Saturday, February 11, 2006

The discipline of power

Adam Daifallah has posted his thoughts about what has been said about David Emerson. Let me address his points one by one.

First, every person who enters politics does so for a combination of altruistic and selfish reasons. Emerson does not need to be a minister. He could go back to the private sector and easily earn ten times his minister's salary.

Second, the Liberals badly flubbed the software lumber file, even with Emerson as a Liberal minister. That said, Emerson does bring inside knowledge of the forest industry and a no-nonsense approach in dealing with issues. Is he indispensable? Far from it. But he does have a lot to offer.

Third, loyalty and criticism need not be mutually exclusive. However, I believe the way many have gone about criticizing the party does amount to disloyalty.

Fourth, while similar on the surface, the two defections differ in fundamental ways. Belinda was a driving force behind the merger and a founding member of the CPC. She crossed the floor in a way calculated to cause serious damage to the party. Her reasons for leaving were Liberal talking points and were disconnected from reality, especially her professed fears about Quebec separatism.

In contrast, one could call Emerson a fair-weather Liberal. He was attracted by power and the good he could do with it. Paul Martin personally recruited him. His loyalty was to Martin, not the Liberal Party. Yet Martin stepped down when he lost power. Harper offered Emerson an opportunity to advance his agenda through the CPC in a real position, not something invented to feed his ego.

One similarity in the two defections, however, is that the Conservatives were hurt politically by both. For some reason, the Liberals have escaped relatively unscathed.

Fifth, there was nothing improper in what Stephen Harper did with either cabinet appointment. It was consistent with past practices and served an important strategic purpose in bolstering his government, at least until party members starting shooting each other in the feet. If Harper does nothing to advance his accountability platform, then all the criticism is justified. But give him time. I do not think he will disappoint us.

And finally, Harper is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. An awful lot of ink was spilled in the aftermath of the election regarding the lack of CPC representation in the major metropolitan areas. If Harper did nothing to address this, he would have been subjected to continuing criticism. And yet he is also criticized for deftly ensuring that these cities are represented in his cabinet.

It is tough enough to put together a government when you lead a new party that is largely made up of members with little experience governing. The last thing a leader needs is to be ducking shots from his members. That does not mean we should be silent about actions with which we disagree. But there are more diplomatic ways of communicating these concerns than through the media. If the CPC is to succeed in advancing its agenda, then its members must learn the discipline of power.