Well, here we are with a shiny new government – a new and much younger face as prime minister and a largely untried cabinet, but one with interesting possibilities. Yet it is a government with an even more tenuous mandate than the previous one and with the prospect of facing the people again well before the normal term of a Canadian government.
it may be propped up for a time by a Bloc Québécois fearful of further
losses if it helps precipitate an early election. Stephen Harper’s
Conservative Party of Canada, an amalgam of the more-or-less centrist
Progressive Conservative Party and the generally rightist Reform Party,
made notable gains in southern Ontario outside Toronto and most
spectacularly in Quebec, where it rose from zero status to gain an
important foothold. There were some losses in urban British Columbia,
and the party was totally, and very significantly, shut out in the
country’s three major cities: Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. The new
government will have to prove itself to these constituencies if it is
ever to achieve a majority and thus stability.
Harper’s cabinet was named on February 6.
of its members know a good deal about their mandates. A notable
exception seems to be Peter MacKay, who as head of the old PC wing of
the party threw his lot in with Harper and so obviously had to get
something. Perhaps the post of deputy prime minister, left unfilled by
Harper, would have been better for him than foreign minister. In his
initial utterances in the latter capacity, he was ineffectual in
commenting on the ‘Danish cartoons’ controversy (I’ll have more to say
about that in the next issue of our sister publication, WINGS) and
fatuous in commenting on two Canadians being held hostage in Iraq. But
a new cabinet minister’s job is to learn, and we’ll just have to wait
and see how he does.
Other cabinet ministers of special interest
to readers of HELICOPTERS include Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon,
who represents an Ottawa-area Quebec riding and is already
well-informed and experienced in transportation and communications
matters; and Industry Minister Maxime (NOT Maxine!) Bernier, who
represents a rural Quebec riding and has under his wing the thorny
subject of corporate subsidies, whose principal aerospace industry
recipients are based in Quebec. The Conservative Party has greater
ideological problems with ‘corporate welfare’ than did the Liberals,
but then Harper wants to make further gains in Quebec....
finally, there’s the new defence minister, Gordon O’Connor, a
66-year-old ex-army brigadier general who was director of military
requirements when he retired. He represents a riding just outside
Ottawa and was previously Opposition defence critic. If there was ever
a man who appears to be qualified for the job, O’Connor is the one. And
nowhere in government is a genuinely qualified minister more needed.
course, a relevant background is no guarantee of success as a minister.
And we will never know whether Bill Graham, now Opposition house
leader, would ever have been a great defence minister. His heart may
have been in the right place, as evidenced by his appointment of a
soldier’s soldier, Gen Rick Hillier, as chief of the defence staff, and
by his fighting (unsuccessfully) for certain needed military
procurements. But with Paul Martin as prime minister, no defence
minister could achieve greatness. Martin had little personal feeling
for the military, an inadequate sense of foreign affairs, and a tin ear
almost equal to that of Jean Chrétien when it came to relations with
O’Connor will have many problems, but most immediate is
handling a backlash among some Canadians to the increasing casualties
and the obvious long-term danger facing the sizeable Canadian NATO
contingent in Afghanistan. This mission is a crucial test of Canada’s
stature in the international war on terror, and Afghanistan’s Taliban
remnants represent terrorism at its most vile. Witness the January 4
beheading, in front of his family, of a school principal, for the crime
of educating girls.
(Harper and O’Connor made a surprise trip to
Afghanistan just before HELICOPTERS’ press time. This should prove a
significant boost both to the troops and to back-home morale.)
A New Day Dawns
Many problems face the new Conservative government.
Well, here we are with a shiny new government – a new and much younger face as prime minister and a largely untried cabinet, but one with interesting possibilities.
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