Politics and principle

Today Prime Minister Stephen Harper named his cabinet and among his choices were former Liberal Minister David Emerson and Tory campaign chair Michel Fortier.

On the plus side the Conservatives have made an effort to reach out to areas in which they do not have traditional support (namely urban Vancouver and Montreal). However, David Emerson should run in a by-election as a Conservative before he assumes his duties in cabinet. Concerning Fortier, Stephen Harper should immediately start his elected senator appointment process and Michel Fortier should run to become elected.

A Stephen Harper cabinet wouldn’t have suffered greatly without David Emerson. And Emerson’s defection from the Liberal party is unlike Belinda’s defection from the Conservatives. Emerson now holds a senior portfolio to the benefit of all Canadians and the B.C. MP defected at a time that was not ‘strategic’ for the Conservatives. Contrast this to Belinda’s defection to hold a fluff cabinet post (ironically the Minister of Democratic Renewal) at a time which was strategic for the Liberals. While media commentators sat back in admiration of the highly strategic high-profile defection of the blonde betrayal (Whoa ho HO!), the media will rightly scrutinize the Emerson defection given the Tories’ campaigning on accountability. However, Emerson’s cabinet post is based upon merit (professional if not political qualifications) while Stronach’s post was based upon opportunity.

Nobody would argue that Belinda’s bolting allowed Paul Martin to genuinely ‘reach out’ to the people of Newmarket-Aurora. British Columbia was one of the regions of the country where Conservative support declined. In the days that followed the election, pundits argued that a ‘great’ urban-rural divide had been revealed. Now that the Prime Minister has reached out towards British Columbians, many of the same pundits are calling the move ‘opportunism’. I don’t agree. First, Harper’s minority isn’t razor thin and isn’t dependent upon a single swing vote. Second, the timing of the defection is fair; it doesn’t come at a time when the government faces a key vote. Harper has put all of his cards on the table.

In the art of cabinet-making, Harper has done an admirable job and has certainly reflected the diversity of this nation within his new inner circle.

On the other hand, in politics, the art of compromise ensures your chances for survival. However, our new Prime Minister has the opportunity to turn what may appear as a compromise of principles into a stage for accentuating them instead. If Stephen Harper asks Emerson and Fortier to stand for election, it will provide him a perfect opportunity for showcasing how a Conservative Ottawa can be different.

If not, chalk it up to the average Ottawa aberration between politics and principle.