Stephen Harper is damaged goods.
No, this is not just wishful thinking.
And no, this is not just the case for those of us who deplore his policies, his style of governing, his bullying ways, his ruthless grasp on power for the sake of power, his divisive tactics, his everything.
When dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives start questioning his leadership, and openly so, you know the prime minister’s days are numbered.
A commentary in The Ottawa Citizen last week by David Sachs, a Conservative communications consultant who has worked for two former Harper cabinet ministers, couldn’t be any clearer.
“The Conservative mindset understands that power tends to corrupt. How far will we let it corrupt us?” he asked before calling on Conservative party members to demand answers or Mr. Harper’s resignation.
What is democracy, Mr. Sachs asks, “if an elected leader abuses all the levers of power? If he, or his
people, manipulate independent branches of government (Senate, parliamentary budget officer)? If he, or his people acting on his behalf, abuse the electoral process (as in the allegations of electoral fraud), and then abuse the investigative process (the independent Deloitte audit)? If our leaders hide the truth as common practice?”
These are some pretty damning questions from within the Conservative flock. They represent just how much of a problem the Senate scandal is for the prime minister. It’s not just people who dislike this prime minister and his government who are troubled by what is happening in Ottawa. Conservatives are, too.
After all, this was the crowd who said they were going to clean Ottawa up, but instead have left it dirtier than they found it.
There are other cracks in Conservative party solidarity.
Peter Kent, a former Harper cabinet minister, has been openly critical of how his boss has been handling the Senate scandal, saying the senators deserved fair and due process. He said he was not the only Conservative MP who felt that way.
Brent Rathgeber, an Alberta lawyer who left the Conservative caucus this fall for a number of reasons, including how his government had been handling the Senate scandal, wrote last week that it is either Stephen Harper’s honesty or his competence as a manager of his own office that is under siege. “At this point it is far from clear to me which scenario is worse.”
Mr. Rathgeber noted that “the most damaging inconsistency in the PM’s own spin is his insistence, for weeks last spring, that Nigel Wright had ‘acted alone.’ We now know that at least a dozen PMO or Conservative party insiders were aware of some aspect of this toxic transaction.”
Jason Kenney, Canada’s employment minister, has been careful, but he has also started the process of breaking ranks.
His comments on Rob Ford needing to resign were not exactly approved by the PMO. And virtually everyone knows that this PMO has been as controlling as they get, sending out daily and sometimes hourly “talking points” to MPs and cabinet ministers, ensuring they are always on message or else.
It is this obsessive need for control, this micro-managing style that has contributed to the incredulousness of this prime minister saying he knew nothing of the $90,000 cheque, the alleged bribe.
How is it that the prime minister’s chief of staff, Conservative Senate leaders, Conservative party top-ranking officials and many, many senior staff in his office knew about this deal and yet the most controlling prime minister in modern times was in the dark?
Or, as Globe and Mail columnist Tabatha Southey noted: “a whole volleyball team of people seemed to have known, but Mr. Harper, essentially the team’s captain, says he didn’t.”
Every day NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, in what has been described as prosecutorial style, has grilled the prime minister about the Senate scandal and the role of his office in that hot mess, and every day the prime minister responds with “let me be clear,” and then proceeds to be anything but, never answering the question.
To be clear, this is no longer just about the Senate. The Senate scandal and coverup are at the end of a road riddled with abuses of power. And democracy? Well, that’s just more roadkill.
This story is no longer about a few Senate expenses. It is about a government that has failed the true test of power. Don’t let it corrupt.
It was the 1991 Nobel Peace prize winner and social activist from Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, who said that it is not power that corrupts, it is fear; “fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it.”
This has always been Mr. Harper’s greatest fear.
Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for
Unifor. She can be reached by
email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her column returns Dec. 14.