Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Day After (Or, Harper's Hangover)

This session of Parliament is done until September.

Bill C-38 has passed into law, and gay couples have the right to marry.

It's still hot and smoggy in Ottawa.

Gas still costs 80-plus cents a litre.

And Stephen Harper, despite all the warnings that Andrew has given him, is still acting like a politician in search of votes.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper says if his party forms the next government, the law will be revisited.

Harper made the promise one day after suggesting the adoption of the law lacked legitimacy because it relied on the support of the separatist Bloc Québécois. Harper said he believes Bloc MPs are the legitimate representatives of Quebec voters. But he argues most Canadians aren't buying it as a final decision since most federalist MPs are opposed to same-sex marriage.

Harper says a Conservative government would hold a free vote for all MPs on the matter, rather than forcing cabinet ministers to vote with the government.

The reputation of "Wile E. Harper" is solidifying: a man who considers himself a genius, but whose tactics always wind up exploding in his face. And this latest one is an example.

Let's say this government collapses in the fall, a snap election is called, and Harper pulls out a win. (Remote, but possible.) Between now and then, potentially several hundred gay couples will have gotten married in Canada. If Harper decides to "revisit" the issue, is he going to repeal the law -- and let public opinion form the idea that he's declared all those marriages to be illegitimate? Or is he going to try to work out some fancy legalese to re-designate all those marriages as "civil unions"? Or is he going to declare the whole thing a provincial matter -- and be accused of playing into the hands of the separatists again?

This is the danger. Although I think the Civil Marriage Act is a bad law (I don't believe it goes far enough to protect religious freedoms), it at least has the advantage of being relatively simple. Revisiting this law would be like revising income tax laws. And Canadians don't like income tax laws because they're so complicated they can't be sure if they've broken it.

I agree with Andrew: now that it's over with, this issue should die.

But I disagree with him on another point: he wants Harper and his brain trust to start talking about the Tory agenda, get it out into the public.


This is the wrong time for it. Summer is the time for kicking back and reflecting, to let the hair down. It's why the Mainstream Media always call July and August (particularly August) the silly season: politicians relax so much they do silly things.

Policy may be important, but people don't elect leaders based on policy. They elect them because they like to think they know the candidate.

Getting on the barbecue circuit is a step forward. Using the opportunity to talk about tax cuts is two steps back. What's needed isn't the policy wonk. What's needed is the man.

Does Harper jog? Bicycle? Does he like hip-hop? jazz? Can he dance with his wife? Can he sing? Can he grill a chicken without drying it out? Would he attempt to eat a 10-pound burger?

And just answering questions is not enough; you have to show your personality. At events where stage-managing is impossible to detect, if it happens at all. Hosting a segment of Juste pour rire, for example. Or roasting corn-on-the-cob at the Calgary Stampede. Or even -- dare I suggest it? -- treating Rick Mercer and his crew to poutine and pilsner at the local Hooters. That's the type of thing Stephen Harper should be doing.

(Hey -- Rick Mercer likes Brian Mulroney. So he's not likely to go rabid.)

There'll be plenty of time for the policy wonk stuff in the fall, when Parliament resumes. But for now, if Harper wants to prove he can be Prime Minister, he needs to get the people who vote for him to think of him -- not the frustrated politician à la John Kerry, but the Regular Non-Clarkian Joe.