Until now, Paul Wells (a Macleans journalist) has served as Stephen Harper’s court biographer. Though I’m sure Wells would hotly deny it.
This week the cozy relationship came to a prickly end! Wells loses his cool magnificently in a recent blog post:
The real outrage of [Thursday’s] economic “update” is not that it seeks to impose on most parliamentarians a change to funding rules that most of them would never ordinarily accept; it’s that it accomplishes nothing else. It’s that in the most dangerous economic times Canada has faced in 20 years if not far longer, this prime minister can’t wipe the smirk off his face and grow up a little. …
Stephen Harper is my prime minister and for all I care he can go on being my prime minister as long as he cares and can win the little fantasy confrontations that so excite him. But he is acting like an idiot and I am ashamed of his behaviour.
Et tu, Paul Wells?
Wells is a smart guy who likes to swim against the current of conventional wisdom. One of his “rules” of politics is this: When everyone in Ottawa knows something, it’s wrong. (I’m paraphrasing from memory.)
Two examples of Wells’s contrarian style spring to mind. First, when Paul Martin pushed Jean Chrétien out of the Liberal leadership, everyone but Wells thought it was a win-win scenario. Journalists had grown sick of Chrétien. Everyone in Ottawa knew that Paul Martin was the real genius of the Chrétien government, so they were glad to see him succeed to the Prime Minister’s office.
Wells thought the putsch was a mistake; and he was proven right. Martin was a terrific Minister of Finance, but he made a lousy Prime Minister.
Second, Wells boosted Stephen Harper just as enthusiastically as he had jeered Paul Martin. Other journalists, and Canadians in general, never warmed to Harper, with his cold fish persona and his stunted vision of governance. They supported Harper primarily because the Liberals were in obvious disarray.
But Wells went his own way. He viewed Harper as a strategic genius who was implementing a long-term strategy to realign Canadian politics. Under Harper’s brilliant leadership, the Conservatives would displace the Liberals as the dominant federalist party in Quebec. They would become the choice of immigrant, Roman Catholic, and suburban voters. And thus the Conservatives would supplant the Liberals as Canada’s “natural governing party” for the foreseeable future. Wells wrote a book about it:
The Prime Minister hasn’t proven to be such a strategic genius. He made a big boo-boo just prior to the last election, when he failed to appreciate the symbolic importance of culture in Quebec. The Government’s petty cuts to arts funding, just prior to the election, alienated the Quebec voters whom Harper had painstakingly cultivated for two years.
And now this deplorable development. In Wells’s words, “Harper decided an economic crisis would be an excellent cover to use for a little political kneecapping.” The opposition parties are in full-fledged revolt. They may actually bring the Conservative government down.
Hence the intemperate language Wells uses in his blog post. It’s personal: Harper has embarrassed him, the way Paul Martin embarrassed his boosters not so long ago.
When even the court biographer has turned against you, Mr. Harper, you know you are going to regret this misstep for a long while.