Winning the hearts and minds with incompetence

I was watching Andrew on At Issue last night when something Peter Mansbridge said struck me. I’m paraphrasing, but Mansbridge suggested, with a kind of wink-wink demeanor, that “we all know why Maxime Bernier was put into foreign affairs.” The idea being that Harper needed a native Quebecer to sell the war in Afghanistan to his own province.

It’s a widely-accepted notion, and I have no doubt Peter Mansbridge is right. (Josée Verner’s parallel appointment to international aid would seem to confirm it.) And now that Bernier’s run through diplomatic circles has mercifully come to an end, there’s already some fretting about which Quebecer might be promoted to take his place in cabinet.

But there’s a question I keeping coming back to: Why is it that federal governments seem convinced that getting a token Quebecer, no matter how inept, to sell Ottawa back to his or her home province is such a sure-fire strategy for success? Let’s go over some recent low-lights:

  • A foreign affairs minister with no discernible knowledge of global diplomacy figures a box of Jos Louis is a perfect photo-op accessory in Afghanistan. He later calls for the removal of a governor without first discussing it with his allies. Amazingly, neither act settles the ongoing conflict.
  • An international aid minister with no discernable knowledge of development issues flubs her opportunity to arrange actual visits to reconstruction projects in Afghanistan just as she’s called upon to defend their effectiveness. Her work is later immortalized in a photo exhibit appearing at a shopping mall near you.
  • He ostensibly meant to raise the Liberals’ lacklustre profile on the issue, but let’s just try to forget Denis Coderre’s trip to Afghanistan ever happened.
  • Liberals rationalize Stéphane Dion’s nomination as leader as a way for the party to reconnect with Quebecers. Now, they can’t even win over people who were otherwise okay with electing Jean Lapierre as their MP.
  • The idea of sticking a maple leaf on ads for every two-bit Festival Connetré de St-Chicouane to stamp out nationalism did at least provide some of the best daytime TV in Quebec in a long time. But I’m not sure the Gomery hearings were what Chrétien’s Liberals had in mind.

I’m sure I’m missing a few examples—and no doubt neglecting a few succesful strategies, too. But there seems to be a consistent pattern of tokenism ending up in disaster. And yet, we keep expecting it to happen again. Don’t get me wrong: there’s a long tradition of Quebecers doing admirable work in government. So why are they now being used in cheap vote-getting ploys?

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