Carson gives an entertaining picture of Harper’s first few cabinet shuffles, starting with the story of an attempt to move Jim Flaherty from Finance to Industry, and Flaherty’s dramatic refusal to be budged.
He also relates how Harper decided Rona Ambrose was “spending too much time doing other things than looking at her [Environment] portfolio.
“He [Harper] couldn’t understand the media’s interest in the fitness regime of this cabinet minister, and why she would take time away from work to discuss such ‘trivial matters’ with the media,” Carson writes.
The other problem was Vic Toews in the Justice portfolio, says Carson, adding that Toews scared people when he talked of jailing 12- and 13-year olds.
“The prime minister was quite tired of morning meetings where the main topic was Vic Toews going off message,” he writes.
Finance Minister Jim Flahertyâ€™s appearance at a meeting of Canadaâ€™s finance ministers this week has renewed backroom speculation about whether his health will allow him to continue in his job.
As meetings at Meech Lake began on Monday, Flaherty was seen to struggle to get out of his car, and his voice was painfully weak as he addressed reporters later.
In the hours-long meeting with his provincial counterparts, he sat in silence most of the time, sometimes with his eyes closed, allowing minister of state, Kevin Sorenson, to chair the meeting.
â€œHe did not seem like a well man,â€ said a person who was in the room. â€œHe kind of closed his eyes a number of times, but whether that was just him sitting there listening or not, I donâ€™t know.â€
Tuesday on Parliament Hill, Flaherty was seen by a reporter walking with great difficulty.
In January, Flaherty went public with news about his health condition, bullous pemphigoid, a rare skin condition that produces painful blisters. He is taking the steroid prednisone, which can cause weight gain and, in large doses, can spur severe mood swings.
His staff did say that Flaherty was suffering from a cold at Meech Lake which could explain his mood there but he does seem to be suffering. Â I can’t imagine the requirements of the job make it any easier to deal with his health condition.
The fact is that, over the past three months, Harperâ€™s agenda has featured more so-called distractions than anything else.
Creaky wheels in the PMO and in the cabinet; cracks in caucus solidarity and public opinion turbulence have become hallmarks of the ongoing federal season.
Finance Minister Jim Flahertyâ€™s 2013 budget played to tepid reviews. He has been battling a painful illness. In the lead-up to a mid-term shuffle there has been unprecedented speculation as to his future role in the government.
For different reasons, outgoing Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney and former PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright â€” who both played strategic roles on Harperâ€™s economic watch â€” are simultaneously out of the picture.
For the first time since Harper became leader, some elements of the religious right have waged open war on his leadership. That comes on the heels of a public collision between the prime ministerâ€™s parliamentary lieutenants and the social conservative wing of his caucus over the abortion issue. That clash has morphed into a larger internal battle over the democratic rights of government MPs.
An early attempt to clip the wings of Justin Trudeau seems to have backfired. Polls suggest that the latest Liberal leader is less vulnerable to the black magic of Conservative spin doctors than his predecessors.
In yet another first, the prime minister lost a seat to a byelection earlier this month and, in the process, his only Newfoundland-and-Labrador minister. Peter Penashue had initially resigned over 2011 election spending violations.
On the same general theme, a federal court judge found that fraudulent phone calls to non-Conservative voters in the last election were part of a systemic attempt to prevent them from voting. While last weekâ€™s ruling did not point the finger at the Conservatives, it did conclude that whoever was behind the manoeuvre accessed the partyâ€™s data bank.
If there ever was a time when the government needed to change the channel it would be now, but Harper does not have a lot of alternative programming to offer.
According to documents tabled in the House of Commons, Flahertyâ€™s office billed taxpayers nearly $130 for Maybelline, Cover Girl and Smashbox makeup to ensure Flaherty looks his best when selling his financial plans to Canadians.
The document, signed off by Flahertyâ€™s parliamentary secretary Shelly Glover, says the finance ministerâ€™s staff had to scramble at the last minute to buy makeup for Flaherty in November 2008.
â€œPlease note that the cosmetics were purchased on the day of the 2008 Economic and Fiscal Statement (November 27, 2008) to prepare the Minister of Finance for the numerous television interviews conducted with media outlets from across Canada,â€ the department wrote. â€œThis was necessitated as the cosmetician arranged to provide the service had abruptly cancelled that day, requiring that it be done by the Ministerâ€™s office staff.â€
â€œThe cosmetics purchased were subsequently used by ministerial staff to prepare the Minister, when required, for television interviews in 2008 and the years following.â€
Finance spent $119.15 on cosmetics and $9.99 on beauty supplies. Among the products on the shopping list were Cover Girl loose powder, Maybelline loose powder, Maybelline concealer, Maybelline â€œMin Blushâ€, Maybelline LMU, Smashbox concealer, cosmetic wedges, a powder brush, a foundation brush and SBM Top Zip Shave.
Flahertyâ€™s office was the only ministerâ€™s office to report charging makeup, hair or beauty supplies to taxpayers, in response to an order paper question posed by Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis.
I am sure that many politicians use makeup but you don’t submit the expenses because at the end of the day, stories like this come out and they tend to stick. Â Someone, anyone in his political office should have looked at this expense report and burned it and given the bill back to Flaherty and clicked in their that boss is the one that preaches austerity and cuts programs and jobs for thousands of programs. This kind of reminds of me of John Edwards $400 haircutsÂ or Clinton’s haircut on Air Force One on the tarmac of LAX.
Under questioning from opposition MPs, Flaherty said for the first time that the Conservative government would move in with another round of stimulus spending if the world economy suffers a double-dip recession.
â€œWe would obviously do what is neededâ€ if there was a â€œdramatic deteriorationâ€ in the economies of the United States and Europe, he told the committee.
But for now, Flaherty said, the government is not changing its budget plan despite the turmoil on financial markets and debt crises in the United States and Europe. The plan calls for spending cuts of $4 billion a year to eliminate the annual federal budget deficit â€” now $32-billion annually â€” in a few years.
Pressed by opposition MPs about how Ottawa would react to a renewed global slowdown, Flaherty said he would change course and develop a pro-growth spending plan as the Conservatives did during the recent recession.
Here is my problem with this problem. Do any of us think that the United States/Europe is going to fix their problems in the next recession. I am not saying Flaherty is wrong but does this look like itâ€™s going away. Jeff Rubin points out that with global demand the way it is, as we come out of a recession, prices will increase and drive the economy back into it which means, how many of these recessions will we be able to afford to ride out until we are looking at Mulroney-esqe debt loads and Devine type deficits again.
We are looking at a default or massive bailouts for Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the too big to fail banks in Germany. There is a dysfunctional governance system in the United States, and even China has some long term economic problems. Does anyone think this next recession is going to be a quick one or we wonâ€™t be experiencing a triple or quadruple dip recession before this is all said and done? No, me neither.
I know Jim Flaherty has been seeking out the advice of economic experts like former Calgary Flames captain Jim Peplinski but may the alternative might be figuring out ways to reinvent Canadaâ€™s economy to thrive in a world where recessions will be the norm, not the exception.
I agree with a lot of it.
- STEPHEN HARPER (Prime Minister): Stop trying to score political points at the expense of the opposition and start addressing the very real challenges facing the country, both at home and abroad.
- MICHAEL IGNATIEFF (Leader of the Opposition): Draft a platform that positions the opposition Liberals as a viable alternative to the governing Conservatives.
- JACK LAYTON (NDP leader): Cease pretending to be a prime minister in waiting and focus on the NDP’s historical role as a progressive voice in Parliament.
- JIM FLAHERTY (Federal finance minister): Resist the siren calls to balance the budget by slashing public services at the expense of Canada’s most vulnerable.
- JIM PRENTICE (Federal environment minister): Instead of emitting more hot air, produce an actual plan for reaching Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions target by 2020.
- ROB NICHOLSON (Federal justice minister): Stop playing politics with our criminal code. This wedge-issue tactic won’t make us safer, but it will leave us with costly prisons packed with non-violent offenders.
- BARACK OBAMA (U.S. president): Stop trying to make nice with your political enemies and start using the presidential bully pulpit to advance your own agenda.
- HAMID KARZAI (President of Afghanistan): Drive out corruption in your government so that NATO forces no longer have to hold their noses while they prop you up.
- BENJAMIN NETANYAHU AND MAHMOUD ABBAS (Respectively, prime minister of Israel and Palestinian leader): Find a way to break through old barriers and make peace.
- DALTON MCGUINTY (Ontario premier): Leave the small stuff (mixed martial arts) or the details (electronic health records) to your ministers and focus on the big picture, including the economy.
- ED STELMACH (Alberta premier): Restrain your paranoia about eastern Canadians lusting after your province’s wealth and make a deal on greenhouse gas emissions.
Paul Krugman feels we need a bigger stimulus package.
Since the recession began, the U.S. economy has lost 6 Â½ million jobs â€” and as that grim employment report confirmed, itâ€™s continuing to lose jobs at a rapid pace. Once you take into account the 100,000-plus new jobs that we need each month just to keep up with a growing population, weâ€™re about 8 Â½ million jobs in the hole.
And the deeper the hole gets, the harder it will be to dig ourselves out. The job figures werenâ€™t the only bad news in Thursdayâ€™s report, which also showed wages stalling and possibly on the verge of outright decline. Thatâ€™s a recipe for a descent into Japanese-style deflation, which is very difficult to reverse. Lost decade, anyone?
Wait â€” thereâ€™s more bad news: the fiscal crisis of the states. Unlike the federal government, states are required to run balanced budgets. And faced with a sharp drop in revenue, most states are preparing savage budget cuts, many of them at the expense of the most vulnerable. Aside from directly creating a great deal of misery, these cuts will depress the economy even further.
So what do we have to counter this scary prospect? We have the Obama stimulus plan, which aims to create 3 Â½ million jobs by late next year. Thatâ€™s much better than nothing, but itâ€™s not remotely enough. And there doesnâ€™t seem to be much else going on. Do you remember the administrationâ€™s plan to sharply reduce the rate of foreclosures, or its plan to get the banks lending again by taking toxic assets off their balance sheets? Neither do I.
I donâ€™t know enough about macroeconomics to agree or disagree with him but I canâ€™t help but wonder how much longer the United States can borrow and spend this amount of money without driving up interest rates. I am assuming this will be a necessary evil but it does mean it will be a long and painful recovery.
Related: Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says that Canadaâ€™s unemployment will continue rising until 2010.