The die is cast, the writs will soon be dropped, and in a few weeks Canadian electors will be offered the opportunity to rid themselves of the odious Harper regime. Will they take it?
If a week is a long time in politics, three weeks is forever. At the beginning of this month I suggested that the hapless Michael Ignatieff was leading his caucus on a suicide mission. In words that I may soon have to eat, I wrote: “If there is indeed a Spring election, it promises to be a childishly easy contest for the Harperites to win.”
My summing-up of the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition stands. But over the past three weeks or so—and there will be much, much more tomorrow—the invincible, iron-cold Harper has started to wobble.
There was the Speaker’s ruling and a committee recommendation that the Harper Government™ be found in contempt of Parliament. Stepping nimbly through procedural minefields yesterday, the Liberals will bring down the government tomorrow on this motion:
That the House agrees with the finding of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs that the Government is in contempt of Parliament, which is unprecedented in Canadian Parliamentary history, and consequently, the House has lost confidence in the Government.
This will be a scandalous historic first that the Conservatives will wear for evermore. Anyone claiming that ordinary Canadians won’t notice or don’t care is in for a bit of a surprise, I think.
Then there was the Bruce Carson affair, which reached right into the Prime Minister’s heretofore impregnable bunker in the Langevin Block, his Cabinet, and across the country. The timing couldn’t be better, or worse, depending upon your ideological preferences. That story has legs that will carry the issue through the election campaign. A good, juicy influence-peddling yarn may finally lift the curse of Adscam from the Liberals. And the spice factor doesn’t hurt: as Kris Kotarsky points out in the Calgary Herald, once an escort arrives on the front pages of newspapers, she is unwilling to take her leave.
The tone of the press coverage of the Tories seems to have changed as well. The Carson matter is not just a stand-alone outrage, but the latest in “a series of scandals.”
Scandals? Charges laid in the in-and-out electoral finagling that could land a couple of Conservative Senators and two Tory backroomers in jail; the Kenney fund-raising-on-letterhead kerfuffle, by itself no biggie, but in context yet another whiff of political corruption; the NOT-y Minister Bev Oda; the re-branding of the government of Canada as the Harper Government™—and all this in a matter of weeks!
Harper’s sudden slide in the polls has been duly noted. What’s all that nonsense about ordinary Canadians not caring about this sort of thing? Of course they do, and this time they have a yummy assortment of peeves to choose from.
Just about the only card the Tories have left to play (besides an improving economy) is the c-bomb. “Coalition!” squawks Con shill John Ivison. Well, that’s not so frightening when you think about it. The Ottawa Citizen gleefully highlighted the embarrassing fact that one Stephen Harper was the first party leader to suggest such a thing, back in 2004 when he was in opposition. (The print edition uses this as the caption for its front-page photo-spread.)
The truth is, of course, that we’re up for a battle of coalitions of all sorts. The Liberals and the Conservatives have had one going for decades, dancing the “After you, Alphonse” big-business two-step, in agreement currently on all of the major issues (foreign policy, free trade, opposition to pay equity, support for tar sands development and abusive mining practices abroad, etc., etc.) and fussing over mere details of difference. They’ve behaved like two wings of one party, taking turns running their respective spoils machines when they formed governments and propping each other up in opposition.
So perhaps this time we will see a new coalition (Liberals, NDP, BQ) arise from the ashes of the old one. I’m not holding my breath, mind you, and I’m still not all that optimistic about the outcome of the election, coalition or no.
Why not? Because the Liberals are likely going to blow it once again. Is there a campaign theme? Why yes, says Ignatieff—the economy.
The one area where the Conservatives are undeniably strong? The one issue upon which they can actually run on their record?
Good grief, it is to weep. And even worse, Iggy wants to run from the Right, criticizing the Conservatives for the deficit spending that the Liberals effectively forced upon them in 2009 (“This government has to get the money out the door.”).
What if, instead, a more intrepid Liberal leader (speaking both hypothetically and comparatively) were to choose democracy itself as the key election issue? That would be a rich vein to mine: not only matters of Parliamentary contempt presently in the news, but the use of a hand-picked Senate to block legislation duly passed by our elected representatives; a manual for deliberately disrupting Parliamentary committees; political interference in supposedly arms-length federal agencies; and of course the infamous prorogations—in layman’s terms, sending our elected representatives packing when they become inconvenient.
Make the Harper Government™ the issue, Iggy, and you might yet pull your nuts out of the fire.
But you won’t.