Thursday, December 20, 2007

Harper: Public has tuned out Schreiber affair

Well now David Johnston can write his report given that he knows what he is supposed to recommend. We also know that if the economy slows down Harper will just blame it on his overly aggressive emission controls. Of course he hopes this will force him ,due to overwhelming public pressure, to be easier on polluters or so he hopes.
On the issue of a public inquiry Harper is acting like a Liberal. He sniffs the public mood and then acts on the basis of that.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Public has tuned out Schreiber affair: Harper
Harper will still defer to independent investigator on need for inquiry

Don Martin, National Post
Published: Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ashley Fraser/CanWest News Service
OTTAWA -- Stephen Harper has personal reservations about the need for a public inquiry into allegations against former prime minister Brian Mulroney, a controversy he says has been tuned out by the public yet risks becoming a distraction to Parliament.

But the Prime Minister reluctantly pledged to unleash a full probe into Mr. Mulroney's private business deals if that's the recommendation of independent investigator David Johnston.

And far from hurting the Conservatives, Mr. Harper insists the sordid cash-for-contacts allegation leveled against Mr. Mulroney by former lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber may actually be helping his government.

"On many levels I don't like the whole thing," the Prime Minister said in an interview with National Post. "But that said, I don't think it's hurt the government. I think the opposite. By focussing on a scandal of so long ago, the Official Opposition has actually underscored the fact they have no scandal to talk about today."

Recent polls back up Mr. Harper's contention that Canadians profess little interest in the Mulroney/Schreiber saga, but also show the orgy of name-calling is nonetheless undermining Conservative support. A recent poll by Harris-Decima shows the government's popularity falling six points this month to slip two points behind the Liberals, with 32% of voter support.

Mr. Harper appointed Mr. Johnston last month to recommend terms for an inquiry into claims the retired prime minister was paid $300,000 in three cash installments to promote a military project in Nova Scotia his cabinet had already killed while in office.

Mr. Schreiber alleges a verbal arrangement was struck while Mr. Mulroney was still prime minister and hinted at a link between Mr. Mulroney and payments related to Air Canada's purchase of Airbus aircraft in 1988.

A parliamentary committee has already heard testimony from Mr. Schreiber and Mr. Mulroney and will reconvene in the late January to interview an expanded witness list. Mr. Mulroney acknowledges accepting cash from Mr. Schreiber but vigorously denies all the related allegations.

Mr. Johnston is due to report back by Jan. 11, which could include a suggestion the government back away from a full inquiry in lieu of a less expansive examination of the facts.

"I anticipate he'll come back and give me his overall best judgment on how he thinks the government should proceed - and the government is almost inevitably going to take that advice," Mr. Harper says.

While he hinted at a perference for alternatives to the inquiry, "it's difficult if not impossible for me at that point to set myself up as the person who could adjudicate on this matter. I don't think the public thinks I can and I don't feel comfortable doing it myself."

Mr. Harper vows the investigation won't interfere with his agenda for 2008.

"I can tell you that as kind of fascinating as a little drama this thing is . . . we have been amazed about little the public cares about this," he said.

"More importantly from our standpoint, I'm going to govern in the 21st Century. This stuff is so old, 15-20 years old, that however we end up dealing with it, the government itself is not going to get sidetracked. This is not what people care about by any means or even remotely in the government of Canada in 2007."

On public policy, Mr. Harper has a sobering message for Canadians, warning that Canada's long bout of economic prosperity may be heading for a U.S. hangover.

The Prime Minister warned Canadians to brace for a "challenging year" ahead as a global economic slowdown looms and the federal government's climate-change rules kick in.

"The Canadian economy's fundamentals are very strong. That said, we are an open-trading economy in a world where there is increasing economic uncertainty, in the United States economy in particular, but [also] some other parts of the globe. We are not immune to that."

Canadians could also feel the pinch from federal regulations forcing industry to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions, he warned in a separate interview with CanWest News.

"The reason no government has done this before - federal, provincial or municipal - is there is no way to do this without imposing costs on our economy in the short term. That's why all previous governments have talked a great game and shied away from it."

Ironically, Mr. Harper feels his environmental protection rules may soon be rated too stringent by a rebellious private sector. "I think the talk will start to turn to where we're maybe doing too much, but it has to be done, and that's the path we're on."

In a year in which he dared the opposition to "fish or cut bait" and support his government or force an election, the Prime Minister says he's experiencing a serious bout of déja vu as opposition parties once again talk of triggering a non-confidence vote.

"This idea that every couple of months you pop your head out of a hole, look around and declare that two weeks from now you're going to bring the government down and then, three weeks later, say 'I don't think I ever said that and I meant three more months from now we're going to bring your government down'. I don't know how you do this over and over again," he said, shaking his head.

The Prime Minister insists he sees no need to induce an election ahead of his fixed date in October 2009 to improve his current minority government mandate.

"This is the remarkable disconnect. We have a Parliament that appears from day to day in question period [to be] almost entirely dysfunctional, but is actually getting more done than a couple of majority governments ahead of us."

National Post, with a file from Andrew Mayeda, CanWest News Service

Copyright © 2007 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.

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