Monday, January 11, 2010

Playing for Time

Jeffrey Simpson claimed, in last Saturday's Globe and Mail, that the Prime Minister's suspension of Parliament would not loosen his grip on that body. "Canadians didn't make him suffer the last two times he adjusted the parliamentary timetable to suit his partisan purposes." Simpson wrote. "Why would they respond any differently now?"

And, earlier in the same week, Tom Flanagan -- Harper's original eminence gris -- offered an analysis which was as remarkably straightforward as it was cynical. Harper's political success, Flanagan claimed, was based on a mixture of "polarization, ad hoc alliances" and the "fear of an election."

This prime minister plays for time. From a year ago, when he almost sabotaged his newly elected government with his clumsy attempt to hamstring his opponents, to this year's attempt to avoid accountability for what is happening -- or, more precisely, what is not happening in Afghanistan and the environment -- Mr. Harper has retreated to what he claims should be any prime minister's fall back position, prorogation.

His hope is that Canadians, bored with the processes of government, will overlook the fact that nothing is happening. And, if they do begin to notice, he can blame the situation on the opposition parties. He fought the last election on the notion that parliament was dysfunctional, neglecting to mention that each of his party's MP's had been given a manual on how to make sure that it didn't function. He claimed that Canada was going to skirt a recession. When that rosy prediction proved to be completely at odds with the facts, he said he needed time to recalibrate. When Canadian automobile manufacturers were heading into oblivion, he said that he needed time for the Americans to figure out what they were going to do before he acted. He uses the same argument when it comes to environmental policy. Until the Americans come up with one, Mr. Harper asserts, we can only bide our time. If the government had taken that position in the 1960's, we would still be waiting for medicare.

On the other hand, the prime minister has given the opposition parties the gift of time. "Harper's Given Them Two Free Months of Target Practice," was the headline to Lawrence Martin's column in The Globe. Perhaps. But -- while the break gives the opposition plenty of time to keep the prime minister in their cross hairs, and they will find lots of ammunition in his past statements -- if that's all they do, they will prove Mr. Simpson right. They should use this time to fill the policy vacuum which Mr. Harper has left in his wake. What should Canadian policy be on the environment? What, as we face at least two years of anemic economic growth, should Canadian policy be on unemployment? What should Canadian policy be on the detention of Afghan prisoners? And what happens when our troops leave that country?

For, the simple truth is that Mr. Harper is prime minister by default. He came to politics as an angry young man, who had a much better idea of what he was against than what he was for. Rocked in the cradle of Western alienation, he came to Ottawa to get even. And that's the reason he is still there. A party which knows more about what it is against than what it is for will never achieve a majority. Paul Martin tried the same tactic; and he, too, presided over a minority parliament.

The opposition parties -- particularly Mr. Ignatieff -- need to give Canadians policies to vote for. Their job is not to make Parliament work. Mr. Harper has devoted a lot of energy to ensuring that it doesn't. Now is the time for both Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Layton to tell us what they stand for.


D said...

Owen, great post.

You're absolutely right, Canadians (particularly those in Ontario and Quebec) don't need a lot of convincing to vote Liberal - they just need sound, responsible policy. Iggy needs to convey that message during this break.

Weak CPC MPs (like Riatt, Braid, Woodworth and other backbenchers) who won their seats by a hair last election could be in for a real surprise when the hammer drops. Being an incumbent could backfire on them as people ask for answers and all they get is head nodding and buzz-words like "recalibration" and "leadership."

Colette Amelia said...

very well said! I might also add they need to give us something to believe in, something to hope for and something to be able to proudly say yes I am Canadian...for Mr. Harper has taken that all away.

Owen Gray said...

It really is a matter of faith, isn't it? Nothing happens unless -- and until -- we believe that we, and the people we elect, can change a situation.

And yes, Dylan, if leaders can inspire that faith, words like "recalibration" are exposed for the weasel words they are.

ck said...

Actually, Dylan, when You talk to Quebecers (I really mean Montrealers; its' where I live and work), getting both French & English to vote Liberal these days would be a challenge. Would be much easier if Iggy goes and a new leader selected (NOt Bob RAe; suicidal).

Most that I talk to would hold their noses and vote for either Steve or the Bloc.

Folks are more scared of Iggy and can't bring themselves to believe that if Steve were unleashed with a majority, that he would turn this sharp right. Others seem to think, best to suck up whatever Steve does for 4 years and give the Liberals time to recalibrate.

My problem with the latter is Steve has proven to me that he wants more than a majority; he wants a totalitarian regime, and his comments as of late reflect this.

Today's right slanted media is doing its damndest to spoon feed Canadians that A Bush - Era totalitarian regime under Steve is best for Canada.

My question is, how do we get louder than the corporate media? How do we get Canadians to hear us that no matter; Iggy would never be that sharply to the right as Steve.

The Bloc won in French Quebec with an anyone but Harper campaign which the premier Charest endorsed. Doesn't seem to work with Anglos though.

Short of a new Liberal leader with ideas and a platform as well as someone who can effectively counter act Steve's schoolyard bully tactics (again, NOT Bob Rae), I don't know how we can convince them otherwise.

Any ideas?

Owen Gray said...

As a former Quebecer, who grew up in Montreal and worked for several years in the Eastern Townships, I can appreciate your comments about the province's politics.

Unfortunately, there is no Pierre Trudeau, with his formidable communications skills in both languages, to carry the province.

It seems to me that the opposition parties are going to have to cooperate, despite the hateful things which Mr. Harper will say.

ChrisJ said...

Good post, as always.

I've never been a fan of Iggy. He looks good on paper but doesn't "show" well.

I'm a Bob Rae fan, but it probably would be suicide in Quebec - and maybe the NDP days would cling too strongly for others as well.

Owen Gray said...

When I first began writing this blog, the Liberal leadership convention was going on in Montreal. I wrote, at the time, that Bob Rae was the best of the four leading candidates.

I understood why they chose Dion. The man had no skeletons in his closet. Rae, unfortunately, was not seen as a dyed in the wool Liberal. But he was the best politician of the lot -- and he understood both government and opposition.

I didn't expect the Liberals to take my advice. But I stand by my original opinion.