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The Globe and Mail

Why Harper should ignore Mulroney's advice

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Brian Mulroney arrive at an Ottawa celebration of the former prime minister's time in office on April 20, 2006.


Perusing Saturday's Globe and Mail, I see that Brian Mulroney is advising Stephen Harper to ignore the polls and do something remarkable. Mr. Harper should ignore the former prime minister's advice - for four reasons.

First, it's hard to see how creating a blue ribbon panel on health care would rank very high in prime ministerial legacies when compared to the creation of medicare, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or to Mr. Mulroney's own free trade agreement with the US.

Second, it's important to understand - as I suspect Mr. Harper does - that Mr. Mulroney's primary interest when he speaks out is in burnishing his own tarnished legacy. He and his acolytes have long championed the notion of "transformational" as opposed to "transactional" prime ministers. And they have gone so far as to suggest that a prime minister should be unpopular when he leaves office - a standard that would rank Mr. Mulroney right up there with our greatest.

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Third, in invoking the comparison with Lester Pearson's minority governments, Mr. Mulroney glosses over the fact that Mr. Harper has no natural allies in Parliament - as Mr. Pearson did with the NDP, the true fathers of medicare. And the reason Mr. Harper hasn't any natural allies is that, for all the compromises he's made in office, he still has some conservative principles - a complication that never troubled Mr. Mulroney when in office. And a complication that explains Mr. Harper's decision to quit the Progressive Conservatives during those years.

Which brings me to the fourth reason Mr. Harper should ignore Mr. Mulroney's advice: Mr. Harper has already done something big. He's restored the Conservative Party - split partly as a result of Mr. Mulroney having done something remarkable - as a governing party. I'm not sure how historians will eventually evaluate Mr. Harper's time in office, but stopping the erosion of Canada from descending into a one-party state could certainly end up in the books as quite a remarkable legacy.

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