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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Stop the presses - Harper runs a tight ship!

Columnist John Ivison had an attack of the vapours in today's National Post in an article titled PM tightens grip on power. Ivison accuses Harper of running the government like Louis "I am the state" XIV ran France, and solemnly intones that academics who have recently protested the prorogation of Parliament would be "shocked at the extent to which Mr. Harper now controls every aspect of government" if they knew what was really going on inside the PMO.

So what has Harper done to give Mr. Ivison fits? He has sent secret "mandate letters" to all his cabinet ministers which tighten their already short leashes to "choking point":
Each letter has a detailed list of priorities on which the Prime Minister expects to see results. There is next to no leeway for Ministers to promote projects they may feel are deserving.

Each member of Cabinet was told not to bring forward any unfunded proposals to Cabinet committees without receiving the Prime Minister's prior approval.

Only those proposals that address a threat to health, safety or national security will be added to the list of priority projects by the Prime Minister.

Mr. Harper warned his ministers that even the projects considered priorities are not guaranteed funding and will be reviewed, not by the Priorities and Planning Cabinet committee, as has been standard, but by himself and Jim Flaherty, the Finance Minister.

That's it? This is the evidence that the Prime Minister is running Ottawa like Hugo Chavez runs Caracas?

Please. The federal government is running a deficit during a severe economic slowdown, and although recovery seems to be underway, a return to prosperity in the short term is not a sure thing. Governments at all levels are starved for funds and a round of severe belt-tightening is imminent. The guy in charge has a list of spending priorities and expects support from the cabinet, which he appointed. The PM and the Finance Minister, who are responsible for the economic big picture, have forbidden cabinet ministers from bringing unfunded spending proposals to the table unless they concern a threat to health, safety or national security. This is a bad thing?

Never having attended a cabinet meeting, I imagine them to be like a nest of newly hatched birds with mouths agape, each chick trying to shoulder the others out of the way for its share of the worm. The fact that the PM is imposing some fiscal discipline on cabinet from the top down is reassuring to me - maybe they'll actually start acting like conservatives for a change.


wilson said...

That tight ship that Harper runs, has very impressively moved swifter than I have ever seen in a Canadian government,
to rush aide to another country, Haiti.

Well done Canada.

Skinny Dipper said...

Why bother with democracy? It interferes with conservative economics.

Aviator said...

It looks like sound management to me and long overdue fiscal discipline.

Eric said...

Skinny Dipper:

All the members of cabinet are democratically elected, as are the PM and the Finance Minister. Voters have the option to turn them out of office if they don't like what's going on - that's democracy.

Cabinet itself is not a democracy and is not run like the House of Commons, where there are opposition parties and members vote on bills. Cabinet is where the government's priorities are set, and the PM has always had the last word on decisions taken there, even in the administrations of liberal heros like Pierre Trudeau. Once the decision is taken, the cabinet falls in line and the bill goes to Parliament for a democratic vote.

If you people in the opposition parties are so outraged by this, then bring down the government on the next budget vote. Go ahead - I dare you.

Anonymous said...

It was always thus, as if Mr. Ivison wouldn't know. Back in the old days, Liberal PMOs used to send "Secret" (all correspondence between the PMO and Ministers is automatically classified 'secret') mandate letters to the Cabinet. To top it off, Ministers couldn't spend big money back then either, without Cabinet approval.

Basically, nothing has changed. That's the way it works and the only way that the budget process can be controlled effectively.

Mr. Ivison is just being clever here, counting on the average readers' lack of knowledge on the minutiae of budgetary and cabinet procedure to try to get attention.

(Bob in Ottawa)