Monday, September 14, 2009

The Bogeymen

As Parliament resumes today, an election seems inevitable. Jack Layton has offered the prime minister an olive branch; but, given Mr. Harper's penchant for ressurecting bogeymen -- in this case, "socialists and separatists" -- it appears unlikely that the prime minister will take the offer. Instead, Mr. Harper says, what needs to be done is to "teach them [the opposition parties] a lesson." He tried to do that last November; and we all know how that gambit turned out.

Now Mr. Harper seeks to shift the blame for that "separatist coaltion" to the Liberal Party -- forgetting that, like Dr. Frankenstein, he gave that monster life. He also forgets that his rabid attack on the Bloc Quebcois was seen in Quebec as an attack on all Quebecers. Mr. Harper might wish that his Conservative predecessor, Brian Mulroney, would disappear. But, as Mulroney reminded Canadians last year, you cannot form a majority government in this country without winning seats in Quebec.

It is absolutely true that it is now up to Mr. Ignatieff to make his case. It is not enough to promise that "we can do better." He will have to outline a specific set of policies which give substance to that claim. But, as Jeff Jedras wrote in the National Post, Canadians should not blame the election on Ignatieff: "It's important to note that, in a minority parliament, it's not the job of the opposition parties to support the government. In fact, just the opposite. It is the responsibility of the government to maintain the confidence of the House. And if it can't, if the Conservatives can't keep the support of just one opposition party, then they have some serious explaining to do, and alot of the responsibility to shoulder for any resulting election."

Jedras went on to argue that, "Harper decided long ago to govern like he had a majority, that cooperation with the opposition parties was unnecessary, as long as he could count on the Liberals being willing to do anything to avoid an election. So he played political games every step of the way, forsaking cooperation for gamesmanship and the seeking of partisan advantage."

Those games continue. The Harperites have sought to paint Ignatieff as "the other" -- the same tactic that conservatives in the United States have used against Barack Obama. But Mr. Ignatieff, like Mr. Harper, was born here. And, as Mr. Ignatieff makes clear in his book, The Russian Album, there is a much longer tradition of public service -- inside and outside Canada -- in the Ignatieff family than in the Harper family.

Nonetheless, the burden of proof lies with Mr. Ignatieff. He claims that he has purposely chosen to keep the party platform under wraps until now so that the Harperites would not have the luxury of time to distort it. Given the government's use of fear as its chief political weapon, there may be some wisdom to that strategy. But now that the gaunlet is down, it's time for the wraps to come off.

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