February 07, 2006


Bad Thing(s)

Well, much digital ink has been spilled over the new Conservative cabinet, and in particular the appointments of David Emerson and Michael Fortier. Having taken the day to think about it, my position is still the same as my initial reaction.

I don't like it.

First, my thoughts on Fortier. Unlike some people, I don't have a problem with a Senator (i.e. non-House member) getting a prominent post, per se (Question Period is hardly an effective way of holding the government accountable, and anyway the Senate apparently has its own QP). However, I do have a problem with an unelected guy getting into Cabinet, and even moreso with him getting posted to the supposed-to-be-all-elected-from-now-on Senate in the meantime.

Apparently, Harper said during the campaign that he was leaving the door open to doing this in order to get proper regional representation.

The fact that it's just temporary until he can get a seat in the House makes it tolerable, I suppose, but still nothing that I'm thrilled about. A better plan would be to have him run in a Senate election and get his mandate that way. (Actually, at one point this is what one of the CTV commentators said would happen; anyone know if this is actually the plan?)

Okay, now for Emerson. Some people have claimed that this is a hypocritcal move for Stephen Harper in light of Belinda's defection. Not true; Harper made it <Paul Martin> perfectly clear </Paul Martin> before and during the election that he didn't support a ban on floor-crossing, and that he believes that MPs should have the right to change parties if they want and face the potential wrath of their constituents in the next general election.

As it happens, I disagree with his postion and support a law to ban floor-crossing to another party (but not to independent status). But the fact remains that Harper's actions yesterday were consistent with his previous stance on the issue.

Regarding the comparisons to Belinda, there are some notable differences, but ultimately, they're not enough. Emerson could have respectable reasons ("I was recruited by Paul Martin when everyone thought Martin was a Blue Grit, only to watch him turn sharply to the left; I was loyal to Martin, but not to Ignatief or Stronach or whoever the new leader will be; I didn't know the Liberals were lying about Dingwall's resignation"), but however plausible they might be, their believability would rank only slightly above Belinda's bogus claims ("I wanted to stop the separatists; I was uncomfortable with the policy direction of the CPC"). Even if they're true, few among the (understandably cynical) electorate will believe him, concluding instead that this was yet another case of blatant political opportunism.

Given the possible ethics problem and the definite optics problem, these appointments were a mistake for Harper. There were other perfectly qualified MPs for him to put in his Cabinet, and the "no representation in the big cities" problem (which I don't think was a particularly big deal to begin with) could solved by designating a nearby Cabinet MP to be responsible for the region, like he did with Peter MacKay and PEI.

In conclusion, the appointments of Emerson and Fortier to Cabinet were:
    a) not hypocritical, and
    b) not as bad as Belinda's defection, but
    c) still a Bad Thing(tm).

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