A most interesting development on Parliament Hill, as a not insignificant number of members of the governing Conservative Party caucus at the time of writing this column are openly challenging edicts from the Prime Minister’s Office and simultaneously claiming to be standing up for the freedom of members of parliament to speak their views on issues.
The issue which provided momentum for this mini-revolt of up to two dozen Conservative MPs, was their public refusal to back the PMO’s view on abortion and deciding to publicly if not drop the gauntlet outside the Prime Minister’s Office, then at least wave it for all in Canada to clearly witness.
Setting aside the specific issue, I am inclined to disagree with some of my media colleagues who are today discounting any chance of a rebellion among the ranks.
The PMO is now under the direction of “the boys in short pants” as veteran Conservative MPs refer to unseasoned staffers giving direction to sitting members of parliament and even cabinet ministers and Senators. A significantly placed Conservative caucus member groused to me during the last federal election about inexperienced kids running the day to day campaign and refusing to accept even the most basic advice from experienced veterans.
I doubt Stephen Harper will be on the lookout for a political Brutus lurking in the halls of the Chateau by the Rideau, nor will he be invited to a duel in the bowels of the grounds of the Calgary Stampede. Any challenge of the current PMO and by extension PM by Conservative MPs is not like those experienced by Jean Chretien or Paul Martin in recent political history. The federal Liberals were a nastily divided bunch heading toward the end of Chretien’s tenure, with supporters of Paul Martin working assiduously to see their man replace Chretien long before the latter was prepared to abandon the national government’s corner office. When Martin eventually did replace Chretien, bitter supporters of l’petit Jean delighted in attacking the new PM as surprisingly perhaps Martin’s hold on power almost immediately began to wobble.
I should perhaps temper my suggestion Stephen Harper shouldn’t be concerned about uncivil war erupting among Conservatives on Parliament Hill at least somewhat. After all, it wasn’t that long ago Mr. Harper assumed leadership of the CPC, as this new political entity rose from the ashes of the Progressive Conservative and Reform parties. Should sufficient Conservative backbench MPs become emboldened by the challenge issued to “the boys in short pants” and should the “boys” prove to have neither the political savvy, nor clout to immediately control the situation, the backbench may well push hard for the “boys” to be reigned in by the PM in favour of returning to a previous time when the PMO was staffed by politically experienced individuals who had an excellent and long standing working relationship with the caucus.
Backbenchers may be dismissed as mere foot soldiers by current PMO young guns, but enough foot soldiers turning on arrogant short-panters may force the PM to take sides. His only option in that circumstance would be to back his foot soldiers, thereby weakening his own position.
Enough analysis. Cutting to the bottom line here, it cannot be a bad thing for Canadian citizens, taxpayers and voters to see the iron grip of control of party leaders (including Prime Ministers) loosened somewhat. For individual members of parliament to achieve a degree of independence and be swayed more by their constituents expectations than the demands of a crew of order-givers still dealing with political diaper rash would be a welcome change.
I raised that point with Brian Mulroney in an exclusive one-hour, face to face interview in 1991. Mulroney bristled at my suggestion Canadians were weary of their elected at the constituency level MPs being responsible exclusively to the PM and his staff. In fact, Mr. Mulroney opined he was tired of the “bitchers and complainers”.
Fast-forward to 2013, I would love to make the same point to Stephen Harper. Wonder what the reaction from the current PM might be?
Roy Green is the host of Corus Radio Network’s national show – The Roy Green Show, heard locally on weekends on AM900 CHML