Helter-skelter transition: The astonishing Harper-Trudeau ‘transfer of power’

Helter skelter means confusion. Sometimes it implies things done with undue haste, commensurate with disorder. Is this what is happening with the transition to the new government? Or has arbitrariness and the arrogance that goes along with it, and secrecy for that matter, just become a way of life?

Writing for the Ottawa Citizen on October 28, Kady O’Malley says Harper’s exit strategy is a covert one. We have no doubt about this. But what she writes seems to raise worrisome questions about Justin Trudeau’s take over strategy as well. It too looks somewhat covert. Or is this just the consequence of the helter-skelter manner in which things are being done which leads to disorder and, dare we say it, arrogance and secrecy?

Whatever the case may be, the standards Canadians expect are not being adhered to. This contributes to their depoliticization which means amongst other things, that they are deprived of an ability to judge things in a rational way.

A feature of the Harper era is that the people became the targets of surprise attacks. This became known as “shock and awe” after the manner introduced by Donald Rumsfeld under the Bush administration when the U.S bombed Iraq under the pretext that it had “weapons of mass destruction.” Keeping things that way but accompanying them with hoopla that they are “a good thing,” as the British like to say when they reduce history to trivia they call general knowledge, will not do. This “new way of doing things” will not serve the polity at all.

Here is how O’Malley explained what is going on:

“First off, we should note that we still have no details on exactly how — or even when — Stephen Harper notified Rideau Hall of his intent to officially resign.

“What day, exactly? What time of day? Who was present? How long the discussion lasted? All those questions remain unanswered.

“But as of today, we can state, with reasonable certainty, that Harper has indeed served notice to Governor General David Johnston that he would voluntarily cede power to the incoming Liberal government on Nov. 4. As unfathomable as it may seem in a modern, functioning parliamentary democracy, right up until Wednesday [October 28], there was no hard evidence that it actually happened.

“Even now, no official notice has been released to the media or posted to the Rideau Hall website, nor has Harper’s office issued a statement confirming that he will resign.

“The only reason we know is because a Rideau Hall spokeswoman finally took pity on — or got fed up with — being pestered for a clear answer to what seemed (at least to us) a fairly simple yes-or-no question: Has Stephen Harper resigned as prime minister, or not?

“As far as the public record goes, it hasn’t even been confirmed that incoming prime minister Justin Trudeau has had his own sit-down with the governor general — or, indeed, been invited to form government, although Rideau Hall told theCitizen that the two have met. Even the Nov. 4 save-the-date for the swearing in of the new cabinet — which Trudeau personally announced to reporters during a press conference last week — hadn’t been publicly confirmed by Rideau Hall until today, when a spokeswoman mentioned it in response to a question from the Citizen on the timing.

“Although Rideau Hall has revealed that Harper did indeed pay Johnston a post-defeat visit, the cone of silence that has surrounded the transition thus far will likely do little to foment public confidence in our democratic institutions.

“In this instance, the outgoing prime minister appears to have gone out of his way to ensure his withdrawal from public life takes place within the same confines of confidentiality that prevailed during his now concluded tenure.

“His covert exit strategy also seems to have put Johnston, and the office of the Governor General itself, in the untenable position of helping him cover his tracks. The decision to employ such secrecy surrounding the standard protocol of transferring power couldn’t have been made unilaterally by the outgoing prime minister.

“And while this rather baffling saga in some ways makes for a fitting bookend to the Harper era of information control, it is not, perhaps, the ideal chapter for the Trudeau era to begin with.

“The Liberals, after being asked whether Trudeau had met Johnston, were unable to provide any information at all on either of the meetings that we have now been told took place. Considering Trudeau ran a campaign based on, in part, transparency, the cloak-and-dagger shenanigans surrounding simple probes regarding the current state of the Canadian government seemed odd.

“If Trudeau truly wants to bring transparency to the operations of the Canadian government he could follow the advice offered by University of Ottawa professor Adam Dodek earlier this week, and publicly recognize the rites and rituals that go on behind the scenes during a transfer of power. And yes, while this all could have been written off as simply a more low-key transition process, there are actual legal — or, more specifically, constitutional — questions on how, exactly, a transition is supposed to proceed, which generally require a formal notice of resignation to get underway.

“Trudeau and his advisors have, after all, reportedly been getting briefings by senior officials, who would have been well within their rights to ask for official confirmation that he had been invited to form government before handing over the documents.

“To do so without such assurances could raise legitimate — and worrying — questions about who, exactly, has authorized the release of presumably confidential information related to the ongoing operations of government, particularly since Trudeau is not currently a sworn member of the Privy Council.

“In fact, if the governor general hadn’t yet been in official communication with him, even the use of the prime minister-designate title would be of dubious accuracy.

“Moreover, what makes this entire matter even more complex is that the confusion over Harper’s status has been ongoing for more than a week.

“Indeed, it began shortly after he took the stage in Calgary on Oct. 19 to concede defeat.

“Although he noted that he had already offered his congratulations to Trudeau, and ‘assured him of [his] full cooperation during the process of transition in the coming days,’ at no point did Harper expressly state that he would be stepping down — either as party leader or, perhaps more crucially, prime minister.

“Since then, the only public sighting of the outgoing prime minister has been a brief appearance alongside Trudeau and Johnston at the memorial ceremony to mark the Oct. 22 attacks.

“Aside from a brief statement tied to the Oct. 22 event, his office has been silent — as has Rideau Hall and Johnston, who, as the Crown’s emissary, is supposed to play a central role in the transition process, from accepting the resignation of the outgoing prime minister to presiding over the installation of the incoming one.

“By comparison, the 2006 handover was crystalline in its clarity.

“One day after he was handily trounced at the polls, then-Prime Minister Paul Martin formally advised then-Governor General Michaëlle Jean of his intention to step down, a message that Rideau Hall duly communicated to the nation. The following day, the soon-to-be-former Prime Minister’s Office put out a statement of its own, in which he ‘reassure[d] Canadians’ that both he and his team would ‘work together to facilitate the transition that will lead to the installation of a new government.’

“And on Jan. 26 — which, for those keeping track, was two days after the election — Rideau Hall released a second media advisory announcing that Harper had paid a visit to Jean earlier that morning.

“‘During the meeting, it was agreed that Mr. Harper would be sworn in as Canada’s 22nd Prime Minister, along with his Cabinet, on Feb. 6, 2006,’ it noted.

“All of which serves to provide an exclamation point to the inexplicably incommunicado approach taken by all those directly involved in the transition proceedings.

“To have a light shone on what happens behind the scenes during a transfer of power surely would cause no great harm to the politicians involved.

“And, in fact, finding any controversy in doing so is hard, especially if you consider it is standard procedure in most provinces, including Ontario, where Lieutenant-Governor David Onley actually took to Twitter to share the details of his meeting between outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty and his successor, Kathleen Wynne.

“Surely Canadians deserve to know just as much about the process involved in changing the guard in Ottawa.”

(Kady O’Malley, “Lifting the curtain on Harper’s covert exit strategy,” Ottawa Citizen, October 28, 2015)

Source: Renewal Update, October 30, 2015 • No. 205. Previous Issues

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