A New Day Dawns

Many problems face the new Conservative government.
Richard Purser
July 09, 2007
By Richard Purser
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.
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.

Ironically, 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.

Many 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....

And 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.

Of 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 the US.

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.)

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