Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Stephen Harper, political judo master

Well, you’ve got to hand it to Stephen Harper. He may be petty and vindictive, but no one plays the game of political chess in this country like him. He blundered in December, but was back in true form with the Federal Budget that didn’t give anyone anything to complain about … except for conservatives and Newfoundland.

So you’re Stephen Harper, having just squeaked out of the confrontation with the coalition, and looking at the shiny new Liberal leader who seems set to rejuvenate his party and build momentum that could seriously hurt you in a year or two. What is the best way to sabotage this prospect? Why, to make Ignatieff look weak, of course. And what better way to do that than to stick some of his MPs with an impossible choice of loyalties? And while we’re at it, why not stick it to Danny Williams?

Talk about two birds with one stone.

You almost have to admire the elegance of it. In choking off $1.5B over three years to Newfoundland and Labrador, Harper gets his revenge for Williams’ ABC campaign and presents Ignatieff with a handful of Liberal MPs who really have no choice but to vote against the budget. It’s lose-lose for Ignatieff: if he lets them vote their conscience, he’s a weak leader; if he punishes them for dissenting, he’s petty, and still weak in the bargain for not having brought his party into line to begin with. Either way, in the first major political drama of 2009, Ignatieff loses much of that shiny newness. And Harper comes out of it with nary a scratch: his ruthlessness is now such a commonplace that it doesn’t bear remarking; what’s more, political retribution for Newfoundland and Labrador’s rejection of the Conservatives was more or less to be expected. And Danny Williams’ rants about Harper’s petty vindictiveness tend to elicit more eye-rolls here in Newfoundland than emphatic nods of agreement (for those unfamiliar with Danny Williams’ political style, he is the king of petty vindictiveness when it comes to those who cross him here on the Rock—his accusations of the same against Harper are seen very much as throwing black kettles in a glass house).

It’s a political judo hold, and deftly done. That doesn’t change the fact however that it was petty and vindictive, politically cynical, and an act of partisan maneuvering at a time when the country really needs a leader who can, if not rise above this sort of adolescent squabbling, then at least put it aside in a time of crisis. Even as the country looks to the Prime Minister for solutions to intractable problems, Stephen Harper is using the very Budget designed to help Canadians to give his political opponents the shaft.

Does this put Ignatieff in a difficult position? Yes. But I think the best response at this point is to call it what it is: to call out Stephen Harper for his political scheming and outline explicitly the way in which he’s playing Liberals against each other, province against province for his own cynical ends; and if I were Michael Ignatieff, after saying all that, I would continue: “I will be voting for this budget, because I need to think federally. This country does not want another election now; it has made it clear it is at best ambivalent about a coalition government, and so for the time being those options are off the table. I need to consider the good of Canadians as a whole. That is the job of a party leader. But the job of MPs is to speak for their ridings, and for that reason I will not be either forcing the Liberal members of Newfoundland and Labrador to vote my way, nor will I punish them when they don’t. In fact, on this issue, I will be freeing all Liberals to vote their conscience, to vote the way their constituents wish for them to vote. Stephen Harper has included this measure in the budget to punish Newfoundland and Labrador for rejecting his party and to weaken the Opposition. It is a cynical and petty move at a time when this country needs leadership. And I think the Canadian people are not nearly as stupid as Mr. Harper believes them to be. I think the Canadian people recognize a con job when they see it. And I think the Canadian people are going to remember that, at a time when they looked to their Prime Minister to rise above political expediency, he failed spectacularly.”

1 comment:

NL-ExPatriate said...

Liberal, or Conservative whatever it doesn't matter what national party you elect MP's to they are all the same when you belong to a minority prov in this phoney federation. All of the national parties have to work within the same tyranny of the majority system where in order to win power you need to be on the good side of the majority and the majority in this confederation live in Ontario and Quebec. 66% to be exact and further to that some 50%of the canadian population live in the urban cities none of which count from our province. You must be delusional if you think any national party will go to bat for 1.5% of the population and that includes the MP's you elect to those same national parties. Sure we don't even comprise the margin of error in the polls which is usually 3%. It isn't the national parties we need to change as we have seen it is the political system of Democratic Discrimination against the minority provinces by all of the national parties in favor of vote buying in the majority provinces. You could be playing this game till the cows come home of electing one or the other national proxy parties for ON/QU and expecting a different result it is time to stop the insanity. These are all symptoms the real root cause of our place in confederation is our lack of equality. If you really want to send a message to the confederation and have your elected MP's stand up for you tell them to cross the floor and stand up as Newfoundland and Labrador First MP's. As for defeating the budget it can only be done with the Liberals or in the Senate that is assuming Iggy doesn't tell the Liberal senators to pass it Like Dion did. So much for sober second thought. The senate is nothing but an extension of the systemically flawed HOC Per Capita Colonialism.