The bombshell came on Wednesday around noon, right after Prime Minister Stephen Harper had finished taking questions from reporters.
The media were already cranky. Earlier, they had plucked names out of a hat to determine who among them would be offered up to ask a few questions of the PM in his first post-cabinet shuffle press conference. Typically, Harper’s staff ignored the media list, and came up with one of their own.
But that wasn’t the bombshell, or even remotely surprising — in Harper’s Ottawa, that kind of stuff is standard operating procedure. No, the bombshell came after Harper and his minions had scurried out of the line of fire: “Prime Minister Stephen Harper has appointed three defeated Conservative candidates to the Senate,” The Canadian Press reported in a news bulletin, as jaws dropped across Parliament Hill (and the country). The Sun’s top guy on the Hill, David Akin, immediately tweeted: “Harper puts Larry Smith, Fabian Manning back in Senate. Also appoints Josee Verner.”
CTV’s Robert Fife, one of the most influential voices in the Press Gallery, could barely contain his amazement that Harper had elevated three Conservative cronies — Conservative cronies explicitly rejected by the voters — to what he called “patronage heaven.” The Ottawa Citizen’s Glen MacGregor wrote that he honestly thought PMO’s press release was a prank when he first saw it.
Meanwhile, Maclean’s magazine’s Andrew Coyne, a pundit with actual conservative instincts, was outraged: “What a disgrace. Just one poke in the eye after another,” Coyne wrote. “They are laughing at you, ladies and gents. They have your money and your votes. And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”
Across the country, it’s been like that for days. Harper’s Senate appointments were so breathtakingly cynical and disgraceful, so contemptuous and despicable, they actually eclipsed the news coverage of the cabinet shuffle itself. From coast to coast, ordinary Canadians — including Conservative ones — shook their heads in dismay.
My reaction was different.
Sure, the appointments were wrong on many, many levels. Sure, they were wrong because the Senate itself is an anti-democratic abomination, one that has no place in a supposedly modern state. Sure, the appointments were wrong because Harper has flipped the finger at voters in Quebec and Newfoundland who had consciously, and just three short weeks ago, rejected Smith, Manning and Verner.
Sure, the appointments were wrong because Harper — the guy who once famously said (in 2004), “the upper house remains a dumping ground for the favoured cronies of the prime minister,” and (in 2006), “a Conservative government will not appoint to the Senate anyone who does not have a mandate from the people” — now does regularly what he promised to never do.
The pork barreling was wrong, for sure. But you know what?
You get what you pay for, folks. You get the government you vote for. Suck it up.
On May 2, Canadians may have felt they were trooping to polling stations to bring to an end the seemingly interminable cycle of elections and minority governments, and return some stability for four years. They may have thought they were rewarding Stephen Harper for doing not badly through a global recession, and for not behaving like a Reform Party troglodyte following his first win in 2006. They may have thought they were doing their democratic duty.
In reality — and from Stephen Harper’s perspective — they were giving the Conservative Party a licence to do whatever the hell it wants to.
This is, I am now convinced, Stephen Harper’s last term as prime minister. By the time it’s over, he will have been in power for a decade.
And he plans to drop a few more bombs along the way.
Just watch him.