Canadians waiting for Harper to turn a new leaf may end up stung

Tim Naumetz, Yahoo! News Canada Politics Blog

An interested observer recalled the 3,000 year old Greek fable about a turtle and a scorpion as he contemplated whether Stephen Harper will now ease up a bit, relax and remain “intensely aware,” as he said on election night, that his new majority is a government for all Canadians “including those who didn’t vote for us.”

The scorpion and the turtle both want to cross a river and the scorpion, unable to swim, finally convinces the turtle it will keep a promise not to sting the turtle in exchange for a ride across, arguing it wouldn’t make sense, since they both would perish. As they near midstream, the scorpion suddenly strikes. The turtle, in pain and floundering, asks the scorpion why it struck, knowing what would happen.

“It’s my nature,” the scorpion replies as they both begin to sink.

The observer was not comparing Harper to a scorpion, just using the old tale to make what he said was the point that if anyone believes Harper’s majority will change either his political manner or his plans for Canada, they can forget it.

Two professors who also have a keen interest in the federal political landscape agreed it is not in Harper’s character to relent or stray from the path he set out on two decades ago, just because 60 per cent of those who voted on May 2 voted for someone else.

“He has a majority, and he has quite a sizeable majority, I think you will see red-meat conservatism, and I think there is a lot of it,” York University political scientist Daniel Drache told Yahoo!News.

There have been four significant events signalling Harper’s intention to move quickly, and resolutely, while the signature ink on 308 election writs is still drying.

One was his lightning-speed intention to pack three defeated Conservative election candidates straight into the Senate, two for the second time, with Conservatives quickly spreading word the stunning move, so bold you had to blink your eyes to be sure it was real, would inject new life into demands for Upper Chamber reform.

Only a few minutes earlier, Harper had unveiled a new cabinet designed, by the selection of new faces and other adjustments, including four spots for the five remaining Conservative MPs in Quebec, as much with an eye on the next election as the government’s immediate goals, with sweeping cuts to the federal public service at the top of the heap there.

Soon after, the renewed minister of agriculture, Gerry Ritz, announced the government would move quickly to end the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly over grain marketing in western Canada, a thorn that his been digging into tough Conservative sides for years.

Next, word from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty that one of the biggest bones Harper has been picking over the past couple of years, government subsidies for political parties, would not just end, but would begin its demise with the very first of the new government’s budgets. The end of the subsidy, now $2 for every vote the main parties receive, is likely the biggest threat facing the decimated Liberals right now.

Then, as expected by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the biggest government union, new Treasury Board President Tony Clement made it known in the Ottawa Citizen and the Globe and Mail that “failure is not an option” as the government looks at public service reductions as well as program cuts to find $4 billion a year in savings from the $80 billion it shovels out annually in direct spending.

“I don’t think this is bravado,” says Drache. “They’re mad, they have a deficit, they have a strong economy relative to other economies, and they said we’re going to solve all our problems in three years, so if you understand what that message is, they have to reduce the deficit.”

Ottawa University law professor Errol Mendes, himself a target of Conservative snipers  for criticism of the government, predicts Harper will be equally aggressive with his political foes as he will be on government spending and other areas, including the king of all crime legislation so far, a massive omnibus bill on the agenda containing every justice initiative on the House order paper when the election began.

“He’s going to try to demolish the NDP the way he demolished the Liberals, the Senate is just a start, watch, he’s already said he’s going to get rid of the Wheat Board,” says Mendes. “Now he has the power, he will do everything he intended to do but couldn’t. Now he has the majority, it’s in his nature.”

Will the security of a majority change Harper’s personality, liven him up a bit, maybe entice him into meeting the public on Parliament Hill and walking into the Commons through the front door, instead of a rear lobby entrance?

“I don’t think so,” says Drache.

“The message is Canadians expect this, I think Harper will remain not a very ebullient person, and just go ahead with his mandate. I think he’s a fairly humourless kind of guy, who’s highly functional in the job.”