Sunday, July 23, 2006

On lessons

Sheila Copps unloads on Harper for mangling Canada's role in the Middle East:
Harper's vocal support for the attacks that later resulted in the deaths of several Canadians plants him squarely in the middle of a self-inflicted political nightmare. Where was the Prime Minister's compassion when it came to the Canadian loss of life? Couple his steely response with images of angry, stranded fellow citizens, and you have a recipe for political trouble with a capital T...

(A) sage prime minister rarely supplants his foreign affairs minister as the public face of an international crisis. When mistakes are made, as was the case in the initial post-G8 declaration, the prime minister can always step in to rebalance things. Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien tread gingerly when it came to overriding his foreign affairs minister. He knew a good department would respond to a supportive prime minister.

Harper's decision to manage the crisis largely from his office reinforces a dangerous trend. He, and he alone, inflicted severe damage on the government this week.
It's tough to disagree with that part of Copps' commentary. But unfortunately, her conclusion (and some of the preceding text) is a bit more questionable in its apparent willingness to give Harper the benefit of the doubt so far, despite ample evidence of Harper's refusal to take a lesson in the past:
Command and control by the Prime Minister's Office appears to have hampered evacuation efforts and sorely tested the patience of the bureaucracy. Previous complaints about Harper's insular style have largely fallen on deaf ears but this time his penchant for control could prove costly...

If Harper has any chance of turning this situation around, he must abandon his controlling style. It is one thing to be a decisive, action-oriented leader. It is another to micro-manage the activities of cabinet ministers and those public servants who have more experience in the field than their political masters...

That being said, his international faux pas can be chalked up to inexperience. Only time will tell whether he is prime minister enough to learn from his own mistakes.
At this point, experience (not to mention Harper's own refusal to back down from his initial position) should put the onus on Harper to show some desire to learn from his mistakes. In the absence of any clear evidence of change, the only possible impact of people like Copps giving Harper the benefit of the doubt is to reduce the public fallout from his stubbornness. And by the time Copps and her ilk decide the "inexperience" excuse doesn't apply anymore, it may be too late to replace Harper with someone better suited to dealing with the world.

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