Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Say What, Steve?

Stephen Harper's recent observation regarding the bias of Liberal leadership hopefuls against Israel is so patently absurd, as well as demonstrably untrue, that one wonders what the man is really up to.

While it is true that a liberal backbencher was recently censured by his colleagues for his strong criticism of Israel, and while it is also true that Micheal Ignatieff's unbalanced comments about Israel's actions in Lebanon suggest that the Liberal front runner is not ready for prime time, to paint all the Liberal leadership hopefuls as bigots is -- well -- stupid. Or maybe there is some cynical calculation behind it.

The last twenty-five years has seen the rise of wedge issue politics. The idea is to use issues and policies as wedges to split your opposition. The political strategists calculate that such an approach will destroy old voting blocks and peel off enough support to build functioning majorities. The Harris government used this approach in Ontario during the 90's and the present American administration continues to use it in the current election cycle. It does not take a lot of imagination to see Mr. Harper's musings as a transparent attempt to siphon off the votes of Canadian Jews, who in the past have overwhelmingly preferred the Liberal Party to the Conservative Party.

Such a strategy also has the advantage of making its proponents look like people of principle who are not willing to sell their souls for the sake of a few votes.

But when you read Mr. Harper's statement, and his refusal to rethink what he said, you have to wonder just what principle he is standing on. In fact, his statement is all of a piece with what appears to be his election strategy. Having calculated that he can garner no more support in Ontario and the nation's larger cities, Harper has decided to troll for votes outside the island of Montreal, thus gaining enough seats in Quebec to achieve a parliamentary majority.

What is wrong with that calculation is that even in Quebec's rural ridings many of Harper's policies won't fly. Rural Quebec is miles away, both geographically and politically, from rural Alberta. His refusal after the Dawson College shooting spree to dismantle the long gun registry -- despite Jean Charest's opposition to just such a move -- shows how out of touch Harper is with the political landscape of Quebec. And, if his much touted environmental policy matches what he sold the country in Vancouver last week, Quebecers will quickly conclude that he is not one of nous autres.

The truth is that if Harper wants to win a majority government, he will not only have to appear to move to the left, he will actually have to do so. The problem with Harper's recent remark is that it fuels suspicion that, when the rubber hits the road, these folks are what their forebears in the Reform Party were perceived to be -- hard right Conservatives. And, as I've suggested in a previous post, (see The Right Man) centre right -- even more so, hard right -- coalitions are just not viable in Canada.

The late Dalton Camp went to his grave railing at the fact that Canada's new Conservative Party had been purged of its Red Tories. I suspect that, come the next election, the majority of Canadians will side with Camp.

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