Saturday, July 07, 2007


Jeffery Simpson's latest column offers a scathing critique of Harper and his governing style:
Mr. Harper has a style, and he's sticking to it - the most controlling, stifling, rigid style of any prime minister in memory. He's got a formula, and he's also sticking to it - short speeches, no spontaneity, tight scripts, rehearsed political choreography, utter discipline within the ranks, media kept at a distance. It's all about Him.

But at least by degree, and arguably by much more than by degree, this is the most centralized, controlling, scripted government Canadians have seen in their lifetimes.

Torture in the Harper government must be the life of a backbencher. Remember when the Conservatives, and Reformers and Canadian Alliance before them, used to taunt Liberal backbenchers for being "yes men" and "trained seals"? Today, the Conservative backbenchers have been rendered utterly mute, except as political chorus boys and girls.

Only slightly less frustrating must be the life of ministers, except they get cars and higher salaries. Absolutely nothing goes on of importance in this government without the Prime Minister authorizing it. Ministers have absolutely zero leeway. Their staffs live in dread of the Prime Minister's Office, lest some little slip divert attention from The Message.

Months ago, I quoted a Conservative source, who said that Stephen Harper's political mentor was Joseph Stalin. Harper was fascinated with the Russian dictator, had read all the historical literature. Quite a unique circumstance to have the leader of a democratic nation, who rose to power through a supposed egalitarian movement, seemingly curious about a ruthless dictator.

In absolute terms, the comparison is pure folly, for obvious reasons. However, when you read pieces like Simpson's, as well as your own observations on style, you see a picture that does lend itself to the notion of a authoritarion, egocentric, decidedly paranoid rule. Surrogates are off balance, fearful of the hierarchy, told what to say, verbatum. Ministers are mere puppets, getting clear directives from a central source. Harper's shadow dominates every announcement, policy and directive. No sense of free exchange with the media, carefully crafted propaganda. Prime Minister or Only Minister?


Karen said...

It is a rather interesting comparison.

I suspect Harper has read much and has only extracted that which would serve his purpose.

I welcome this article and hope more follow.

There were far too few objective looks at Bush when he arrived and look at that country now.

I do not believe that Harper is Bush in every sense, but he is of that mindset on far too many issues for us to be complacent.

Media, keep the exposure and the truth out there. Your counterparts cowed in the US. Please, don't follow their lead.

America has to claw it's way back to itself, I would like for Canada to stop before we go over the cliff.

Raphael Alexander said...

The comparison to Stalin is ludicrous. I've read about Hitler extensively. What does it say about me. Yes, Harper is stiff with the media and he has his faults because he doesn't charm or use the media like a Bill Clinton or a George Bush.

And you're right, today's politicians are yes men. But this has more to do with modern politics than it does the conservative party. It doesn't make the CP authoritarian, egocentric, or paranoid. No, I'd wager the PB community is more egocentric and paranoid than Harper.

Steve V said...

"It doesn't make the CP authoritarian, egocentric, or paranoid."

Okay, please explain what does, because the traits are clearly apparent?

BTW, I don't use Stalin literally, obviously :)

wilson said...

So what if PMSH is running the government as Simpson says...?

And just how would Simpson know what Conservatives MPs think? They won't say.
He is making a story out of his projecting his own 'if it were me'.

And so what if they won't say...?

''this is the most centralized, controlling, scripted government Canadians have seen in their lifetimes.''

So ??? What's his point?
IMO, MSM just got lazy having stories handed to them, now they have to do a little digging, or stay lazy and just do a little 'if it were me....

glenn fitzgerald said...

"In absolute terms, the comparison is pure folly, for obvious reasons. However, when you read pieces like Simpson's, as well as your own observations on style, you see a picture that does lend itself to the notion of a authoritarion, egocentric, decidedly paranoid rule."

Steve, given Harper's close connection with the neo-conservative regime in Washington, don't you think that that he might have taken some cues from neo-conservative ideology.

Remember that ideology pivots on the ideas of Leo Strauss---Strauss who sly advocated the ideal of absolute rule for the philosopher kings whom run the state. Strauss also believed that elite would require an ability to conduct the real business of government in secret.

So, I'm asking whether or not a knowledge of Harper's ideological leanings might permit some insight into his auto-cratic and control freakish leadership style.

Here's some ideas on neo-conservatism which you might agree or disagree with:

burlivespipe said...

Fascinating dodgeball, these Tory tools are playing. Wilson and Raphael, kindly give us the playback on the Liberal gov'ts of the past? Did you make reference to 'libranos' and 'crooks' even though the only politician to be accused of such things has long since been relegated to the trashbin?
When you complained of how Chretien ran Ottawa, was one of your sly remarks about 'controlling' and 'demogogery'?
Now, when it is apparent that your leader chooses to follow the same -- at the least you can admit he's not following the image of the alliance and reform ideals -- you again hide behind the curtains. You are right, so what if his style has the appearance of paranoid autocrat? Its the results that matter -- like the appointment of a senator into cabinet in minute one, the luring of a just-elected 'Librano' (that's your term, right?) into cabinet in minute 2... Cutting programs to communities, women's groups, literacy and policing. Turning about face on Halloween on one of those 'old promises, new government' in the Income Trust swindle (and trust me, that continues to reverberate in the economy and halls of bay street today), then the flip-floppery on the environment - so-called greenhouse gases, green plan 1, 2, cancellation of liberal programs only to restart (and there is a certain cost to launch these programs) similar programs. The whole 'rebranding' and talking about 'Canada is back'... Because your leader hasn't elaborated on that, why don't you tell us what Canada is back from? Effective gov't? Stable economic planning? Caring, compassionate democracy? Independent Foreign Policy?
You guys are truly tools of the trade. And tell me how you defend Harpor's attack on Canada's decision (since apparently no gov't other than his is worthy of credit for the accomplishments of the previous 13 years) to stay out of Iraq?

Scotian said...

Steve V:

I agree with Glenn Fitzgerald about the Straussian influence at the heart of Harper's Calgary School of thought is at least as much if not more so at the root of this behaviour than a Stalinist influence (although I would not rule that out as a contributing one). You know I have raised this point before, that one of the main reasons we see such similarity between the GWB43 way of operating and the Harper government one is a combination of the use of GOP tools and tactics imported via consultations with folks like Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist and of course Frank Luntz, but there is also the ideological similarities because of both Harper and Cheney (who is and always was the real power in this Administration and in shaping its policies) being adherents of political philosophies that are rooted in the teachings of Leo Strauss.

As to the article linked itself, the more of this we see the better IMHO, but I am not holding my breath either. I am well enough on record here regarding my fears and worries regarding this government and Harper led CPC that I am not going to repeat them now. The sole way to avoid this requires a hard probing media unwilling to simply accept the crumbs the high and mighty Harper/Buckler machine provides to them, especially when it is done as an exchange so as to make sure other matters are not covered. The media secrecy this PM uses is extreme, when was the last PM that hid when Cabinet meets for example? If that does not sufficiently illustrate the unwillingness of Harper to face the same kind of probing media all of his predecessors in office had to, nothing does.

Steve V said...


I completely agree with the Strauss model. I don't suggest Stalin as a role model in any absolute way, but I find it curious that of all the world leaders, Harper is most attracted to a authoritarian, paranoid, controlling regime. I also see a similarity in terms of grandeur and delusion.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget about the Cons Playbook, you know the one where Committee Chairs disrupt the committees that are supposed to be doing the governments and therefore the constituents work. The Cons Chairs were given instructions on how to disrupt the work of the government.

Is this adult? Is this why we vote? My member of parliament should be working on my benefit, not that of the PM,s. I did not vote for a king.

Anonymous said...

Note that the CPC backbench is not that hot either. No star candidates recruited by Harper for the next election.

Patrick Boyer v. Michael Ignatieff?

Peter Kent v. Susan Kadis?

A backbench weak in talent as a Supreme Soviet. No wonder it is a one man show.

Anonymous said...

Odd, that Stalin thing. I knew he was a disciple of Leo Strauss, but as for role models, I'd always thought his actions pointed not to a dictator like Stalin, but rather a good little gauleiter like Vidkun Quisling.