PRIME Minister Stephen Harper on Thursday squandered yet another opportunity to show himself to be a statesman, someone who can rise above the petty partisanship of the moment and demonstrate that his vision is as big and as wide as the country he continues to govern by the grace of Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean.

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This article was published 4/12/2008 (4791 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Editorial

PRIME Minister Stephen Harper on Thursday squandered yet another opportunity to show himself to be a statesman, someone who can rise above the petty partisanship of the moment and demonstrate that his vision is as big and as wide as the country he continues to govern by the grace of Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean.

Having just been granted a reprieve from all but certain political death by the Governor General, who set a parliamentary precedent in agreeing to his request to prorogue Parliament for seven weeks, Mr. Harper could not bring himself to apologize to Canadians for the mess he has made.

An apology wouldn't have undone the crisis he precipitated only a week earlier when he threatened to cripple the opposition parties by cutting subsidies they have come to depend on. But it wouldn't have cost him anything, either, and it at least would have shown that he made a miscalculation for which he is contrite and humbled. A simple apology might have earned back some of the political capital he gambled away last week. Instead, he stands unbowed, unrepentant and still not held to account by his peers.

DALE CUMMINGS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Outraged opposition parties showed little sign Thursday that they will accept the hand Mr. Harper has again weakly extended to them to collaborate on a plan to address the global economic crisis that Canada cannot escape. If anything, they were more vitriolic than ever, calling Mr. Harper despicable and a liar.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion could not resist using the word liar, but he alone among all the angry voices took a reasonable, in the circumstances, position. He refused to say that he intends to bring the government down when it presents its budget on Jan. 26. He said that while he can't believe anything Mr. Harper says, he will instead see what he does over the weeks ahead and draw his conclusions from actions not words.

Well, exactly. Talk is cheap and becoming cheaper by the minute in Ottawa. There has been more than enough outrage and empty rhetoric. It's time to fish, not cut bait. That obviously is what Mr. Harper will be doing in the weeks ahead. But it's also what all parties should be doing. The opposition claims it has a plan to deal with the economy should it get the chance, but that plan is mostly blather, as credible as was the claim that a panel of "wise men" would advise the coalition should it gain power. It is one thing to say that the government must boldly spend tens of billions of dollars immediately, it is another to do so responsibly and effectively. Mr. Harper was right on at least one thing Thursday -- seven weeks is the minimum amount of time that any government needs to produce a budget that will effectively stimulate the economy and keep Canada in step with developments in the United States, where a bailout for automakers is under consideration.

The Governor General's decision to prorogue Parliament must be respected. But it is impossible not to notice that had she forced Mr. Harper to face Parliament Monday, a new government could have been in place in five weeks. It now seems that we are about to have a sort of proxy election over the Christmas period that could simply lead to a real one in March. The consolation, it would seem, is that all parties now have seven weeks to consider in detail what that campaign might be about.