On Wednesday, this was looking like one of the best weeks the Conservatives have had in a while, thanks mostly to Justin Trudeau.
Stephen Harper looked statesmanlike and sensible in the House announcing Canadian airstrikes against ISIS. Tom Mulcair outlined a cogent case against them.
Trudeau, on the other hand, supports the idea of airstrikes but doesn’t think Canada should do them, and he dodged the debate in the House. He looked, not for the first time, like an airhead, particularly when he twice spoke about our CF-18s in an immature way.
This is the frame — fatherly Harper versus Trudeau the bozo — that the Conservatives hope will help them eventually turn around public opinion, so the boss must have been upset to tune into CTV News Wednesday night and see the report on the Tories’ secret plan to make the world safe for Conservative attack ads.
CTV had got its hands on a document submitted to cabinet by Heritage Minister Shelly Glover seeking authority to amend the Copyright Act to allow political parties to use clips from news broadcasts in their political ads.
This is something that the networks and the Tories have been quietly tussling over for a few years. Harper demolished the last two Liberal leaders with attack ads. They are trying to do the same thing to Trudeau and they don’t want any fancy copyright laws standing in their way.
So when they wanted to use footage of Trudeau taking off his shirt for charity in their attack ads, they just took it, although the footage belongs to Huffington Post and CTV.
The networks, who for some reason don’t like people taking their property, got together to push back, warning that they won’t run ads that contain copyrighted footage.
The leaked cabinet document proposes to create an exception to the Copyright Act for political ads, and include the amendment in the upcoming budget omnibus bill.
This is government by the “boys in short pants,” the Parliament Hill nickname for the youthful zealots in the Prime Minister’s Office.
If Glover were a real minister, she would have rejected this dumb proposal.
But she is not. She has the title, but she doesn’t get to make that kind of decision. Unlike, say, Jason Kenney or Lisa Raitt, she appears to be a spokesminister.
A former spokeswoman for the Winnipeg Police, she is Metis, bilingual and a good communicator. Those are the qualities that earned her a place in cabinet, where she is expected to carry out the instructions of the unelected, fiercely loyal partisans who work for the prime minister rather than carrying out the traditional functions of a minister.
Brent Rathgeber, the MP for Edmonton-St. Albert, describes the gulf between the way the system is supposed to work and the way it is working in his new book, Irresponsible Government, The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada.
Rathgeber left the Conservative caucus to sit as an independent last year to escape the boys in short pants.
“Observers and former ministers confirm that PMO decisions and plans are distributed at cabinet meetings for perfunctory approval or rubber stamping,” he writes.
There is no reason to believe that Glover had anything to do with this copyright policy.
The idea of ministerial responsibility, which is supposed to be at the heart of our system, is now as abstract as kabuki theatre, a fiction for empty, ritualized exchanges in the House of Commons.