Prime Minister Harper’s Panel on Afghanistan

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced today that a non-partisan panel is going to look into the various options pertaining to Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan. Having a panel study this issue a present a report to parliament is a good idea as it gets the issue out of the House of Commons for the next little while and lets the focus stay on the upcoming throne speech. While the strategy is sound it is the make-up of the panel that I find particularly interesting.

On the Liberal side of the panel we have legendary television broadcaster Pam Wallin, who at one time served as Canada’s consul general to New York. We also have the guy who should have run against Paul Martin for the Liberal Party leadership, John Manley. Manley, a former deputy prime minister, was a supporter of deploying to Afghanistan when he was in cabinet and is a Liberal from the right side of his party. Since Manley is a former Liberal cabinet minister the non-partisan optics look good for Harper. I wonder though at how long it will take the Press Gallery crowd to starting beating Harper around over his other three picks: Paul Tellier, Derek Burney and Jake Epp.

Tellier was Clerk of the Privy Council under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and it was Mulroney who appointed Tellier to the head of CN. Burney was a Mulroney chief of staff who was then appointed Ambassador to the United States. Jake Epp was a senior Mulroney cabinet minister and is considered to have been one of Mulroney’s most trusted and competent ministers. The Press Gallery loves beating Harper with the Mulroney stick so I imagine that the pundits will be clubbing him with this over weekend. I doubt Harper will care.

The more I see of Harper the more I like him. I realize Harper has annoyed some of his more right wing supporter since he became prime minister, but Canada needs to be governed from the center and Harper understands this. This panel is about Afghanistan, but it is also about reaching out the old Progressive Conservative wing of the party. You know what? It’s working, and I am close to declaring myself an unabashed Stephen Harper fan.

Things like reaching out to the old PC party, governing from the center, and his not so subtle bitch-slap of Newfoundland premier Danny Williams the other day are winning over the moderate Conservatives of whom he needs their support so he can get a majority government in the next election (this seems like a good place to note that I live in the 103 seat Province of Ontario). If Prime Minister Stephen Harper can get a majority in Ottawa and govern uninterrupted for a few years he may become a prime minister for the ages.

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