a method to the self-destructive madness that they are presiding over.

The Senate: Earlier this week, Liberal Senator Roméo Dallaire announced that he is leaving the upper house, the better to pursue his humanitarian work. Tory Hugh Segal has also moved on this spring to became the new master of the University of Toronto’s Massey College.

Think of those two as canaries in an increasingly toxic mine shaft.

Not only have Harper’s reform plans for the Senate wilted on the constitutional vine, but some of his appointees have inflicted damage on its reputation, on par with the partisan benefits the prime minister was hoping to reap from milking their high profiles.

In the future, it may take uncommon persuasive skills to convince candidates of the calibre of Segal and Dallaire to join a discredited institution, or even to convince some of those who are still in the Senate to stick around until retirement.

The Supreme Court: The Conservatives promised to make its appointment process more transparent. Instead, they used the measure of opacity that it offered to toy with the eligibility rules, as part of a judge-shopping spree. When they were called out on it, the best they could do was to engage in a lose-lose unseemly shootout with the chief justice.

Statistics Canada: The agency that collects the essential basic information that used to inform public policy in this country was an early target of the Conservative wrecking ball. The elimination of the long-form census — a move for which no coherent policy rationale was ever offered — turned out to be only the first step in the gutting of what was once was an institution of international repute. It would take years to restore it and its data to its former status.

CBC/Radio-Canada: The Conservatives believe that Canada does not need a public broadcaster or at least not one that plays as central a role as CBC has in the country’s conversation. Fair enough. But instead of launching a national discussion on the way forward, the government is leaving the corporation to die the death of a thousand cuts.

In every instance, the logic, if there is any, is hard to fathom. For in failing to at least do no harm to these institutions, the prime minister is doing harm to himself and to his government.

The diminishment of CBC/Radio-Canada’s role is helping to ensure that Canada’s broadcasting environment — in particular in French — is increasingly dominated by a media empire owned by an ambitious sovereigntist politician.

The government is pursuing policies on structural fronts such as immigration and labour force management based on data whose quality falls well short of the material it had at its disposal before it tore off Statistics Canada’s wings.

For obvious reasons of poor political optics, Harper has not filled a Senate vacancy since the spending scandal broke. The expectation is that the upper house will continue to empty out at least until next year’s federal election.

At the same time, he is trying to farm out part of the responsibility for a now urgent Supreme Court appointment to Quebec’s relatively untarnished Liberal government.
But as to what process Harper will be guided by for future Senate and Supreme Court appointments, your guess is as good as mine.

A Forum Research survey revealed this week that the PMO has become one of Canada’s least trusted political institutions, almost on par with the maligned Senate.

It may not yet have dawned on its occupants that what Canadians think of the PMO is usually not divorced from their opinion of the leader who runs it.

© Toronto Star