Teflon Prime Minister

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Conservative ministers are the shield that can keep Stephen Harper squeaky clean

Have you ever noticed that nothing sticks to the Prime Minister?

It seems that Stephen Harper is incorruptible and nothing can damage his reputation. Despite what seems like a steady stream of failure and obfuscation coming from the government, Harper remains above controversy and accusations of incompetence, which is far more than can be said for his ministers. Every week, it seems, a story breaks about a minister who says or does something embarrassing to the government or demonstrating total ineptitude at their jobs.

But even if Prime Minister Harper himself isn’t linked to controversy and incompetence, it boggles the mind that his government ministers can continually fail and still keep their jobs. Consider the case of Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz, who presided over both the listeriosis outbreak in 2008 when he joked that Canadians were dying a “death by a thousand cold-cuts” from the Maple Leaf Foods recall of contaminated lunch meat. During the E.Coli outbreak last year at the XL Food plant that sickened several people and led to the largest food recall in Canadian history, the minister was nowhere to be seen for much of the time, and even after both of those things, he remains a minister. Resignations are certainly not unprecedented over those sorts of failings, and yet there seems little admission that there is any responsibility.

Ritz is not alone, though. Minister of Defence Peter Mackay initially tried to sell the F-35 fighter jets to Canadians by using the misleading price of $16 Billion for 65 jets, a cost that has since exploded to $45.6 Billion in acquisition, development, and maintenance. In essence, Minister Mackay tried to budget taxpayer dollars for a new car without factoring in the costs of gas and repairs. Also, the cars cost about $245 million dollars each and require constant maintenance and we didn’t even look to see if there were other potential cars which might be more reliable, cheaper to repair, or better for our needs.

The damning thing is it’s not like anyone fell for Mackay’s initial sales pitch. In fact, the opposition’s demand for the real numbers and Mackay’s subsequent refusal to provide that information to Parliament and Canadians led to a vote of contempt of Parliament. Essentially, Mackay withheld serious information from Canadians and Parliament so that neither could properly scrutinize the deal Canada was making. And then, once the real numbers finally came out, Mackay remained Minister of Defence after essentially doing everything in his power to lose his job.

These are just brief examples of ministers not quite seeming to understand their portfolio. I could list here Jason Kenney, who broke the fundraising rules of Parliament and remains a minister even though in the past ministers have resigned for even being under suspicion of possibly committing something embarrassing to the government. Or Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt, whose commitment to labour amounts to committing to force labour back to work through legislation. Or Minister for the Status of Women Rona Ambrose who voted in favour of a motion that could have turned back the clock on abortion rights women have fought for over the last several decades.

But it might be time to start looking beyond these ministers to the person who chooses to keep them in their positions – the Prime Minister. Sure, Harper seems to stand above the fray and have nothing to do with the ineptitude and gaffes of his ministry, but ultimately he decides whether they will resign or not. And so far he’s content to keep his ministers in their positions for the most part. If anything sticks to the Prime Minister, it should be that fact.

Edward Dodd
Op-Ed Editor

Photo courtesy of commons.wikipedia.org

1 comment

  1. e1f1ac0 17 January, 2013 at 13:44

    Harper's administration is a classic example of fascism in action. From backstabbing and bullying his way to the top of the Conservative Party to conniving with the RCMP to usurp power,  to steamrolling over and stonewalling  his opponents our government  is as totalitarian as any in the middle east.

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