If you were a child in the 90s, or were raising one, you probably remember Blue’s Clues.
The premise is pretty simple. A dog named Blue leaves pawprints, or ‘clues,’ around the flat he shares with his owner in order to help him figure out the broader, inane, mystery. Invariably, the owner stands in the middle of the room, missing an obvious clue, prompting children at home to exasperatedly yell at the television: “It’s there! It’s right there!” Then, as the chorus of pre-pubescent cries reaches a fever pitch, the owner pretends to suddenly hear them and finds the blue pawprint stamped onto the cartoon item. The owner finds three clues, then sits in his thinking chair and figures out what they all mean. Then he finally puts it together. The mystery is solved. The french salt shaker congratulates the owner. They come back the next day and do it all over again.
This weekend, in Calgary, Stephen Harper stood in front of his party faithful and missed the second huge blue pawprint behind him. And he didn’t hear all of us screaming into our television sets.
“Friends,” he told the crowd. “It is time for the Senate to reform itself.”
“There! It’s right there!” We all cry.
But Harper didn’t see it.
As the Senate scandal drags on, and it will drag on, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Harper will have to be proactive. Thus far, he hasn’t been. And he’s signalling that he doesn’t intend to change.
It was our government, he reminded his audience as he thumped through his speech, that introduced the Accountability Act. It was our government that introduced reform bills to the House of Commons. It was our government that sent the reference to the Supreme Court. It was our government that is trying to fire the terrible three.
But for every accomplishment, there was an excuse as to why it didn’t work.
When he introduced the reform legislation that seemed almost designed to fail, he blamed the opposition. When he encouraged the provinces to set up their own Senate elections and they didn’t, he blamed the premiers. When he referred the constitutional question to the Supreme Court, he blamed the justices for blocking it. So now, as his last stand, he’s making a new enemy: the Senate itself.
Terrified of becoming a defender for a radioactive institution, Harper challenged the Senate to be master of its own domain. What that entails, if anything, is unclear.
It’s a mug’s game. The Senate has no more power to reform itself than Harper has.
Harper needs to stop feigning ignorance and take responsibility.
He should have noticed the big blue pawprint on the wall of the Red Chamber, and came out for abolition durning the Throne Speech. Instead, he’s trying to rinse off responsibility and blame the Senate for its own misfortune.
That defence makes Harper look meek in the face of the NDP, the party basking in the simple serenity of having a clear, concise message on vestigial institution that started this mess: get rid of it.
Harper can either join Thomas Mulcair — and his some of his own ministers — on the right side of the issue, and stand alongside the bearded leader in victory after a hypothetical post-referendum victory, or he can stick to his guns and try to wrangle the feral cats in the provincial legislatures.
Dealing with the premiers will be a quagmire. And if he continues his hand-wringing, he’ll get drawn into it anyway.
Six senate seats are currently vacant — three more will open up next week, if the Conservatives get their way — and eight will face mandatory retirement over the next two years. A slowly-emptying Senate could motivate some premiers to get involved. If Duffy goes, PEI will be missing half of its owed Senators when Catherine Callbeck retires next July. A Liberal-run Quebec, meanwhile, might get ornery over its four vacant seats.
No province wants to be under-represented, anywhere.
Fighting the tide is not worth it. Ottawa fatalists know that the Senate is not longed for this world. Abolition is an eventuality. Like the human earlobe, the Senate has served no real purpose in a dog’s age — aside from unintended amusement — and will someday be a distant memory. Harper needs to decide if he’ll bite the bullet, turn around, point at the pawprint and mock surprise as he shouts “there it is!”
He’ll have one last chance, as the third pawprint comes stamped on the Auditor General’s report, which promises to throw the archaic body further into disrepute and burn the remaining goodwill, if any, the Senate can still claim.
When he sees that pawprint, he needs to go sit in his thinking chair and come out with the right answer. He needs to solve the mystery. He needs to come out for abolition.
If Harper ignores it, he risks undoing everything that he’s built.
“It’s there! It’s right there!”
Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @Justin_Ling