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Adam Radwanski

Clever or clumsy? Add to ...

The most common analysis of the decision to prorogue Parliament seems to be that it's yet more proof of Stephen Harper's evil genius. Sure, it's horribly cynical, particularly since the government very obviously tried to bury it. And yes, it undermines the credibility of a Parliament that had very little credibility to begin with. But hey...it sure was a clever way to make all the Prime Minister's troubles go away, at very little political cost.

I'm not so sure I buy it. If anything, I'd say the latest prorogation is evidence of Harper's weird tendency to needlessly make his own life more difficult.

The Conservatives ended the year in as good shape as they could have hoped for. That's largely because Michael Ignatieff had such a disastrous summer and fall, but it's also because the government did a good job of recasting itself after its near-death experience at the end of 2008. Even if it was more perception than reality, Harper seemed to have become a little more mature, a little less gratuitously confrontational, and a little more focused on governing than on playing stupid partisan games. As a result, he had begun to project a certain gravitas; more so than previously, he looked prime ministerial.

Proroguing Parliament won't completely throw that away - not when much of the electorate is too disengaged to notice, or to bother figuring out what proroguing means. (The consequence of constantly telling voters that Parliament is best ignored is a whole other matter.) But to the extent that it helps set the narrative, it reinforces that old impression of a bullying prime minister vastly more concerned with advancing his own partisan interests than in providing good government. A prime minister, in other words, who lacks gravitas, and doesn't look that prime ministerial after all.

And for what? By most accounts, the main incentive was to derail investigations into the handling of detainees - a controversy that, as the Tories keep reminding us, most Canadians don't really care much about.

In other words, the controversy created by proroguing won't necessarily be much smaller than the one that proroguing is meant to escape. Nor is there any guarantee, for that matter, that suspending Parliament will actually work in the latter regard; on the contrary, it could give some people the impression that the Conservatives have a big problem they need to run away from.

Again, this isn't the sort of thing that's going to make or break the government. But it does fit into a rather familiar pattern.

For all the talk of strategic or tactical genius, this is the same party that spent most of the last campaign taking the heat off Stephane Dion with a series of totally avoidable gaffes, and wound up with only a minority government in the easiest election it will ever face. The same party that, almost immediately after that election, nearly brought itself down by totally overplaying its hand. I could go on.

In the past few years, the Conservatives have committed enough unforced errors to rival the Leafs' defencemen. Proroguing Parliament may prove to be another one.

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