Saturday, February 26, 2005

Why Harper is Smarter than Kinsella

"Hereafter, whenever a Conservative MP offers the slightest amount of criticism about a fiscal measure, here's what they're going to get back: "Mr. Speaker, the Honourable Member from [FILL IN BLANK] knows - or should know - that this important fiscal change reflects the excellent, wonderful, perfect budget, about which the Honourable Member's own leader said [FILL IN BLANK WITH GLOWING STEPHEN HARPER QUOTE ABOUT RALPH GOODALE]. Ha ha ha ha. Thank you, Mr. Speaker."

Here's the real deal, folks: you may have voted for a minority government, but the Conservatives (not the NDP or the Bloc) just turned it into a majority government. See you in four years." - Kinsella, Feb 24, 2005.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. On so many levels. The Conservatives in 2005 are not the Liberals in opposition from 90-93, Warren. Maybe there are plenty of conflicting pan-Canadian worries about Harper's Tories, but none of them hinge on the type of concerns that Chretien had to overcome (overcome? would you like that majority government on a silver platter, my good man? election campaigns are not a good time to discuss serious policy issues, after all) in his day.

I think Harper is playing his cards beautifully. What is wrong with claiming that your opponent has brought in your own party's budget because they are scared of you. Martin is caught not pandering to Quebec, not pandering to the left, but pandering to McKay and Solberg and Harper. I would prefer my hotdog with a little extra mustard, but otherwise, thanks very much, sir. The "slightest amount of criticism" noted above will not be so easily deflected. We supported THAT, say the Tories. What we don't support is the Liberal blinders to changing realities. The vote on this budget is all about the vote on next year's budget. That's when this minority is up for re-election, not now. Hence Harper's insight, trumping the short-sightedness of Kinsella that thinks support today means majority tomorrow...

In fact, Kinsella and other Liberal shotgun cheerleaders have already persuaded themselves that they've won won this coup. That's laughable. They need to think the situation through more strategically. Think about Harper's position in 2006, it's what this is really all about: "Everyone knows we supported the last attempt by the Liberals to put forth a balanced budget. Everyone remembers our reasoned, balanced effort to avoid an election that no one wanted. Maybe even to the detriment of our own thoughts. However, most Canadians acknowledge the pressing issues facing the country today. This budget, quite frankly, fails to pass even the most basic of tests. We are not voting against this budget because we want an election now. We vote against it because we, like most Canadians, have lost confidence in this PM and this government to lead the country. We have been reasonable. More than reasonable. And reasonable Canadians know that the Conservative party can do better."

It is not the season to attack. It is the season of positioning. The NDP continues to marginalize itself on side issues of Kyoto and University funding. "Tax cuts - we don't need no stinking tax cuts." Important issues that resonate with some - but side points nonetheless, and points that only solidify your (shrinking) base. More on missile defence later. As for Duceppe? Ha - "if it is not good enough for Quebec..." please. We have heard that riff a thousand times. And his vote is going nowhere but down next time anyway.

So, Martin and Goodale have played into their only enemy's strength, for short term comfort. It has bought them time. But Harper's response is as refreshing as it is novel - peripheral concerns, but basic adoption of the key points as their own. Why attack what you approve of - as Dean used to say, people will vote for Republicans and not Republican-Lite Democrats. It is true in Canada. The Tories are still facing an uphill legitimacy battle. Coming out in favour of this budget is nothing short of gold, if you can get away with it. I am moderate too, is Harper's point. No rabid attack dog full of hate, I.

If Kinsella and other Libs don't get that, it is at their own peril. "See you in 4 years," Kinsella says. Better than even money says that this is the only budget this minority government passes. Looking forward to an election in 12 months...

(all that aside - the best and truest hit on the budget is Paul Wells. Is it just me, or in the last week has this guy emerged, from his fantastic blog postings, as the true Canadian heavyweight in deep perception on the political scene. He was always good, but he is now on a serious roll... Cooper, what do you think?)


Blogger Lewis Mumford said...


Interesting analyisis but you missed a couple points. There were more than just purely short-term strategic reasons for the Tories to support the budget. First, they are not in a position to topple the Libs at this point. They desparetly need to get to their policy convention in order to heal old wounds and refocus their message. The latest SES poll actually has Liberal numbers going up substantially in BC. An snap election could have meant a Martin majority and the end of Harper's political career. Second, the Tories are basically broke and Tory is sucking all the corporate Bay street money dry at the moment. They need cash on hand to have any sort of realitic challenge.

Thus, the Tories has no real choice than to support this budget. The Libs simply dangled a few carrots because they too wish to last to fight another day. Therefore this Parliament could last a lot longer than originally thought simply because no party is yet in a position to fight. The one wild card could be Duceppe. If he goes back to lead the PQ the vacum it would create in Quebec federally could be exploited by Martin into yet another Lib majority. Stay tuned.



6:41 PM  
Blogger Jason Cherniak said...

I think you've got it backwards. Layton has been the political genious of the past 8 months - he supported the throne speech when people were sick of arguing and he is attacking the budget when everyone else is playing footsie. Layton is doing a great job of standing out as a nicer, more environmentally friendly Liberal- exactly what gets the NDP votes.

Harper, on the other hand, has attacked same-sex marriage and supported the Paul Martin budget. In the end, to the average Canadian he seems like a fiscal Liberal and a social Conservative - exactly where the Conservatives do not want to be.

7:17 PM  

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