Harper, McGuinty: contrasting leadership styles
Both have faced significant challenges this summer, the main difference being that Mr. Harper’s are mainly of his own making while Mr. McGuinty’s have been thrust upon him.
At Ottawa, the controversies have all been over deliberate government policies, ranging from the killing of the long-form census to the closing of prison farms in favour of more jails and the killing of the gun registry.
And in each case, Mr. Harper has chosen to ignore and/or fire the experts who questioned the wisdom of the government’s policies, and leave it to his ministers to defend those policies, often by claims that verge on absurdity.
For example, there was the claim that the long-form census was unfairly intrusive on personal rights, particularly when failure to fill out the form could lead to a jail term.
Suggestions that no one had ever been jailed for such a misdemeanour fell on deaf ears, as did the multiple criticisms from experts in virtually every area that you can’t preserve the credibility of census-taking by replacing a mandatory long form with a shorter one that’s more widely distributed but voluntary. Nor has there been any explanation of why the government couldn’t just eliminate the penalties for failure to fill out the form and simply require an explanation for nonperformance.
That decision has left the federal Conservatives wide-open to criticism that may even lead to the general public becoming concerned over the move. With this in mind, the NDP has asked Canadians rhetorically, “Why should you care about Stephen Harper’s census games?” and responding:
“The census guides critical health care decisions – like where hospitals and clinics are built. It helps your municipality deliver better child care and transit. In short, the mandatory census helps ensure you get the health care and services you need.
“But that’s not stopping Harper from axing it, just to score some cheap political points. That’s wrong.
“Stephen Harper would rather win reckless political games than to do what’s right,” said Brad Lavigne, federal NDP Campaign Director. “I want you to help me send him a message by spreading the word on Twitter right now.”
In similar vein, The Globe and Mail responded editorially to the claim that ordinary Canadians see the long-form census as too intrusive, with this suggestion: “Rather than decrying this as a cheap stunt or an attempt to artificially generate support for a senseless policy – though it may be both – opposition parties and Canadians should welcome this opportunity to show the value of the census and undermine the government’s argument that it intimidates Canadians.”
The Globe said the opposition parties “should mobilize their own ‘ordinary citizens’: the town planner who uses census data to make better decisions; one of the 20,000 census enumerators (perhaps a student) to represent the alleged instruments of government intimidation; the citizen who has no problem answering the questions, and gets better services as a result.”
Then, on the “crime fighting” front, we have the spectre of a government simultaneously closing prison farms and forcing the construction of a lot more jails, at costs that will run to billions, while claiming crimes are going unreported and responding to a senior RCMP officer’s support of the gun registry as helping the force fight crime by putting him out to a language-training pasture.
It would appear that after easily surviving confidence votes over the years, Mr. Harper has decided there’s no need to heed critics, be they from the opposition or the general public.
Contrast that with the actions of Mr. McGuinty when faced with a series of crises caused by the bungling and/or wild spending by government appointees charged with such important tasks as mandating electronic health records and financing the proper disposal of solid wastes.
Unlike Mr. Harper, the premier has on several occasions had to admit to failures and move to correct the situations. Hoping to breathe new life into his government, he unveiled a cabinet shuffle that elevated two new faces, and had several veterans either demoted or switching chairs.
The ‘eco fees’ fiasco caused John Gerretsen to lose his position as Environment Minister and become Minister of Consumer Services, and Rick Bartolucci was shuffled from Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services to Municipal Affairs and Housing after the government faced scrutiny about handing special powers to police during the recent G20 summit in Toronto.
The cabinet shuffle sent an internal message about accountability and the need for experienced hands who have proven to be strong communicators.
Of course, only time will tell which political leader has chosen the right course to win voter approval.