The spectacular Canadian performance at the Winter Olympics could not have come at a better time for Stephen Harper. It’s the biggest feelgood story since the 1972 Canada-Russia hockey series. The Games turned public attention fully away from the political shenanigans of the governing party in suspending Parliament.
Harper was at the Games, trying as best he could — as any politician would — to share in the spotlight.
The euphoria should pay off in a handsome bounce for him in the polls, though there is no guarantee. Our 1972 triumph over the Russians did not produce a political benefit for the Trudeau Liberals. They came within a hair of losing the election that took place right after the series.
There will be an irony of sorts if Harper gets a big boost from the Olympics. The big rap against him is that there is no sportsmanship in the games he plays, no demonstration of Olympic ideals. He runs from the field when the opposition gets tough. He headbutts opponents. He repeatedly throws away the rulebook. If politics were an event in the Games, the Olympic movement would have had Harper expelled long ago.
On that note, it is to be hoped that the prime minister, as well as opposition leaders, learned something from the way in which our athletes comported themselves. They showed how you can win with hard work and an honest and honourable effort.
Parliament finally returns this week. Our MPs have been on vacation for much of the last year and a half. In 2008, from June until into the new year, Parliament sat only two weeks. Last year, it had its traditional three-month summer break and, more recently, starting in December, it had another three-month break. If our Olympians took this much time off they would never win anything.
Tomorrow, there’s the speech from the throne, likely the last from Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean, whose term expires in the fall. The budget from finance minister Jim Flaherty follows Thursday.
Among the reasons offered for the shutdown of Parliament was the need for time, the Conservatives said, to “recalibrate.” But don’t look for anything too exciting from the recalibration exercise. The budget will likely be a stabilizing effort that holds off on more stimulus spending in order to keep the deficit in check.
The Conservatives will contend that they have the country on the right track. They will want, though they play a different sport in a different way, to bask in the Olympic glow.
Lawrence Martin is a journalist and author of 10 books who writes about national affairs from Ottawa.