By Chantal Hebert
If credibility is the foundation of political success, then this was a week when Stephen Harper’s government took a sledgehammer unto itself.
With Parliament adjourned and the government out of the daily reach of the opposition parties, this was to have been an opportunity for Harper and his ministers to show Canadians how they were on top of their files.
In hindsight, it might have been better if they had just taken the week off.
It is hard to think of a Conservative minister who is more of a francophile than James Moore. Among Harper’s English-speaking ministers, only he is proficient enough in French to dare go on Radio-Canada’s most watched talk show, Tout le monde en parle.
But a culturally clueless heritage minister does not come across as less ignorant for being able to exhibit that trait in a second language.
Many commentators would have cut Moore slack for failing to come up with the names of Peter Mansbridge’s Radio-Canada’s equivalent, Céline Galipeau, or even the iconic Félix Leclerc, but to be unable to identify Atom Egoyan, who is perhaps Canada’s most celebrated English-language filmmaker, does not wear well on the minister in charge of Canada’s cultural policy.
Moore set out to rebuild the government’s election-battered bridges with the cultural community, but ended up consolidating some long-held prejudices about the Conservatives.
If there is one area where the government has occasion to showcase leading-edge thinking these days, it is science.
In the U.S., President Barack Obama has just reversed a decade of ideologically driven policies and signed off on a multi-billion-dollar research initiative.
On the heels of that change in the American paradigm, the stakes for Canada’s knowledge economy have rarely been higher and many in the academic and scientific communities do not think the government gets that message.
In that context, the notion that Gary Goodyear, their appointed champion at the cabinet table, treats a basic tenet such as evolution as one of many possible answers on a multiple-choice religion exam could not but trouble them.
On a larger scale, the last thing Harper needs at this point is a debate about the place of creationism around his cabinet table.
To use a Beretta semi-automatic as door prize – as a gun lobby was planning to do – on the occasion of a speech by Saskatchewan MP Garry Breitkreuz next month would have been a counterproductive way to highlight Conservative efforts to abolish the long-gun registry.
The raffle draw is to be held in the GTA, a region that is struggling with gun crimes and at a time when Vancouver is plagued with an epidemic of gang warfare.
Breitkreuz was abruptly dropped as a speaker yesterday when news of the event and his association with it created a predictable furor.
Finally, as if Harper had not had a hard enough time striking a consistent tone on the economy, now that he has settled on an optimistic note, former governor of the Bank of Canada David Dodge is raining on his parade.
Unhappily for the government, Dodge has a track record that makes him harder to dismiss than an opposition critic.
When Harper first came to power, his most vocal critics were groups that were ideologically predisposed to hate the Conservatives on sight or who had irreconcilable policy differences with them. But, since then, the circle has been expanding to include academics, scientists, economists and even business leaders and, increasingly, it is the basic competence of the government that is becoming the top-of-mind issue.
Chantal Hebert is a syndicated columnist for the Toronto Star. She is a regular contributor to the opinion section.