Some will no doubt find this surprising, but former Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s shadow still looms large over Ottawa. We only have to consider the present tenant at 24 Sussex Drive to realize that the former Prime Minister’s stances tend to be followed by Stephen Harper in two ways.
First, the Prime Minister bases his political approach on the same grounds: each move is determined by a single aim – to win the next elections. Second, he doesn’t rock the boat by avoiding sweeping initiatives that often become difficult to manage and can easily skid out of control. If there are too many important dossiers at once on the table, it’s impossible to have total control over them. And this is why, like Jean Chretien, Harper prefers the incremental approach.
We can see how well this approach works in a number of federal government dossiers. Take, for example, Senate reform. To date, the Prime Minister has avoided any deep reforms that would have pushed him into constitutional negotiations. Remembering, no doubt, the grand constitutional debates during Brian Mulroney’s progressive-conservative years – for which he paid a dear price in the West – Harper goes at it a step at a time.
Not that he didn’t try to reform the Senate long before some of his appointees gave him headaches. In fact, it has been one of the Conservative troop’s hobby horses for some years now. We’ll remember that the subject of Senate reform saw a Prime Minister testify, for the first time in history, before a specially appointed senatorial committee, in 2006. But, despite the importance of this dossier, the government has managed to avoid the worst. It goes at it carefully. For now, the government awaits the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling, due sometime between Nov. 12 and Nov. 14.
What will follow in this dossier will become clear once the Court rules. But everything indicates the government will use this as a major issue against Justin Trudeau’s Liberal troops in order to keep its edge in the West. It’s a risky bet. Even if this is, in the present circumstances, a favourite topic, I’m not convinced that it alone can become a determining electoral factor.
Another dossier in which the Prime Minister seems to be taking a page from Jean Chretien’s book is with regards to Canada’s military intervention in Syria. When representing the Official Opposition, the Conservative Party vehemently denounced the Chretien government for its refusal to participate in the military intervention in Iraq. Yet now, the Prime Minister seems to have decided not to involve Canadian troops in a military expedition, yet he approves of international intervention. But no matter what, our troops won’t be involved.
Military deployments are always a source of acrimonious debates, seldom ending on a positive note for any government. What’s more, depending on the type of military intervention, Canada would have little to offer. Under those circumstances, the Canadian decision is a win-win move for the government.
Jean Chretien couldn’t have done better.
Translation Monique Kroeger