Before Mayor Rob Ford's alleged drug dealer, Alessandro Lisi, was busted in a police sting last week, I got to thinking about the mayor's fishing buddy, Stephen Harper.
The PM's anti-drug views are well known. He's a family values guy, unlike Ford who thinks he's a rock star. Harper is the antithesis: far too serious a bloke for someone just out of his 50s and, it seems like only yesterday, a rebellious Turk in the Reform Party, too radical even for Preston Manning, the man he would eventually replace as Reform leader.
Postmedia News parliamentary bureau chief Mark Kennedy's new e-book, Rebel to Realist: How Politics Saved Stephen Harper And How He's Changing Canada, posits that
"Stephen Harper began as a conservative renegade with explicit principles advocating a fiscal and democratic revolution. But over time, appeared to bend those principles to the demands of political power." Kennedy gives the PM too much credit.
For Harp, governing hasn't always been about pursuing the purer brand of conservatism he may have advocated at one time. It's been more an exercise in self-preservation lately. All those years of minority rule must have messed with the PM's head. Now that he's got the "strong, stable national Conservative majority" he'd always coveted, he's gone all Scarface on us.
Call it American-style exceptional-ism. The conservative movement, embodied by Harper and Ford, part of the Etobicoke clan whose roots are planted somewhere around a place called Richview, has caught a bad case of it ever since embarking on its crusade to remake Canada by any means necessary.
The Harper Conservatives rode into office on the tails of the Quebec sponsorship scandal. They promised transparency in government. That turned out to be a bad joke.
Public appearances of the PM have become so scripted that he barely faces questions from the Ottawa press corps anymore. The supposed gatekeepers of public info have to ask permission to ask questions. If they don't, they're liable to have happen to them the kinds of things that are only supposed to happen in places like Egypt. The PM seems as challenged at times about notions of democracy.
While at the UN in New York last week, CTV cameraman David Ellis tried to get in a question about the recent resignation of MP Dean Del Mastro from the Conservative caucus as the PM was leaving an event. Another day, another scandal. The PM was not in the mood, apparently, summarily barring Ellis from the PM's plane and trade mission to Malaysia.
The PMO quickly denied it. Reporters had gotten the story wrong. They hadn't, of course. It was just more contempt from a government whose shown plenty of it when it comes to answering questions, whether they be about breaking election financing rules, or Conservative Senators lining their pockets.
Del Mastro was charged September 26 by Elections Canada with four offences, including overspending his campaign limit by $21,000 during the 2008 election. "A fresh ethics embarrassment for Stephen Harper," the Globe called it. The Globe is understating it a little.
The allegations include that Del Mastro also filed false expense claims. He faces up to five years in prison. But let's move on. Nothing to see here. For the PM, the Del Mastro charges hit particularly close.
Del Mastro is not your average MP. He's the Prime Minister's former parliamentary secretary. He was also the PM's designated attack dog during the robocall controversy, one of the loyal young frat boy types the PM has a habit of surrounding himself with. Maybe it's because they remind him of himself.
Del Mastro took to that role with relish. A little too much as it turns out. Del Mastro would find himself embroiled in a robocalls scandal during the 2011 provincial election while campaigning for Tory candidate Alan Wilson.
Campaign Research, the polling firm censured by the Market Research Intelligence Association in 2012 for its involvement in misleading phone calls in Montreal MP Irwin Cotler's riding, figured in the Del Mastro shenanigans as well.
But what's a few ethical breaches have to do with running the country anyway?