An Intriguing Admission or Just Nothing at All?
PM Stephen Harper wants the public to buy into his image. Since coming to office, he has tried to convince us that he’s the type to be in charge. He controls affairs, and doesn’t fall victim to circumstances. Or, so he wants us to believe. Are recent events going to tarnish that image? Could one confession, or allegation, cause the whole edifice to implode? If the opposition parties only listened to what Harper has been saying, they might just be able to capitalize when an election comes around.
In the beginning, Harper would set out to redefine foreign policy. His predecessors, or so it was implied, had allowed foreign relations to deteriorate. Not only was this portfolio a niche the Tories might exploit to advance their standing with both the domestic public and international opinion, it was an area that demanded genuine attention. What could go wrong? Take charge of foreign affairs, and the approach would pay dividends at home and abroad. Harper, moreover, could use the strategy to shore up his image as take-charge great leader.
But now comes the intriguing admission that despite all outward appearances and assertions, the Tories, and especially Harper, never were even close to being in charge of foreign policy. Perhaps it was not due to lack of effort, but it was, if the charges are to be believed, due at least in large part to a bureaucracy intent on undermining political leadership: “Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper complained earlier this month that officials in his foreign ministry were undermining the government's overseas agenda, a newspaper [The Toronto Star
] reported... If accurate, the report would support an impression in Ottawa that Harper has little time for his Department of Foreign Affairs, run by political rival Peter MacKay” [Cited in “Harper Says Undermined by Own Diplomats: Paper,” Reuters, 25 June 2007. Story posted at http://ca.today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2007-06-25T141234Z_01_N25282638_RTRIDST_0_CANADA-DIPLOMATS-COL.XML
]. But, Harper cautions, the problem is not unique to his government, and perhaps it is not insurmountable. It may even be trivial. Harper said: “What is not acceptable, and it does happen on occasion, is for a public servant to say ‘That may be the position of the elected guys, but that's not the position of the government.’ All the (foreign) leaders I've talked to complain to me that their foreign service wants to do what (it) believes is foreign policy, not what the government-of-the-day's foreign policy is. It's a universal problem” [Cited in http://ca.today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2007-06-25T141234Z_01_N25282638_RTRIDST_0_CANADA-DIPLOMATS-COL.XML
Should Harper be qualifying and minimizing his initial observation? Where is Peter MacKay in this dispute, or misunderstanding? Is the “rival” siding with his PM? According to one source, while Harper and MacKay may not be the very best of friends, they may be united when it comes to alienating the rank-and-file in the Department of Foreign Affairs. On 27 June 2007, Sean Durkan, writing in Embassy
, observes: MacKay “did little to endear himself to the troops earlier this year by letting it be known publicly that he (like the PM) felt his bureaucrats erred by not ensuring someone turned up at the trial of Chinese-Canadian Huseyin Celil.” But the dynamic between Harper and MacKay may not be so simple. Even more recently, the Foreign Minister stood up for his department, whose members found themselves hauled before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. The Committee is “sparring” with Foreign Affairs over the charge that DFAIT officials “bowed to political pressure and blacked out sensitive parts of the government's internal 2005 and 2006 human rights reports on Afghanistan...As [Deputy Minister Leondard] Edwards sat down in his chair last Tuesday to testify, Liberal MP Tom Wappel, the committee chair, was handed an open letter from Minister MacKay, stating he was distressed to hear of the rough treatment handed out to his officials last time round and that he trusted this would not happen again” [all citations in this paragraph from Durkan’s article ‘Stand by Your Staff,’ posted at http://www.embassymag.ca/html/index.php?display=story&full_path=/2007/june/27/capitalcity/
Is Peter MacKay really that kind of rare minister who, even in some small respects, is actually able to work independent of Stephen Harper?
Posted by Stan Markotich
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