Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The Smartest Politician in the World
With the Democrats firmly in control here in the United States, it's nice to occasionally see brilliant displays of leadership from right-wing leaders on the international scene. Hence, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is quickly becoming one of my heroes. I already had great respect for him, as he helped unite Canada's divided right into the new Conservative Party of Canada and then led that party to victory in the 2006 election. However, a dramatic turn of events earlier today cemented him as, in my mind, the smartest leader currently on the world stage.
To give a bit of background, Canada's parliament has been a mess since Harper's Conservatives won re-election in September. It was a historic victory, and a humiliation for the once-dominant Liberal Party (which suffered it's worst defeat in history), but the Conservatives fell just short of a winning a majority of the seats in Parliament. This meant that Harper could theoretically be ousted in the unlikely event that the country's three other parties banded together to form a majority. Unfortunately, the unlikely became reality in December when Liberal Party leader Stéphane Dion inked a coalition agreement with the socialist New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois (a separatist party from Quebec). This development would have allowed the three parties to remove the Conservative government and make Mr. Dion the Prime Minister - even though he had been roundly rejected by the people in an election. But then Stephen Harper had a stroke of brilliance.
Making one of the most dramatic moves in Canadian political history, Harper asked Governor General Michaëlle Jean (Queen Elizabeth II's representative in Canada) to "prorogue" Parliament - meaning totally shut the place down - until late January. Such action is usually reserved for the end of a Parliamentary session, and had never been used in any other circumstances, but it ended up saving the Harper government. In the short term, it prevented Dion from forcing a no-confidence vote in Parliament. More importantly, it forced the three opposition parties to hold their shaky coalition together for a whole month before taking power...that was what made Harper a genius.
During their month-long time-out, the Liberals decided to throw out the unpopular Stéphane Dion as their leader and replace him with the more moderate Michael Ignatieff. This new leader was less amenable to the idea of overturning the will of the people, and today he pulled the Liberal Party out of the plot to take power. Of course, he left the idea on the table for the future. However, it looks unlikely. By pulling out of the coalition, Ignatieff made the socialists and the separatists so mad that they now seem to be angrier at him than they are at Prime Minister Harper - so I doubt they will be working together any time soon.
By proroguing Parliament, Stephen Harper protected the will of the people, saved a government that was all but dead, ended the career of Stéphane Dion, and set the opposition parties at each other's throats - all in one fell swoop. It was arguably the most brilliant piece of political theatre that I have ever seen in my life. The only consolation for the Liberals might be that, in giving up his chance to become Prime Minister, Michael Ignatieff may have saved his party from oblivion. The plot to oust Harper was highly unpopular, and polls showed that the Conservatives would have absolutely flattened the usurpers in the next election had they gone through with it. If Ignatieff goes on to lose the an election to Harper (which I think he will), he will have committed the ultimate act of personal political sacrifice in order to preserve the Liberal Party.
Something tells me Stephen Harper will be running Canada for a long time to come, and will likely go down in history as one of the nation's great Prime Ministers. So, in the age of Obama, it might be a good idea for U.S conservatives to look to his leadership style as a "North Star" to guide us back to power.