Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Harper's big gamble

The National Post is suggesting that Québec premier Jean Charest has turned against Harper, and has become engaged in a "your momma wears combat boots"-style war of rhetoric with the Bloc Québecois over which one of them is in bed with the Tories. On Wednesday, Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe said this:

The Charest government has no backbone. Mr. Charest is making an error. He is hitching himself to Mr. Harper's wagon at any cost to the detriment of Quebec's interests.
and on Friday, Charest countered:
[Gilles Duceppe] represents Quebecers in the House of Commons. If he believes in what he is saying, unless it is empty rhetoric, well then he will vote against the budget in the House of Commons. So we'll see who has backbone.
It's pretty clear what Duceppe's aim is here: a Québec provincial election is likely by the end of next year, and he'd clearly like to see the Parti Québecois take the reins. Charest's aim, on the other hand, is slightly more murky. Until recently, after all, he seemed to be pretty tight with Harper. On the surface of things, the falling out appears to have happened toward the end of May, and over the Kyoto Accord. It's certainly true that Charest, a former federal environment minister under Brian Mulroney, has been feeling some pressure on that front. But my fellow oxymoron from Accidental Deliberations is left wondering whether Charest's sudden chill toward Harper is all just for show, and a prelude to forcing an election now for the ultimate benefit of the Conservatives.

It sounds like a tinfoil-hat notion, but I have to wonder, myself. When I met up with Conservative blogger Greg Staples at the multipartisan Waterloo Blogstravaganza, one of the few things we agreed on was that if we were in Stephen Harper's shoes, we would be looking for the government to fall now. By the fall, the Liberals will have a new leader and almost inevitably the new momentum that goes along with that, and at the moment, Harper's own party's polling numbers are quite strong. We also agreed, however, that Canadians are nowhere near ready for another election, and if the current government seemed to be orchestrating their own demise prematurely, they might come to regret that decision come election time. An obvious strategy to deal with this, we decided, would be to goad the opposition into voting against a confidence motion that was at least superficially bad for the Tories. The Liberals would then be forced to fight an election without a real leader, and a Tory majority could result.

In order for a play like that to work, the issue the government fell on would have to be one that most Canadians tended to like, but only in a superficial sort of way, as we all like the neighbour's new puppy until we start finding our petunias dug up and rubber chew toys in their place. Recent polling about the details of Kyoto suggests that it could well be that issue, since more than two-thirds of us know little to nothing about it. The pollsters who interpreted the numbers even suggested that "the knowledge level of what is in Kyoto is so small that this government, if it plays its cards right, will have some manoeuvrability." It would be a big gamble for the Tories, but they might well decide that it would be worth the potential prize of a majority government.

For all our sakes, I sure hope I'm wrong. But if I turn out to be right, I have to admit that there's a part of me that will almost admire such shrewd and highly complex political gamesmanship. It's often said that the left should underestimate Stephen Harper at its own peril--and he may well be on the brink of proving that right.

1 comment:

Scotian said...

The main reason I oppose Harper as much as I do is because I do not underestimate his ability to pull these things off. While I do not think he is a political genius I do think he is one of the more capable political operators the Right has in this country, and he may well end up proving out to be one of the more capable political operators in the country. Time will need to tell on that one though, at the moment I am not inclined to think that is the case, but I never let my beliefs get in the ways of recorded fact/reality. At this time though it is impossible to make such an evaluation.

After Harper has been a PM for a year or two, and especially once he has a real Official Opposition with a leader going after his government will be when one can start to fairly make that evaluation of political capability. Right now he has almost every card in his favour. None of the Opposition parties want an election for their own reason, neither does as you noted the public generally. No leader of the Liberals or even a clear idea who that leader might be and how that will redefine the Liberal party as always happens with any party with a new leader. The stain of serious corruption and the ability to deflect almost any question from the Official Opposition as well why didn't you do this or better in government and/or we are doing it better than you ever did, although that is I think starting to wear out, within another few months, the fall I believe this will have become ineffective outside the core CPC base.

If he is able to rig a defeat without looking like it in the Fall then I will agree with you regarding the degree of political adroitness required to pull such a feat off in the current climate. I am not so sure though given the degree of "defeat me, defeat me" language/rhetoric Harper has already pulled in the last few months will leave an imprint of his clearly trying to get his majority before the Libs have a new leader and his government has a clear record to judge on.

I have always maintained that the CPC did as well as it did not because of popular support for their agenda/platform but because the Liberals obviously needed a time out at the minimum. The only reason I was reluctantly supporting the Libs last time was that I saw the CPC option as even worse (bad enough if they got the minority they did, far worse if they had gotten the majority they should have given the perfect storm they had in the election campaign, especially the last few weeks of it) and the NDP under Layton not a party I could accept for government either on economic and certain foreign policy elements although I certainly would have preferred that option to what we have today. The Libs for all their corruption had also managed to govern reasonably competently overall despite that so I wanted the CPC to be slapped down and the Harper wing of the party to be shown it cannot win government and then hopefully the more PCPC side of the party would gain in strength within that party.

So now we have Harper appearing to be taking a significant chance with his majority as you note. It will be very interesting and illustrative to watch to see if this scenario ends up playing out in the direction you laid out. Like you I do not know whether it will or not but given the degree of machiavellian cut throat partisan politics we are seeing from Harper to date (I mean he and the CPC treat everything partisan, even things like the Afghanistan mission and even the Stanley Cup, that comes from a backbench CPC MP posing a question Mon June 5 06 to the PM linking Canada's failure to make it to the Stanley Cup during the Liberal time in office with the Edmonton Oilers now in contention now that there is a Conservative government again) it would not surprise me.

Where Harper runs into trouble is when his execution does not go as he envisioned/planned, he is not that good at improvisation overall, although he does have his moments. Then he looks for blame everywhere but at himself and/or his beliefs/premises for why the failure and that is also one of the reasons I do not think he is suitable to be a PM. He has never demonstrated real personal accountability/responsibility when things went wrong from what I have seen and that is a serious problem in any head of government IMHO regardless of political ideology.