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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Burying the lead

Pogge has expressed his frustration at the clear disparity between what Michael Ignatieff said to Peter Mansbridge, and how it was reported. Now let me express my concern that Stephen Harper's interview is being likewise misrepresented:

Here's the headline:
Harper vows not to form government without most seats
And here is my transcription of the key part:
Peter Mansbridge: What if the situation was reversed, and Mr. Ignatieff or Mr. Layton was in first place....
Stephen Harper: Right.
Mansbridge: ... with the most seats...
Harper: They will form the government.
Mansbridge: They will form the government.
Harper: Yes.
Mansbridge: And they...
Harper: Now, I shouldn't speculate that, because I'm – we’re in this to win, and I think we're going to win. But that's, that's…
Mansbridge: I appreciate that, but you've raised the issue of the hypothetical situation, so...
Harper: Yeah.
Mansbridge: ... that's one as well. Whoever, whichever of those two parties does not gain the confidence of the House. The Governor-General comes to you, because that's the way it has to happen, and says "Mr. Harper, second-place party, the first place party couldn't achieve the confidence of the House. I’d like you to try"
Harper: Well, look, I think if the other guys win, they get a shot at government, and I don't think you challenge that unless you're prepared to go back to the people. And I think one of the reasons...
Mansbridge: So you would say no to that.
Harper: Yeah, because I think one of the reasons...
Mansbridge: You'd say to the Governor-General "No, I wouldn't do that."
Harper: (over Mansbridge) Yeah, absolutely. No, because I think, no, because I think one of the reasons, people don’t want another election. And that's another thing about this whole discussion...
Mansbridge: No, but that would be a way of preventing another election.
Harper: ... But Peter, these guys throwing up these scenarios, where govern... party may win, but we’re not going to let the government govern, we’ll be into another election before too long. That's why I think we need a majority mandate. I think this has gone on long enough. I think we’ve got a good record, so obviously we're appealing to the people to get behind us, and let's move the country forward. We have some pretty important economic challenges that remain in the world, in this country, and I don't think we can afford to continue to go around in circles like this, with any kind of minority.
Mansbridge: Alright, alright, I just want to be clear, because it is a different position than the one that you suggested in the letter that you wrote with Mr. Layton and Mr. Duceppe in 2004 about the Martin government, when you wrote the Governor-General suggesting there were other options, and one can assume that had to be the option you were talking about.
Harper: One doesn't assume that, because the option I was talking about, Peter, was that we try to influence the government's agenda, and if we want to defeat the government, we have to get our own mandate. I never suggested otherwise.
Mansbridge: Why do the two of them swear up and down that there was no question that what was on your mind was to become Prime Minister.
Harper: Why are they saying this now, instead of saying the opposite, they didn’t say this in '04. The reason, Peter, is because they're considering the option of combining with the Liberals to form a government without an election. That's why. That's why they changed their story.
So, the headline is strictly true, but not the most interesting thing here, I don't think. Let's parse this a little:

- The 2004 letter to the G-G. The reason Peter assumes the letter must be to request a shot at governing following a defeat is because there's no other practical reason to contact the G-G at that moment. Harper et al wrote a letter telling the G-G they are going to try to influence the government's agenda? "Good for you!" replies the G-G, "but what's this got to do with me?" "Oh, nothing," says Harper. Yes, that sounds like an entirely likely scenario.

- He implies earlier in the interview that he intends to introduce the same budget the government introduced before the government was defeated. He then says here that Canadians don't want another election. So, if the budget is immediately rejected by the other parties, representing the views of the pluralities that elected those members, either result - another party tries to gain the confidence of the house, or we go to another election - is antidemocratic. Therefore, the only democratic choice for opposition parties is to go along with what the government says. Neat!

- He thinks he can turn down a request from the Vice-Regal representative of Her Majesty. Stephen Harper is a republican, in the truest sense of the word. But we already knew that, didn't we, when he successfully pressured our last G-G to prorogue Parliament, in the face of the single guiding principle of a Westminster parliamentary system - the supremacy of the individual member. Stephen Harper either doesn't understand that, or doesn't approve of that, and Stephen Harper is a pretty smart guy, so one of those seems more likely than the other. There's your lead.

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