Friday, April 15, 2011

Harper Heard the Snoop & Gave Guergis the Boot:: Leadership Optics

Helena Guergis,
Incumbent MP Simcoe—Grey, Conservative Independent
Helena Guergis had a press conference today in Colingwood, ON about her dealings with Stephen Harper and getting kicked out of the Conservative caucus. This put her front and centre in the media and brings up another fire for Stephen Harper to put out. Guergis stated she was never told what the allegations were and never given an opportunity to defend herself. She took aim at Harper's character::

“This is the behaviour that we’re supposed to accept? I find that unacceptable, and so does the average Canadian”

She also mentioned that she's facing a "dirty campaign" against parachuted candidate, Kellie Leitch, a Toronto surgeon who has bristled at any allegations that she's not a true local and has also copped to the fact that she won't be giving up her clinic hours. More on Leitch in another blog. Harper responded that there were several problems with Guergis, without mentioning her by name::
"There were ... a range of political problems around this individual...They have been discussed among members of our caucus. There is simply no desire to see the return of this individual to our caucus."
The problem with this is that it doesn't seem worthy of the secrecy that Harper shrouded the Guergis controversy with. So, if Harper had a problem with her tantrum in PEI, staffers writing letters without full disclosure, or "serious allegations about her comportment", as his rationale, why not state this as such. Why all the hush-hush cloak and dagger?

This should be an optics nightmare for Stephen Harper, but I'm not sure if this will get traction. Lorne Gunter in the National Post thinks that Guergis brought this on herself, in what I see as an invoking of "these are not the droids you're looking for. Go about your business. Move along"  Gunter's "blame the victim" stance ignores how this speaks to Harper's leadership style, which doesn't involve one iota of transparency. Gunter chalks this up to political business as a blood sport with no expectations of due process or fairness::
"Politics is a blood sport and cabinets and caucuses are not democratic institutions governed by the rules of natural justice. When an individual becomes a drain on the government or a party, they cannot expect due process. Helena Guergis through her behaviour and that of her husband, had become an anchor around Mr. Harper’s neck and that of his other MPs. He had no choice to cut her loose when she became the subject of an RCMP investigation, especially given her petulant performance in Charlottetown just weeks before. That may have been mean and arbitrary of the prime minister, but that is the nature of politics."
I think he's nailed how Harper views leadership and power while blithely failing to see how this might not play with the electorate. The math here doesn't add up. Getting turfed for her transgressions lacks proportionality. Gunter's argument falls flat because it is predicated upon the assumption that Guergis and by association, Jaffer, were political liabilities. How? Also, why beat around the bush? This reeks of something else going on here or Harper making things up post-hoc on the fly.

The way Harper threw Guergis, a fellow Conservative, under the bus was in the style of a dramatized Capone à la The Untouchables::

While polls are showing Harper's leadership numbers are sky high, I'm wondering what fellow Conservative MPs are thinking. Harper is like a playground bully in the House of Commons—a bully that likes to lurk in the shadows. I think those who are in the "in" crowd want to stay in and will defend the regime—a modified Lord of the Flies. I think some may be getting tired of the regime, because Harper represents five years of an orthodoxy that requires the equivalent of a loyalty oath.

Leitch may split the vote allowing for the Liberal candidate to squeak by. Guergis may be able to convince voters in Simcoe—Grey that she represents them and could be back into caucus with a new Conservative leader. This also begs the question of what Harper's future is if he manages to get another minority government—I don't see the regional poll numbers to support a majority. The political fragmentation in Parliament won't be going away with a minority Conservative government, bringing up the issue of confidence and Harper. In December, CBC wasn't giving Harper much longevity without a majority—in fact, they were pessimistic regarding the future of all of the leaders given a looming election. The Harper campaign must be feeling the pressure since the stakes are so high. The only real win is a majority and that ship may have sailed. Whether the Guergis matter will matter with the electorate remains to be seen, but it gives the opposition plenty of fodder. The electorate in Simcoe—Grey and across Canada may judge Harper like he supposedly judged Guergis. The sentiment on May 2nd. may well be, "There were ... a range of political problems around this individual."

Twitterversion:: [blog] Helena Guergis {Simcoe— Grey} on her turfing from caucus w/no evidence/due process. Optics nightmare for Harper?   @Prof_K


Kenneth M. Kambara said...

This Kelly McParland piece in the National Post nails the optics problem for Harper on the Guergis affair.

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