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Benign dictators and other wolves in sheep’s clothing

November 2011

Here are some names in the news that caught my attention recently:

Stephen Harper: Whether you like Prime Minister Harper or not, we must acknowledge that he is standing at the very top of the political dunghill. If you look at leaders around the world (elected and unelected), you would be hard-pressed to find one with as much power as Harper commands.

He is leading a solid majority, which means he is set for the next four or five years. He has no really effective opposition in Parliament. The Liberals have an interim leader and won’t elect a permanent one before 2013. The NDP won’t have one before March.

It’s also interesting that their reputed frontrunner, Brian Topp, has no seat in the House of Commons and has not made the slightest effort to get one. Remember Jack Layton’s seat in Toronto has been vacant for more than two months. The seat would seem a good fit for Topp, who is from Toronto. It seems to me this might be a consideration for some NDP delegates to tip their vote to Thomas Mulcair, who does have a seat and is familiar with parliamentary debate in a way that Topp, who has never run for office, is not.

A Conservative majority in the Senate rounds out Harper’s power base in Ottawa. The raw fact is that Harper’s position is so unassailable that he can pretty much do what he wants—dump the long-gun registry, build more prisons, buy more expensive fighter jets—and nobody can stop him. His only opposition might come from some provincial premiers and his own caucus. On the last point, some redneck caucus members were opposed to Quebec’s getting more seats in the redistribution. Harper called a meeting and whipped them into line.

I would argue that there is danger in a parliamentary democracy where the leader has such a strong majority that he can act like a benign dictator. Of course we wouldn’t want the system in Washington, which is in deadlock much of the time. But there are no real countervailing forces to Harper’s power in Ottawa. Not an altogether healthy situation.

Pauline Marois: I had lunch with a friend the other day who remarked that he hoped Marois would last until the next election because that would ensure a monumental defeat for the separatists. But it’s looking more and more that my friend won’t get his wish. Let’s face it, Marois is standing on political sand and a little more of it washes away every day.

There are signs that the PQ is on the verge of splitting, losing support to the sovereignist left-wing Québec Solidaire as well as the party about to be launched by former PQ minister François Legault.

La Presse reported that Marois has lost the support of almost all her caucus. And there is no shortage of people waiting in the wings to replace her, beginning with Gilles Duceppe, who lead the Bloc to such a devastating defeat in this spring’s federal election. Frankly, I think Duceppe is yesterday’s news. I am not at all sure he would be much better than Marois.

Two fresher faces to replace Marois are Bernard Drainville and the actor Pierre Curzi. He left the PQ caucus in June to sit as an independent. Interestingly, Christian Bourque of Léger Marketing has suggested that Marois may not be the real problem, saying the Bloc’s loss in May might indicate the sovereignty option is the obstacle. Whatever is true, I think Marois will be lucky to last much beyond Christmas.

Governor Rick Perry: As we approach the first primary in Iowa in early January, the Republican race gets curiouser and curiouser. And none more so than Governor Rick Perry of Texas. On the very day that Perry announced his long-delayed plan for tax reform (a 20-per-cent flat tax), what do you think Perry was doing? He was answering questions about his oft-repeated insinuation that President Barack Obama might have been born in Africa, a view he shares with the political jokester of the year, Donald Trump.

Most political observers thought that by buying into the “birther” myth, Perry was stepping on his own message.

But I have a different theory. I think it is just as reasonable that Perry knew exactly what he was doing when he resurrected the “birther” issue. Perry knows full well that the Tea Party, which provides Perry with most of his support, is dying for a candidate who will mix it up by going to the mat with Obama. The Tea Party, and even more moderate Republicans, fear that the governor is too much of a flip-flopping pretty boy to get down and dirty with the president.

So Perry sent them a message that he was their man, that he would take the fight to Obama, dirty as that may be. However, there is a political problem here. Perry may have made some yards with the Tea Partiers, but this “birther” issue won’t play well with the general electorate next fall. This illustrates in dramatic fashion the danger of pushing an issue in the primaries that won’t cut it in the general. Actually, this is all somewhat academic. When the rubber hits the road, I expect the Republicans will hold their noses and nominate Romney.

Bishop Robert Finn: For the first time in American history, a Roman Catholic bishop has been charged with covering up child sexual abuse. Finn received a file of pornographic photographs of female children taken by one of his priests. The bishop did not turn over these photographs to the police for six months. If found guilty, the bishop faces jail time and a fine. He says he is innocent and will fight the charges vigorously.

Why have so many priests been fined and jailed, yet so few bishops who aided and abetted them charged?

The bishops seem to think that if they apologize profusely, that should be the end of the matter. It should be just the beginning of the judicial process. Until more bishops admit real responsibility, the sex abuse scandal will not go away.



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