As Tom Flanagan has observed, the Conservatives have been shooting themselves in both feet with their shifting explanations for prorogation. It seems, however, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not taken to heart the advice of his former adviser.
Yesterday, Conservative anyonymice were offering a new reason for prorogation. The PM, we were told, wanted to ensure that ministers with new portfolios had time to bone up before facing their opposition critics in Question Period.
Had that been Mr. Harper's true motivation, he could have shuffled his cabinet weeks ago. For, as has been widely reported, the Prime Minister sent his ministers updated mandate letters before Christmas. Normally, these letters are given to ministers on the day they assume their new responsibilities.
Had the shuffle taken place before Christmas, the new ministers would have had roughly the same amount of time to prepare as they will now have. Outgoing ministers would have been spared some useless work over the holidays. And the Conservative government - and the Prime Minister - may have still been flying high in the polls.
Speaking of spin, though most of yesterday's shuffle had been pre-figured in leaks to CP and CTV, Conservatives somehow neglected to tell an embarrassed Bob Fife or anyone else that Defence Minister Peter Mackay would be losing his responsibilities for ACOA and the Atlantic Gateway.
Yesterday, Conservative spin doctors were whispering that Stockwell Day's appointment as President of the Treasury Board was a signal of the Harper government's seriousness in reining in spending. Mr. Day's experience as Alberta Treasurer was cited as proof; in truth, per capita program spending under the Klein government was the highest of any province in Canada. All the rest was the kind of spin that you can only get away with in a one-party province. Or maybe not, judging from today's coverage of the cabinet shuffle - a tangible testament to Mr. Day's communications skills and the affection for him in Ottawa media circles.
On the other hand, Conservative spin on Jean-Pierre Blackburn's new responsibility for Veterans Affairs - said to have been a lateral move from Revenue but actually a demotion - is already breaking down. For one thing, there was the sour look on his face at yesterday's swearing-in. Today, his regional newspaper in the Saguenay, Le Quotidien, features a front-page photo of a less-than-tickled-pink looking Blackburn, as well as headlines along the lines of "A slap in the face for the region," and "Difficult to understand." As to the minister himself, he's quoted as regretting losing a portfolio whose visibility he had raised through an aggressive campaign against foreign tax havens.
Canadians can only hope that's not the reason for his demotion, and that - along with the elevation of Christian Paradis - it's simply a case of the Prime Minister being eager to defend unpopular government policies in Quebec. On the other hand, after last night's body blow to Barack Obama, you can forget about climate change legislation in the U.S. And Afghanistan was already giving way to Haiti as Canada's foreign policy and defence priority - a shift that will be well-received in Quebec - before the shuffle was announced.
(Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail)