People and Places

POLITICS CHATTER: Change step, march!

POLITICS CHATTER: What, me worry? Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie ponders the changes about to take place in official Ottawa, knowing that he has a safe seat on the sidelines.

“Hi Mom! It’s a bright, sunny Sunday morning here at Pearl Harbor. I bet you folks back home probably have the Christmas tree up by now, but here in Hawaii, it’s just like summer. I’ve got the day off, but it looks like we’ll be spending a few more weeks getting that new coat of paint on the Arizona. Maybe I’ll go golfing this afternoon.

I’ll write a longer letter if something interesting happens.”

There’s a pre-attack feeling here on Parliament Hill. The great Tory hordes are on the way, whipped into a foaming frenzy by John Baird and St. John the Divine. Those who aren’t raptured up next Saturday will be packing fifty years of payback.

For some folks around town, things could be grim.

I know I have nothing to worry about. I’m a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery and my wife is a lawyer working for the Canadian Human Rights Commission. People like us are the last people the Harperites would mess with. We might as well go buy a bunch of these new condos around town and rent them out to NDP staffers on long-term leases.

Ottawa is a national capital the same way that Belmopan, Canberra, and Brasilia are national capitals. People roll in every few years, just as the Huns, Vandals, and Visigoths rolled into Rome back in the days before the Dark Ages. They come, they enrich themselves, and most leave. Few leave a mark.

Canada’s hard-right hopes to change that. Many want to re-make Ottawa into downtown Slave Lake, Alberta.

At first, their presence will be subtle. There will be some stirrings in the next few days. Harper will pick a cabinet this week. The House will be back in a couple of weeks. There will be a new budget, maybe the crime bill will pass, and things will go quiet.

At least, that’s how it will seem.

But through the summer, as people sit in their Gatineau Hills and Rideau Lakes cottages calculating their pensionable years and RRSPs to see if they can survive the New Reality, the gears will be turning in Ottawa. There will be big new appointments, like the replacements for Supreme Court justices Louise Charron and Ian Binnie. But there will be thousands of smaller ones as Harper re-makes the administrative system of this country.

He has every right to. Canadians gave him a strong majority in the last election. Harper has never made a secret of his belief that Ottawa’s bureaucracy swings Liberal. Few westerners have the French skills and the connections to break into the public service, and there is a need to open up the government of this country to people from outside the Montreal-Ottawa nexus.

And the country is broke, which is always a nice place to start when you want to slash the state.

The trick of this exercise will be to remain grounded in reality and for Harper and his cohorts to remember that people who disagree with him can still be honest, selfless patriots. Harper seemed to understand that challenge on election night when he said he would govern on behalf of all Canadians, even those who didn’t vote for him.

If he can actually do that, he can be a great prime minister. It was beyond Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, and Jean Chretien to govern that way.

But there are a lot of people who knocked on doors, licked envelopes and wrote cheques over the years for the Reform Party and the Canadian Alliance. These people have always believed that a majority would unleash the inner Stephen Harper.

Now, in small towns and dusty farms between the Cypress Hills and the Kootenays, there are a lot of people who believe it’s pay day and payback day. I’m sitting in the Hot Room, the old House of Commons press room, with Sun News TV playing in the background, and I’m listening to what these people want.

The hard right wants the CBC eviscerated. They want arts funding cuts. They believe Indians should be put in their place. They want immigration, especially from Muslim countries, cut back. A ban on abortion would also be nice. And capital punishment, too.

Except for cuts to the CBC, I wouldn’t bet on any of that. Stephen Harper is, above all, a politician. And he’s a young one. I doubt he has any intention of retiring at the end of his first majority term, when he will be only 55 years old.

But an awful lot of people who don’t know Ottawa and don’t like what they think they know will be arriving here in the next few weeks to fill very senior public service and administrative tribunal jobs. These are the people who will change Ottawa, maybe for a generation. They will have a strong say on how the public service will be cut and how much of a role the federal government will have in the lives of individuals.

For those who are really frightened, there may be one straw of hope to grasp. Vote for Tim Whodat and the Ontario Tories in the fall election. An Ontario Tory majority might draw off some of the Great Neo-Con Avenging Horde, diverting its energies to cleaning up that diversity-worshiping sin pit, Toronto.