Monday, February 06, 2006

Emerson, Harper deal democracy another blow 

VICTORIA - Pragmatically, David Emerson's jump into Stephen Harper's cabinet is probably good news for B.C.
But it still stinks.
This is a politician who only three weeks ago was telling voters in his riding that he believed deeply in the Liberal Party, and that they should believe in him.
They did. He was elected with 43 per cent of the vote. And now he's betrayed them.
Emerson didn't just campaign as a strong Liberal. He warned that a Stephen Harper government would plunge Canada into a "black hole."
The Conservative party was made up of "angry" and "heartless" individuals who would destroy Canada's social programs and don't like immigrants, Emerson said. "They're uncomfortable with ethnic minorities," he said. "They try to dance around it and create partisan attempts to win those votes, but I think everybody sees through that."
The Conservatives were even too dim to understand the importance of the Pacific Gateway transportation project, he said.
On election night Emerson was passionate about the need to battle the Conservatives. "I'm going to be Stephen Harper's worst enemy," he vowed.
But all it took was a phone call from a Conservative agent, the offer of a top cabinet job and Emerson jumped into bed with the angry, heartless Harper. So much for keeping promises, or principles.
After almost two years of saying there were clear and important differences between the parties, Emerson now says that wasn't true. He was misleading anyone who listened.
Especially the people in Vancouver Kingsway. Two weeks ago they elected Emerson as a Liberal to represent them in Ottawa. New Democrat Ian Waddell came second, with the Conservative candidate a distant third.
Despite their overwhelming rejection of the Conservatives, the voters in that riding are being represented by one.
There is nothing wrong with people changing parties on matters of principle. If an MP is deeply disturbed by the direction his party has been heading, he has the freedom to cross the floor, or more honourably to sit as an independent.
But that's not what happened here. Faced with the gloomy prospects of life on the opposition benches after two years in cabinet, Emerson jumped to keep a cabinet job.
Emerson says he can do more for his constituents if he's on the winning side. "If I'm going to dedicate another two years to public service, how can I have the most impact," he asks. "I think I can be more effective in helping them in cabinet than in opposition."
Practically, this is probably good news for B.C. Emerson is in a position to get action on B.C.'s priorities, from the Pacific Gateway project to pine beetle aid, an as international trade minister takes on the softwood file. He's also responsible for the Olympics, so expect a quick yes to the organizers' request for an extra $55 million to cover early cost over-runs.
But it's very bad news for democracy. Emerson and Harper have subverted the electoral process for their personal goals. The voters - the people who are supposed to be at the centre of all this - have been treated with contempt.
It's also a bad stumble for Harper on his first day. Instead of setting a new tone and new direction, he's looking much like the Liberals, welcoming Emerson just as eagerly as Paul Martin embraced Belinda Stronach when she abandoned the Conservatives.
At the same time Harper named Conservative campaign co-chair Michel Fortier to cabinet, even though Fortier didn't run in the election. He'll be appointed to the Senate, Harper said, and then run in the next election.
A Senate appointment and a seat at the cabinet table for a key party organizer, even though voters had been given no chance to judge his abilities.
And a big prize for an MP ready to denounce the principles he championed only weeks ago, and abandon both his party and the voters of his riding.
It was a dubious start for a government that had promised to do things differently.
Footnote: B.C. got three other seats at the cabinet table. Stockwell Day gets public safety, Chuck Strahl agriculture and Gary Lunn is the new minister for natural resources. The 27-member cabinet is down 12 people from Martin's version; B.C. should have the representation to advance the province's interests.


wstander said...

I think this is the first reporter's story that did not describe what Emerson did as "crossing the floor" Thank you, thank you, thank you. What he did was change parties after being elected as a Liberal and before the Parliament was even convened. I suspect it is unprecedented in Canadian history. Kudos also for noting the irony of an unelected, campaign chairman from Quebec being appointed, of all things- Minister of Public Works. Cronyism and patronage look to have a good future under the Harper regime.

CuriositykilledTheCat said...

Stephen Who?

On his very first day as PM, Stephen Harper showed clear signs of following in the footsteps of the bungling Joe Clark, who not only lost his luggage but succeeded in losing his bearings in Parliament as well. Like Joe, Harper seems to have forgotten that his is a minority government, not a majority one, and seems to have assumed – at great risk to his fledgling government – that the Liberals, NDP and Bloc will not oppose him and force another election for 12 to 18 months.

We shall see if that assumption is valid.

If an election is held soon, the Tories will start off with egg on their faces, due to Holier-than-thou Harper’s baffling judgment on Day One.

Why on earth did Harper harpoon his own left foot?

He did it once, with his turncoat-conversion and the Liberal into the cabinet before anyone can see it sleight of hand.

He did it twice, with his appointment of – among others – Stockwell Day to his cabinet, instead of more women, and more women it important posts. Does the other half of the population – women – not count in Stephen Who’s world?

He did it thrice, with his U-turn on an elected senate. Principles dumped for expediency?

He did it fourthly, with his appointment of a former lobbyist – and then breathtakingly wants to legislate against others being allowed to do the same.

He did it fifthly, with his introduction into Canada of the Karl Rovian doublespeak. Thanks to Stephen Who, Canadians can now also spend delightful hours parsing the speeches of politicians, to decipher just how they are being bamboozled.

What a beginning!

I wonder if he will last as long as Joe Who....

Anonymous said...

I like the comment in a letter to the editor in the local paper today. Seems an old Socred said" I've been shovelling shit for this party for years and now this guy rides in on a shiny pony". Wonder how many conservatives feel the same way? And of course the, in the trenches liberals who battled to elect Emerson over Waddell must be thinking the same. Wonder where sleazy folks like Emerson will jump to next time? Belinda jumped to get a budget passed, she was called a whore by those nice conservative gentlemen. She got reelected as a Liberal contrary to so many predictions of her falling on her face. So what do we now call Emerson? Oh great for BC etc. etc. The guy didn't have the gonads to run for the conservatives as he knew he wouldn't get elected as one.
Must have gotten used to the fancy car and driver and theo ther assorted perks of a cabinet minister.

Dave Macmurchie said...

I heard another customer in a local store sum it up in what's probably a well-worn phrase, but indicative of the attitude that Harper's moves will engender in voters: "Same trough, different pigs"

Except as far as Emerson goes, it's the same pig.

Anonymous said...

"...Day gets public safety..."

As Stockwell will have oversight of CSIS, I think the headline should be: Day gets Intelligence


Gazetteer said...

But Mr. Willcocks.....didn't Mr. Emerson always tell us that he was a 'small C' Liberal?

Regarding the Rovian comment by the curiously mortal feline might want to check with the apparent broker of the deal about that; after all it was he who, according to Sean Holman, spent considerable time at the RNC in 2004 attending strategy sessions. And now, Jordan Batemen is reporting that there is a rumour that the broker is soon to join VANOC.

Ahhhhhh, Power - expediency is thy name.


Anonymous said...

Paul, I usually enjoy your writing, but I couldn't get past the first sentence: "Pragmatically..."

"Pragmatically", it makes sense to bonk someone in the head and hijack their car if you want to get somewhere and yours isn't working. But "reasonable" people wouldn't even entertain such a sorry excuse for an excuse.

Dawn Steele said...

"Emerson is in a position to get action on B.C.'s priorities, from the Pacific Gateway project to pine beetle aid..."

These may be Emerson's priorities or the business community's priorities or Gordon Campbell's priorities but since when does that make them BC's priorities? More to the point, why on earth would anyone think these are priorities for Vancouver Kingsway residents like myself whom Emerson represents.

Not to discount the devastation of the mountain pine beetle, but this wasn't exactly a Vancouver-Kingsway priority. And why would we elect Emerson to promote some "Gateway" project that will just encourage more Surrey residents to pollute our air and worsen the gridlock on Kingsway Ave by each driving their own personal 2-ton V8 truck to commute every day into the city?

What about the national child care plan that the Conservatives are set to demolish? Now that's a priority for young working families! Or how about Emerson's promise during his first election campaign to secure federal funds to speed seismic upgrading of our schools? Call me parochial, but knowing that my child is not going to be crushed to death in a pile of masonry in the slightest tremor is what I would call a priority.

If Surrey or Whistler or Howe Street or Victoria or the BC Interior want someone to represent their priorities in Cabinet, they are free to elect someone like Mr. Emerson in their own ridings. Except now they realize that he'll just serve the highest bidder, and that the interests of his constituents mean nothing whatsoever to him once they hand him a seat.