Will Canada's new government be less partisan and more open with information, now that the Conservatives are governing with a majority? "Only one person knows how the Prime Minister has internalized his triumph, and what changes, if any, his new political status will mean for him and his government," national affairs columnist Jeffrey Simpson wrote in Wednesday's column about Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Mr. Simpson took reader questions about Mr. Harper's leadership style and new mandate. A partial transcript follows, or click below to read the discussion as it happened.
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Moderator: Jeffrey, do you see anything in Mr. Harper's new cabinet and Senate appointments that indicates the kind of change in style you wrote about in your column?
Jeffrey Simpson: No, I don't. What strikes me is the sense of continuity; or rather the lack of change. There are some new ministers of course -- mostly from B.C. where there were three ministers who did not return (two by retirement, one by defeat) and in and around Toronto. But the key ministers -- the ones Mr. Harper most relies upon -- are all back in senior posts, sometimes the same ones: Flaherty, Baird, Clement, Kenney, Toews, Mackay. I don't say this critically, but as a matter of observation. They know the prime minister's style, and have obviously thrived under it. So nothing in the cabinet makeup suggests either a change of direction or style.
Guest: Do you think the public service will be more free to develop policy ideas for ministers? Will the government be more willing to listen to "experts" within the government?
Jeffrey Simpson: The civil service would obviously hope so. There is much distaste for the government in the civil service, in part because civil servants think their advice should at least be considered and their knowledge validated. Many think the government disregards both, and in some cases they are right.
Rita: Have past prime ministers governed differently while in majority situations than while running minorities? Diefenbaker? Trudeau?
Jeffrey Simpson: Some minority prime minister had to make concessions, as Mr. Trudeau did from 1972-1974. If you look at the highly expansionary budgets of those years, the creation of the Berger inquiry -- to take two examples -- the government did bow to pressure from the NDP. Joe Clark, by contrast, made no concessions with his minority in 1979, and didn't last very long. Mr. Harper made very, very few during his five years with a minority, and now obviously will make none, unless he suddenly is seized with the unexpected bout of noblesse oblige, which I doubt.
Laura: Isn't it a bit unusual, to say the least, to re-appoint someone to the Senate? Especially someone who resigned in order to contest the elections and lost?
Jeffrey Simpson: This is indeed something rather new: a prime minister appoints X to the Senate, from where at taxpayers' expenses he can prepare his bid for the Commons, and then when the electorate says they do not want X by defeating him, you reappoint X to the Senate. Shocking, really, but then many Senate appointments are for party worthies, many defeated on the field of electoral battle or seasoned in the back rooms of political parties. It would be so nice to imagine a Senate comprised of the some of the best and brightest minds in Canada. Sigh.
markdjarvis: Mr Simpson, I noticed that Mr Harper maintained a cabinet position for democratic reform. Do you think Mr Harper will push any concrete reforms to any effect? This was something he has shown signs of being interested in at times and at other times seemingly spurned.
Jeffrey Simpson: Good for you for picking that up. Stephen Fletcher, alas, did nothing with the file and has now been put into an even more meaningless place in cabinet. Perhaps it does mean there will be a little stirring. But big democratic reform stuff would be run out of the prime minister's office.
Doug: John Baird in Foreign Affairs? Really? Really?! Don't we have enough loud, rancorous people involved with international politics? Does Stephen Harper want our foreign policy screamed directly at world leaders and their envoys? Wouldn't Chris Alexander have been a sounder choice? He used to be an ambassador.
Jeffrey Simpson: John Baird is arguably one of the three most-trusted cabinet ministers by Mr. Harper, so it's natural that Mr. Harper would want him in a very senior portfolio. I don't think Mr. Baird will shout at foreigners. It's true that nothing in his political background or personal experience suggests any knowledge about the world, but that could have been said about his predecessor, Maxime Bernier and even Mr. Harper himself when he was elected prime minister.