Ever since Stephen Harper decided to shut down Parliament, his MPs have improvised dozens of different methods to quell voter backlash. For the benefit of Conservative MPs wondering how to defend the indefensible, we’ve taken the liberty of assigning grades to the best and worst strategies:
D+ Claim that constituents are “pleased” with prorogation. Helena Guergis says, “constituents in Simcoe Grey, once they have a conversation they are quite pleased… They are pleased that we are taking a step back.” (Alliston Herald, January 20, 2010)
A List constituent complaints in your newsletter. Conservative MP Ed Holder picked his constituents’ most frequent complaints for his “Holder’s Happenings” newsletter, including:
- “This is a dictatorial Prime Minister. MPs aren’t allowed to speak their mind. Why did he do this?”
- “What happens to Bills now before Parliament?”
- “You’ve shut down democracy. What’s not getting done in Ottawa?”
- “This just gives MPs more vacation!”
- “Won’t you be using this time to go to the Olympics?” and,
- “You don’t work if you’re not in Ottawa.”
C- Deny that you’re getting constituent complaints. As Tony Clement said, “it’s a big issue with the Ottawa media and some of the elites in our country, but I’ve got to tell you, if reaction in my constituency is any indication, I have had maybe three dozen e-mails.” (CBC, January 11, 2010).
D Respond to constituent complaints by fudging numbers. In a letter to a constituent who complained to his local newspaper, Tony Clement wrote, “It’s only an extra six weeks” (actually, it’s nine). He also wrote, “Some Parliaments have had six or seven throne speeches” (but not since 1953, when Louis St. Laurent was Prime Minister). (Huntsville Forester, January 13, 2010).
B- Give your constituents free Tim Horton’s coffee and donuts. Despite the free donuts, attendees at Lisa Raitt’s local townhall told her:
- “I think Mr. Harper has been shocked by the reaction of the public.”
- “There’s no question prorogation is undemocratic… it’s being used to hide from the public, to hide from the Opposition.”
- “(Harper) has become more of a dictator… Is your integrity so low that you would rather stay on as a cabinet minister than confront Mr. Harper about proroguing government to avoid bad press?” (Oakville Beaver, January 13, 2010).
B+ Let your brother do the dirty work. While Peter Kent stays in Mr. Harper’s good books by calling opposition to prorogation “sanctimonious twaddle,” his brother and former Afghanistan correspondent Arthur Kent vented on behalf of the Kent family: “There has been an unwritten fatwa maintained by the Prime Minister’s Office against discussion of any and all controversial aspects of the Afghan debacle,” adding, “if Stephen Harper is uncomfortable with democracy, he should quit his job.” (Globe and Mail, January 15, 2010).
C Release a silent movie showing how busy you are. Stephen Harper’s office sent the media a video of him kibitzing with some cabinet ministers, but without sound. We think they were discussing national security, but we can’t be sure.
F Make stuff up. Conservative MP Darryl Kramp denied that shutting down Parliament would affect government bills, claiming, “There is no delay whatsoever on anything” (Trentonian, January 7, 2010). MP Steven Blaney reinvented the rules of Parliamentary procedure when he said that bills on the order paper would be “automatically re-activated,” claiming that prorogation only “prevents debates from going on forever.” (Phillipe Gohier’s blog, Macleans.ca, January 15, 2010).
A+ Fess up. Former Stephen Harper Campaign Manager and Chief of Staff Tom Flanagan cuts through the spin: “Everyone knows that the Parliament was prorogued in order to shut down the Afghan inquiry.” (CBC’s Power and Politics, January 11, 2010).
D- Deny the existence of Tom Flanagan. Conservative MP Shelley Glover, on the man who helped found the Reform and the Conservative parties and helped write every Reform and Conservative platform: “I don’t know Tom Flanagan. I have never met the man and I have never seen him on Parliament Hill and I’ve been there a year and a half. But he is a Canadian and is entitled to his opinion, as are all Canadians.” (CBC’s Power and Politics, January 12, 2010).