Monday, March 22, 2010
The Clock Is Ticking
Now that the opposition parties have rejected the Prime Minister's proposal to let former Justice Frank Iacobucci recommend which documents in the Afghan prisoner file should be made public, the ball is in the Prime Minister's court. The man has a talent for avoiding the consequences of his actions. But, in this case, he's in a box. It appears that he has three options.
The first is to continue to stonewall.The problem with this strategy is that there are people outside the government, such as Amir Attaran, who know what is in the file. If Mr. Harper continues to ignore the House's order to see the uncensored documents, they will be leaked. Mr. Harper is smart enough to know this.
That leaves the prime minister with two other options: he can either broaden Mr. Iacobucci's mandate and ask him to conduct a public inquiry; or he can call an election and argue that it is time to put the opposition in its place.
Having seen -- and having taken advantage of -- the political damage which the Gomery inquiry did to Paul Martin's government, Mr. Harper might reject this option. On the other hand, a public inquiry would buy the government time -- as the recent padlocking of Parliament was meant to do; and, if the public has a short attention span, Mr. Harper might be able to change the channel and send the whole issue down the memory hole.
However, if Mr. Iacobucci does his job, the revelations from the inquiry would force some departures; and it could eventually lead to the government's defeat in the next election.
Which leads to Mr. Harper's third option -- to call an election. The advantage of an election is that it might bury the issue. The Conservatives could attempt to turn the discussion to the economy and the "government's action plan." Moreover, an improving economy might shift public opinion in the government's favour. But elections -- like wars -- seldom go as planned. And the prisoner abuse scandal might sink the Harperites.
Which option will the prime minister choose? The best option for all parties would be a public inquiry. It is a time honoured parliamentary tradition. But Mr. Harper has already shown that he has little respect for parliamentary traditions. And he clearly takes pleasure in sticking it to his opponents. At present, polls suggest that none of the parties would win a majority. But, if he could talk himself into it, Harper might roll the dice.
If -- when all was said and done -- the Conservatives found themselves in opposition, Harper would probably return in a sulk to Alberta. If the government again won a minority , the knives would come out. So he might make one last attempt to seize the brass ring. If he succeeds, we are all in deep trouble.
Whichever option the prime minister chooses, the clock is ticking. We are headed for a showdown.