As one of Stephen Harper’s biographers, I am taking some prosaic license with today’s OttawaWatch headline.
In so doing, I will invoke four other names to put things into context: Lester Pearson, Bob Rae, David Johnston and Ernie Regehr.
Much has been written about the fifth anniversary of Stephen Harper’s becoming prime minister. Depending on how one measures it, that anniversary falls on either January 23 — the date of the 2006 federal election – or February 6, the date he was sworn in as prime minister, following that election.
Whatever, the main significance of this particular anniversary relates to the fact that it will surpass the previous record for length of tenure of a minority government, held by Liberal Lester Pearson in the 1960s. He was prime minister for two days less than five years.
It has been mentioned both in this space and elsewhere that the Harper and Pearson minorities have been similar in more ways than one. One of those ways is that both men finessed their governance utilizing some pretty careful collaboration with the opposition parties — often with one party at a time.
In Pearson’s case, the finessing was with the Social Crediters and the New Democrats. With Harper, it has been with the Liberals and the New Democrats. And, in both cases, one other party functioned more on the fringes, with respect to collaboration. With Pearson, it was the Diefenbaker Conservatives and with Harper, it has been the Bloc Quebecois.
With both minority governments, the rapport with opposition parties was necessitated by the inability of either those parties to join a coalition with the party holding the most seats. If that had been possible, the formation of a Union government of the type headed by Conservative Robert Borden during World War I might have resulted.
But, interestingly, the concepts of peace-making and diplomacy prevailed to a greater or lesser extent with both the Harper and Pearson governance. And, in Harper’s case, the efforts to ratchet down the rhetoric, on the part of the government front benches — and among many Liberal and NDP members.
You don’t believe it? Well, try watching hours and hours of legislative debate, sometime. Even, at the committee stage, things work well most of the time. When they don’t, of course, the blame can arguably be laid at the feet of the media’s need for conflict — and the penchant for a small minority of oppositionists to use vitriol, knowing they are protected from the libel laws which prevail outside Parliament.
All this brings us to Bob Rae, the Liberal foreign affairs critic and sometime somewhat unsuccessful NDP premier of Ontario.
In the January 18 Maclean’s, columnist Andrew Coyne makes the astonishing suggestion that Harper should hire Bob Rae as his foreign affairs minister. Thinking that Coyne was trying to play an April Fools joke a bit early, I skipped to the end of the piece for the disclaimer.
Instead, the columnist pointed out a precedent. He cited the snatching of David Emerson from the Liberals at the beginning of Harper’s 2006 tenure. After the outrage died down, Emerson became a very effective Conservative foreign affairs minister.
While Harper will likely take Coyne’s advice with a grain of salt, the columnist deserves credit for thinking outside the box.
Then there is Ernie Regehr.
Just before I started writing this piece, the announcement came that Governor-general David Johnston will be awarding the 26th (Lester) Pearson Peace Medal to Regehr this Friday, January 21. Regehr is a well known Christian-rooted peace activist who, among other things, is co-founder of Project Ploughshares and adjunct associate professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College, University of Waterloo.
It is appropriate that Johnston be the person to present the medal, and not just because the governor-general is honorary patron of the United Nations Association in Canada. He also served as president of the University of Waterloo for many years before taking up his present post.
Conrad Grebel is a Mennonite institution, affiliated with the university. It is one of a number of faith-based affiliates of Canadian public universities, coming from various strands of Christendom. Others, whose names would be familiar to readers, include Regent College at University of British Columbia and McMaster Divinity College at McMaster University.
Today’s piece has been a wide swing through consideration of Harper’s first five years. Hopefully, some of the disparate pieces of the puzzle will fit well, as the present Parliament enters its next phase of activity.