Canadian Defence minister on the
[PoliticsWatch updated 5:10 p.m. April 26, 2007]
|Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor.
For the first time since coming to power, the Conservatives
looked this week like the aimless, desperately spinning previous
Liberal government of Paul Martin.
The government's handling of the allegations of torture by
Afghani detainees seems to get worse and more confusing as each day
The problems the Tories are having trying to spin their way out of
this controversy is even noticeable to prominent Conservative
bloggers, including one who described the government as looking "confused
No single individual seems to epitomize that description better than
Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, whose performance before
the Commons foreign affairs committee was perhaps the lowest point
so far for a Tory government that ridiculed similar spin by the
Liberal governments when they were in opposition.
O'Connor surprised virtually everyone in Ottawa, including Foreign
Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, when he revealed in the middle
of his appearance at the committee that the government had made an
arrangement to have access to detainees being held by Afghan
"Within the last few days we have basically made an arrangement with the government in the Kandahar province so that we can have access to our
detainees," O'Connor said. "So henceforth, our military, but it can be anybody, can have access to our
O'Connor's statement left reporters with many questions but the
minister ignored them when he was done testifying and was shown on
television news stories trying to avoid cameras and microphones by
rushing to an awaiting elevator, much like Paul Martin
rushing down the escalator.
Martin-like off-the-cuff policy making and Panic Room ministerial
behaviour is exactly the type of image that Prime Minister Stephen
Harper has reportedly tried not to project as he tries to govern
The Conservatives and O'Connor's policy pronouncement were ridiculed
in question period Thursday as all three opposition parties
continued to press for his resignation.
"My question for the prime minister is this," said Liberal
Leader Stephane Dion. "Does he still have confidence in his Minister of National Defence?
Harper never directly answered that question and instead said he
lacked confidence in Dion.
However, according to a Globe and Mail story published on Thursday,
the only thing keeping O'Connor in his job is the Taliban, who
Harper described as "fanatics and killers" in question
A Conservative source said the government is not pleased with the
defence minister's numerous missteps, but that canning O'Connor
would raise questions about the mission and Canada's resolve in
"The Taliban would see (O'Connor's dismissal) as a positive thing,"
one source told the Globe.
O'Connor's performance this week is the latest chapter in the
problems the defence minister has had.
His past career as a defence industry lobbyist is brought up by the
opposition parties every time there are reports the government is
planning a major military procurement.
Over 50 Canadians have been killed in Afghanistan over the past four
years, but last year O'Connor told MPs at the defence committee that
the situation was not a war.
But the calls for his resignation began last month after it was
discovered that he misled the House for over a year about the Red
Cross's involvement in reporting to Canada any abuse of Afghan
detainees. O'Connor later apologized and said he did not do so
The only other cabinet minister in Harper's government to face so
much criticism was former environment minister Rona Ambrose,
who was shuffled out of her job to intergovernmental affairs in
The opposition parties called for Ambrose's resignation for months,
as the Prime Minister's Office tightened communications and control
of Ambrose's office. After Ambrose gave contradictory testimony
before the Commons environment committee in the fall, National Post
columnist John Ivison reported just a few days later that
insiders said Harper's patience was running thing with her.
Opposition MPs who pressed for Ambrose's resignation told
PoliticsWatch Thursday that O'Connor's handling of the war is just
or bad or worse than Ambrose's handling of environment and they
expect the PM to shuffle out his defence minister in the near
"Just by watching Harper's responses and watching him not
defend (O'Connor) personally, it feels like there's a clock on
around here that his demise in terms of being in cabinet is
imminent," NDP environment critic Nathan Cullen
He compared Harper's failure to openly defend O'Connor to how Harper
backed up Ambrose last spring when Cullen introduced a motion in the
Commons environment committee calling for Ambrose's
Harper forced Liberals to not vote for Cullen's motion by saying he
would view a non-confidence motion in Ambrose as a non-confidence
vote against his government.
He also noted that it was MacKay, not Harper, who came to the
defence of O'Connor in question period on Wednesday after Liberal
House Leader Ralph Goodale called the former general a
chicken for not rising to answer questions.
"I think in (Harper's) own mind he's cut him loose and it's
just a matter of time."
Liberal environment critic David McGuinty told PoliticsWatch
he thinks the cloud over O'Connor is "absolutely much more
serious" than the problems Ambrose faced.
"What we're talking about here are allegations that Canada has
knowingly broke the Geneva Convention," he said.
McGuinty also thinks O'Connor is getting much more protection from
the centre than Ambrose received.
"I don't see any performance by Mr. O'Connor because he's been
silenced. They pick a minister every day to basically stand up and
take the bullets for him. It was the reverse for Rona Ambrose. She
was taking the bullets for the prime minister for a year."
© PoliticsWatch® 2007. All rights reserved. Republication
or redistribution of PoliticsWatch content, including by framing,
copying, linking or similar means, is expressly prohibited without
the prior written consent of Public Interests Research and Communications
Inc. (PIRCINC). PoliticsWatch is registered trademark of PIRCINC.