On Caucus Splits

Maxime_Bernier

Budget 2014: a triumph for job-creation and getting Canadians back to work.

$40 million for youth internship programs.

$55 million for apprenticeship programs.

$100 million for interest-free education loans for the trades.

$300 million to improve broadband access.

$1.5 billion for a new university research fund.

$33 billion for ten years of infrastructure projects.

Mr. Speaker, contrary to the opposition, we know that it is entrepreneurs, small businesses, that create jobs in this country.  It is not a big fat government-

Wait, what?

That is why, in our budget, we controlled our spending to ensure that we would have more freedom for entrepreneurs and less government.  That is it.  That is all.  In that way, we will create economic growth in this country.”

That’s Minister of State for Small Business, Tourism and Agriculture, Maxime Bernier, calling his own government’s Economic Action Plan™ a job-strangling assault on the free-market.

Contrast and compare that with the supposedly cavernous rift that appeared on budget day between Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Minister for Ice Cream, Jobs and People-of-Every-Race-Holding-Hands, Jason Kenney.

Kenney, caught by a gaggle of journalists as he stepped outside the caucus room in Centre Block, was asked about income splitting.  He gave an otherwise innocuous answer: it’s a good idea, we promised it, our voters expect it.

Oh well gosh didn’t that just blow up the news cycle.

While I understand, and occasionally succumb to, the burning desire to exploit narratives (that we, in the media, have constructed) and create inter-personal conflict where there might not otherwise be any, it is perhaps that we are looking in the wrong direction.

Kenney is touted as the conscious of the social conservative wing of the party.  Flaherty the chief ol’ boy of the ol’ boys club.  Moore the face of a younger, more progressive wing.  Raitt, the champion of a brasher form of East-meets-West scrappy politic.  Ambrose, head of a neo-conservative annex to the party.  Baird, the affable king of anyone who’s ever met him at a party.

But, why?

Kenney’s base is arguably more a stitched-together coalition of New Canadians than a modernity-shunting team of gay-haters.  He does not, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, frequent the secretive pro-life caucus of Biblical literalists.  His leadership ambitions are simmering, seemingly blessed by the leader.  His base-building doubles as construction work for the party at large.  Courting the social conservatives would have the opposite effect on his otherwise socially liberal government.

And the rest?  They are lock-step soldiers in Stephen Harper’s political war.

But everyone wants to find a catfight of Chretien-Martin magnitude.  Rest assured, if such a leadership struggle existed, there would be much more fur on the floor of Centre Block.

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If you want to talk about divides, why not look at Bernier?  While the biggest ideological divide in Harper’s inner-circle appears to be a nominal, off-the-cuff disagreement about a tax program that is still a year off, Bernier is essentially attacking his own government as being full of wasteful binge-drinkers.

While some would cast-off Bernier as a loud iconoclast, that’s perhaps a bit short-sighted.  In a hypothetical caucus split, where Bernier squares off with, say, Moore, it is all-but-certain that his brand of small-getting-smaller government would trump Moore’s defence of the ancien regime.

Keep in mind that the only reason Bernier isn’t one of the main faces of this government is because of that time he left secret documents at the home of a sometimes girlfriend with biker ties.  I mean, nothing big.

Or, take Peter MacKay.  The open contempt between himself and the Prime Minister has been public knowledge since their political infancies.  Little consideration has been put into why the dynastic Bluenose minister was kept in Defence for so long, amidst F-35 bungling, only to be promoted to the position that he’s long-coveted — Justice.

Could it have something to do with MacKay’s go-to nuclear option of publicly whining that, if he doesn’t get his way, he’ll be leaving the party?  No doubt that idea gets banded about in caucus every once and awhile.

It’s fruitless to consider spats those close to Harper, perhaps for the simple reason that, to be close to Harper, you have to put party before self.  Harper came into power recognizing intently that a long-governing party’s worst enemy is the enemy within.

The broad benefit of that is the hive mind that protects against freelancing.  The simple problem is that it can make a government out-of-touch with the shifting tectonic plates within the broader base.

If you’re looking for signs of impending doom, it’s not Kenney you should be keeping an eye on.

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Other Columns By Justin Ling

The Fair Elections Act Goes to Committee

Democratic Reform Take Two

Building Poilievre’s Electoral Fraud in the Sky

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Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling

 

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