Source : Globe & Mail
In a few hours, unless pollsters have completely blown it, Canadians will begin referring to you as Prime Minister. Those who know you were not surprised when you reunited the conservative family, and we won't be surprised later this evening. As to the journalists who've been presenting a more negative portrait of a man we didn't recognize, my first piece of advice is: Forget it.
Tempting as it will be to point out the news pack's poor record of prognostication, why jeopardize the sympathetic coverage you did garner during the campaign? Besides, for every political journalist who's married to or best friends with a Liberal, you'll find another with two kids who is part of the middle class you courted during the campaign.
Starting tomorrow, Canadians will be watching to see whether you are the Stephen Harper they've come to feel more comfortable with in recent weeks. An early test will come in managing our relations with the United States.
Getting along with George Bush will be a slam dunk, but always remember he is not your friend. Like you, he's sworn to defend his country's interests. Like you, he's a politician, which, at his stage, though not yours, means he's primarily concerned about his legacy.
Notwithstanding our national myths, Canadians are as prone to flag-waving as our southern neighbours. If you spend some of your political capital on Mr. Bush's defence agenda, for example, you have a right to ask for political capital in return. Think softwood lumber. For starters.
At first ministers meetings, forget about love-ins with the premiers. Many will expect you to buy their support. And don't expect them to stay bought, if electoral considerations demand it.
Quebec will be your greatest challenge. Basically, Quebeckers want the same things British Columbians want, only they want to be able to live it in French. Also, while Lotus Landers go jogging and have learned to ignore Ottawa, Quebeckers -- poorer and a minority -- will continue to bargain collectively for more money and more jurisdiction.
As long as the reigning consensus is that their province is a nation -- a slippery notion you wisely refused to endorse -- managing the situation is about the best you can do. Even in your relations with Quebec Premier Jean Charest, think process, not finality. Expect the Ottawa bureaucracy to challenge you at every step -- not because they are Liberals but because of their deeply entrenched interest in aggrandizement without accountability. And never forget that, out there, Liberals are preparing to subvert your efforts in order to regain power.
Running a mainstream government will require careful management of core supporters. Like Tony Blair, whom you admire for his skills in this department, your headaches will be exacerbated by the public broadcaster's world view.
"Words," Rudyard Kipling wrote, are "the most powerful drug used by mankind." Established to strengthen Canadian cultural sovereignty, the words and images transmitted by the CBC have become poisonously anti-American. As well, institutionally, the CBC reinforces the two national solitudes instead of bridging them. Its ideology is invariably anti-market, as demonstrated by the disproportionate prominence given to the Roy Romanow report over Senator Michael Kirby's health-care recommendations. And its programming regularly stereotypes Western Canadians, particularly Albertans -- one of the few prejudices that is still socially acceptable in Canada.
Immune from the constraints most broadcasters face, CBC journalists live in a cloistered world. Allegations of bias are dismissed with survey data proving that audiences see and hear none -- as you'd expect when programming reinforces rather than challenges their preconceived notions. Meantime, the vast majority of Canadians who pay the bill look elsewhere for their news and information.
There is a place for public broadcasting in the multi-channel universe, particularly in a country that spans a continent. But today's CBC, which exhibits the classic symptoms of bureaucratic dysfunction, is incapable of producing quality programming that Canadians will want to watch and listen to.
You could begin its restructuring by hiving off and gradually moving the radio service to the National Public Radio model, which requires the U.S. public broadcaster to raise some funds from listeners. During the CBC strike, many on the radio side felt they were being dragged down by English-language television, and I suspect you'd find considerable internal support for what should be your first step, though definitely not the last, in fixing the CBC.
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