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Federal Politics

Harper's Dilbert-Inspired Management Style

From the start, I suspect Catbert has guided our PM's hirings and firings.

Crawford Kilian 24 Mar

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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Harper in the Dilbertian image. Source: Scott Adams, Creative Commons licensed.

As a newspaper dedicated to the business class, the Globe and Mail puts its greatest energies and best writers into its business section. It reports corporate triumphs and failures with the gusto of Homer describing a hero's well-flung bronze spear hitting some other hero's chest and emerging between his shoulder blades.

The Globe also reserves its only good comic strip for the business section: Dilbert.

Dilbert's function in the section is like that of the slave in a Roman triumph, standing in the general's chariot and holding a laurel wreath over his head. While the crowds cheered the general, the slave would mutter "memento mori" in his ear: "Remember, you will die."

Generals didn't always get the message. Triumphant Canadian CEOs don't get it either, and it would be a waste of time to put such a slave in the PMO to issue such reminders to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

So here we are, eight years into what future historians, I hope, will call The Interregnum -- an unfortunate lapse in Canada's adult supervision, mercifully remedied in 2015. While we wait for that happy day, we might consider how Harper, despite his many failures, has consistently failed upward.

Nowhere has this failure been more obvious, yet more ignored, than in his management style. I suspect Harper has drawn his inspiration from the characters in Dilbert.

From the beginning, Catbert, Dilbert's evil HR director, has guided Harper's appointments and firings. How else could you explain the ascent to the Senate of Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau? Or the appointment of Nigel Wright to the PMO and Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court?

Consider the departures of Munir Sheikh from Statistics Canada, Linda Keen from Atomic Energy of Canada Limited and Kevin Page from the Parliamentary Budget Office, not to mention countless lesser-known civil servants and scientists. The firings and non-renewals were as demented as the hirings. Harper, as a Dilbertian CEO, signed off on every one.

Consider also the people Harper surrounds himself with.

John Baird, the mouth that roars in Harper's service in numerous portfolios, is clearly Topper, the guy who replies with "That's nothing!" before making some loudly absurd claim.

Tories with the Fist of Death

Alice, the engineer with the triangular hair style and the Fist of Death, inspires any number of Tory women, from Lisa Raitt and Rona Ambrose to Michelle Rempel and Kellie Leitch, not to mention the now-unmentionable Helena Guergis and Bev Oda.

Wally, the work-averse coffee swiller, is any unindicted Conservative senator.

Asok, the intern who will destroy himself for the company, is the model for every parliamentary secretary who goes forth to recite the current talking points on TV news -- no matter how stupid he or she looks while doing so. (The role was originally held by Dean Del Mastro before he was charged with overspending his election limits and had to resign from the Conservative caucus.)

Dilbert's pointy-haired boss, given a good toupee, would be a dead ringer for House leader Peter Van Loan.

Mordac, the Preventer of Information Services, is whoever currently runs the Prime Minister's Office. In addition to muzzling scientists, he ensures that everyone recites today's talking points perfectly, however inane they may sound on the eighth repetition.

Dilbert himself? None other than Pierre Poilievre, the cynical, bespectacled nerd with zero social skills, currently pushing an elections act as futile and doomed as Dilbert's projects.

Outsourcing the dirty work

As for all the other Conservative cabinet and caucus members, they're so many Elbonians: faceless barbarians waist-deep in mud who do the party's outsourced dirty work. And every one of them was nominated with the endorsement of Stephen Harper.

Seen from a safe distance, such politicians are as absurdly entertaining as Rob Ford -- sources of innocent merriment to the rest of the world. Up close, "ridiculous" takes on an uglier connotation.

The folly of our Dilbertian government has split us, and we are back in the politics of tribalism and true believers. We appear to have been in that politics, whether we realized it or not, since 2006.

Canadians who kind of like the country we've built since the 1960s are confronting Canadians who despise that country. But when the haters fight dirty, it's all the more reason for the rest of us to fight clean: to argue the issues, educate ourselves and each other, defend our institutions as true conservatives and get out the vote.

And we should feel perfectly free to laugh at our opponents. If they don't like being ridiculed, they shouldn't be ridiculous.  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics

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