Tory fumbles pile up on Harper's bad day

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Sun Media, Friday, October 15, 2010

Stephen Harper had a bad day at the office on Tuesday, the worst day since his government took office four and a half years ago.

In the morning in New York, heavily favoured Canada finished third behind Germany and Portugal in a race for two non-permanent seats in the Western Europe and Others Group (WEOG) on the UN Security Council. The world voted for western Europe and consigned Canada to the others, marking our first failure to secure a two-year term at the UN’s top table.

Over lunch in Mississauga, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty slipped the news into his fall fiscal update that the deficit for fiscal 2009-10 would come in at $55.6 billion, the biggest in current dollar terms in Canadian history.

The other story of the day was that the United Arab Emirates wouldn’t allow Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Gen. Walt Natynczyk to land in the country where we have maintained a base for Canadian troops transiting in and out Afghanistan since 2001. They wouldn’t even allow our two most senior military officials to overfly their airspace.

But this wasn’t about Afghanistan, it was about a long-simmering commercial grievance. The UAE wants more than the six landing slots a week it now has for its two airlines in Toronto, and wants to add flights to Calgary and Vancouver. Air Canada has issues with this, both in terms of capacity and cabotage.

The UAE pushed back in a way that not only got our attention, but split the Cabinet into two constituencies, transport and defence.

For good measure, by day’s end, former Conservative minister MP Maxime Bernier leaked a speech he was giving to the very Tory Albany Club in Toronto Wednesday, advocating an end to federal transfer and equalization payments, suggesting Ottawa simply hand the money over to the provinces.

He was advocating classical federalism in terms of the constitutional division of powers, as opposed to the strong central government school. It’s a good debate, but the place to be having it is on the floor of a party policy convention.

To make a complete botch of the day, the damage control strategy of the Prime Minister’s Office was to blame the failure of the UN bid on Michael Ignatieff’s comments that Canada didn’t deserve a seat on the Security Council. From his dumb to their dumber.

This is the most idiotic communications strategy yet devised by this PMO, and that’s saying something.

In blaming Iggy, Harper’s office missed an opportunity to blame the Arab and Muslim states who voted en masse against Canada because of Harper’s staunch support of Israel. Quite apart from having the virtue of being true, it would also have had political traction with the Jewish community.

In the UN post-mortems, it develops that Canada thought it had undertakings for 136 votes, rather than the 114 it received. It also turns out that India and China, whom Harper hosted at the G20 in June, voted against us.

And Portugal, a country with huge sovereign debt issues, is preferred over Canada, which came out of the recession in better fiscal shape than any other leading economy.

Moreover, the government sent Harper in with two plays in the fourth quarter, in the speeches he gave at the UN last month, both widely praised. But it wasn’t enough to move the yardsticks, much less cross the goal line.

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