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Reginald Stackhouse (James Lewcun)
Reginald Stackhouse (James Lewcun)

Reginald Stackhouse

Yes, the silly season really is here Add to ...

The Harper government is accident-prone. Even when it does good things, it can't stay out of trouble.

In June, the Prime Minister not only played host to the G8 and G20 summits but also helped to shape them. Despite Canadians forming only the 35th-largest population in the United Nations, our political chief held centre stage. He actually made us feel good about ourselves, the Queen's visit and most everything else as the silly season heaved into view.

But a month later, what's the focus of debate? An unimaginably unexciting issue. What could have been expected to grip the public less than the census? But it seems to have riveted the country. Suddenly, editorial pages are replete with irate citizens eager to mount the barricades if preserving a mandatory census demands it. Let the Greeks march for pensions. We Canadians will do it for a decennial statistical splurge.

It's so typical of this government. Fortunate as it is to face the weakest opposition in decades, it avoids futile but long-term controversy only on the rarest of issues. Such as drawing back from a gender-neutral national anthem that threatened to take over the entire Throne Speech debate.

Otherwise, it's ready to make the opposition actually look credible as the government adopts a "they shall not pass" stand that threatens to make the Omar Khadr case an untreatable running sore on our body politic.

The RCMP's exoneration of Helena Guergis should have removed the sentence of capital punishment that the PM imposed on the former cabinet minister. But no. She may be innocent in the eyes of the national police, but she's not allowed back into the caucus she'd helped form by winning her riding when the Conservatives needed every seat they could get.

So media eyes become deflected from positive news about Canadian job creation outclassing American or European gains. Michael Ignatieff's goodwill bus tour, designed to make a hapless leader actually look happy as he paws and jaws his way across the country, turns out not to be needed at all. The Tory government is doing it for him by arousing an unprecedented enthusiasm for taking the census.

It just proves the wisdom of Dalton Camp's observation a generation ago: Political leaders have no advantage greater than their opponent's folly. But it's enough to make this inveterate Tory plead with Saint Joan: How long, O Lord, how long?

Reginald Stackhouse, a former Progressive Conservative MP, is principal emeritus and research professor at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.

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