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3 min

Still not ready for prime-time

There’s schadenfreude, and then there’s just sheer embarrassment – and Harper and the PMO walked that very fine line by the end of last week.

Embarrassing gaffes? Let me count the ways:

  • Trying to have his cake and eat it too with Pride funding, trying to appear the tiniest bit socially progressive by giving the deserved funds, while allowing the social conservatives to have their outrage (and remaining silent the whole time).
  • Taking communion at a Roman Catholic funeral (that of Roméo LeBlanc) when he shouldn’t have, and then apparently not consuming the host immediately led to claims that he’s instead pocketed it, thus creating a huge outcry among the country’s Catholic community.
  • Being snubbed by Gordon Brown at the G8, while taking every opportunity to be photographed with Barack Obama, thus looking like a desperate hanger-on.
  • Taking the agreed upon carbon reduction targets at the G8, and then immediately saying that they don’t actually mean anything for Canada’s targets, thus proving that we’re not serious about anything we say on the international stage.
  • Showing up late – yet again – for a G8 photo op.
  • Using the international stage to lambaste your domestic political opponent, only to find out that it wasn’t a quote from him, and thus being forced to apologise publicly – possibly for the first time ever – in front of the whole world.

By the end of it, I was starting to think that perhaps we were watching something like a Monsieur Hulot film. And as much pleasure as one takes in a series of embarrassing incidents where pompous windbags are concerned, it got less and less pleasurable to watch by the end, and started to get a touch painful.

But if you look at pretty much the whole list gaffes, there is an underlying theme, and that theme is professionalism – plain and simple. Or rather, the lack thereof in the PMO.

It’s not difficult to determine why that’s the case – so much of the staff there is made up of inexperienced kids who drink the Kool-Aid, and don’t question the boss – even when his judgement is questionable. They’re more focused on scoring points than they are about actually doing a good job, and these are the results – a Prime Minister that isn’t briefed on protocol (like the funeral), whose handlers can’t get him to places on time (seriously – if he’s only 30 minutes late in this city, it’s a miracle), and then there’s the Ignatieff incident.

His staffer didn’t even bother to verify the quote that he thought Ignatieff had made before he rushed Harper up to a podium to denounce it. And for a Prime Minister to use an international forum like the G8 to continue petty domestic squabbles is not only embarrassing for him, it’s embarrassing for the nation. It makes us look like perhaps we can’t actually govern ourselves, that maybe we need the Queen to come back and hold our hands. Is it any wonder that Gordon Brown didn’t want to have anything to do with Harper?

Inside the Ottawa bubble, we hear stories that the current crop of staffers can’t stand up to the boss, and that is a problem. Any moderating influence he had is now apparently gone, and it shows. The one-man-show of the Harper government is spinning out of control, and the allusions to Harper behaving like a king are very real – though one starts to wonder if he isn’t also behaving like a mad king.

After the G8, Harper and family stopped by Rome to meet the Pope. Harper and the Holy Father exchanged gifts and discussed human rights, religious freedoms, and “a range of international issues” like Africa (where the Church discourages condom use in the face of an AIDS epidemic) and climate change (which Harper publicly ignores on the global stage). I’m sure it was a fascinating conversation to say the least.

Speaking of the Queen, it is confirmed that Her Majesty will visit Canada mid-2010, though the exact details are still up in the air.

And finally, if you’ve heard of the group calling themselves “Republicans for Ignatieff,” Maclean’s Kady O’Malley takes a closer look at who they are, and despite some excellent detective work, still hasn’t come up with a definitive answer – but their very existence is certainly intriguing.