Standing Exposed On Opposite Corners
Date: Thursday, November 02 2006
Nov. 2, 2006. 01:00 AM
Politics shares with theatre the power to strip character bare. Ten months into their cabinet jobs, Jim Flaherty and Peter MacKay stand exposed.
Scrutiny has a way of doing that to politicians. But what's intriguing is that the experience is less emotionally searing for the comfortably upholstered finance minister than it is for his bucko-fit colleague at foreign affairs.
Current events couldn't be unfolding more differently or in more revealing ways for the ministers Stephen Harper positioned in his cabinet's two top spots. Flaherty is emerging a fixer, MacKay a problem.
The reason is unusually clear. Faced with big and small embarrassments, Flaherty chose difficult and right while MacKay opted for easy and wrong.
In controversially stopping the income trust juggernaut, the finance minister did much more than break a Conservative campaign promise. By moving now he reverses Paul Martin's mistake of delaying a politically advantageous but economically precipitous decision until campaign drums were beating loudest.
With the economy still strong and an election months away, Flaherty is seizing the least damaging moment for Conservatives to make tax changes Liberals made inevitable. By removing the income trust advantage now while buffering the worst effects on seniors, the finance minister is removing one temptation for opposition parties to defeat the spring budget and then defend bad — if popular — policy in the next election. That would not be in the national interest. Flaherty's worries about creeping inequities are as legitimate as his fear that encouraging leading corporations to sacrifice research to inflate shareholder returns will tilt Canada toward loser in the knowledge economy sweepstakes.
Flaherty's surprise announcement effectively reduces two huge problems to manageable size. It wisely changes the Liberal income trust light from green to at least amber and it passes the critical test of dealing with a looming crisis forthrightly and fast.
Contrast that to MacKay's inept handling of the waggishly labelled doggy-gate. By allowing pride to trump courtesy and self-interest, he let a Chihuahua grow into a Rottweiler.
How hard is it to say "sorry"? Ronald Reagan was so good at it that Americans remember the human lead of Bedtime for Bonzo as a great president while Canadians are so decent that even a tiny nod to individual frailty is a giant step toward universal forgiveness.
Too hard it seems for MacKay. Many news cycles later, he's still blending what ordinary folks dislike most about politicians and lawyers by breaking the demonstrably true into such small parts that it appears false.
In the real world, dissembling is quickly spotted and rejected as a fib or, gosh, even a lie. In political circles it's known as spin and warmly embraced as straight talk's love child.