Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Prime Minister Harper?

Been busy with some actual law school related work over the past few days (imagine that?) but have been busy following the developments back home in Canada courtesy of ctv.ca's extensive video links and the excellent reporting across the blogosphere. All the usual suspects have been on the job, and it's been hilarious to see Jane Taber reporting about the "blogs" breaking the publication ban - even if most of the right's "freedom of speech" rants are way over the top.

[incidentally, this has got to be the stupidest Instapost of all time. You would think a law professor would at least be aware of the legal rationale for imposing a TEMPORARY publication ban on testimony, instead of referring to it as the "crushing of dissent" because "it's embarrassing to the people in power".]

I still hold to the thesis that Canada won't see an election until I am back in the country (ticket just purchased - July 17th from Glasgow, after a few days at the Open in St. Andrews). If I'm advising the opposition, what is better than letting the Liberals continue to implode? Why would Harper jump the gun now, when who knows what else the inquiry might uncover, or indeed how the "explosive" testimony will hold up under cross-examination?

Harper knows he probably has only this one shot and he's still confindently biding his time:
"It is not my intention and it is not my party's intention to provoke an election simply on our own timetable or because of our own interests," Harper said. "We have to be sure the public understands this (sponsorship information) and the public is demanding this election."

Listening to him scrum with reporters via CTV, I have to say that he sounds increasingly ready and surprisingly cogent. He is certainly aware of this strong opportunity to hold the Liberals to the fire on a number of issues as this goes forward.

So let the process take its course, let the media continue foaming at the mouth over the "explosive, damning, volatile" testimony as it seeps into the Canadian psyche. There is no danger in waiting until Gomery delivers the full report in the fall, and there's your election, sprung out of a non-confidence vote in the Liberal party of Canada, based on the difficult-to-question verdict of a Commission of Inquiry that the Libs called for themselves. Ah, life's sweet ironies.

In between, Harper continues to look strong in attack, while attempting to moderate the image of his party as the reliable stop-gap that can be trusted with power. It also gives him some time to at least begin building something in a few ridings in Quebec. Are there a sizable portion of voters who are looking for a choice between (what they see as) corrupt Liberals and the separatist Bloq? As with his politically savvy moves on the budget, he'll try to ruffle as few feathers as possible and let the Libs beat themselves. Sensing power, the fringe element of the CPC might just shut up for once, or Harper will respond by refusing to let them stand as MPs as Michael Howard did to Howard Flight in Britain.

Importantly, Harper is already framing the narrative in his own terms for the inevitable drop of the writ:
"We will not be calling a national election b/c the Bloq wants one, or because the Bloq tables a motion. It is the people of Canada... who have to decide that the time has come and we'll act in their interest when the time comes, but we will not be led there by the Bloq."
So a few more months of Martin's "dithering" - he has shown a poor ability to set an agenda as it is, and now media cooperation will be increasingly difficult. I just don't see what positives the Liberals campaign on next time out? Can they claim again that the Tories are scary, when the meme is that "Liberals are corrupt, so maybe we'll take our chances"? Layton wins the swing ridings he lost narrowly last time, giving him up to 30, Duceppe (sadly, for Canada) stands to pick up even more, sweeping almost everywhere but Montreal, and Harper picks up enough in Ontario to form a minority.

Prime Minister Harper? Never thought I'd hear myself thinking those words... but it seems that with Gomery he has found the Aces in the hole to move all in with. And if he is politically savvy, I can even see that minority surviving for awhile. Say 2 years or so, through a tacit alliance with the Bloq, one that Harper can sell on a broadly based Province-Rights agenda while the Libs regroup. He is already working the phones with McGuinty. Why wouldn't Williams, Hamm, Lord, Klein, Campbell, and Binns be interested in backing him as well? If he can combine the strategy with a few high-profile, direct roundhouses to the Bloq on motions that the Libs will have to support, it could work. And having been through 2 elections in a year and a half, the public will give him a chance to govern.

And (the big bonus) - the Left might get to participate in a rejuvenation of the Liberal party not really seen since the Kingston conference of 1960 if Martin resigned or gets forced out. Imagine a truly open leadership race, with no clear front-runner and a focus on new ideas and some serious foreign policy review proposals. Enough to get some young blood in the Liberal party excited, I would hope.

That scenario (other than Conservative gloating, which will border on the hysterical - but they have been out awhile) is actually what I'll probably be hoping for come September... In my book, the cleaning out the Liberal aisles will be well worth the short-term frustrations in the long run.

As Fotheringham once said on Maclean's Back Page (wrongfully predicting that McKenna would follow Chretien in the PM's chair, at that) - you heard it here last. So go on, tell me where I'm wrong.

UPDATE (hours later) - probably important to stress that these musings are a best-case scenario for the Conservatives, and that (as Occam's Carbuncle noted Monday) there shouldn't be too much of a rush to judgment on the consequences of Gomery yet. We've seen it before: the Liberals are a resilient bunch, and the Tories can implode magnificently. But for the first time in over 10 years, there is a sense the waves may be shifting.


Blogger The Tiger said...

I think you're probably spot-on. I hope you are, anyway.

Truffles, on the other hand, isn't as convinced.

1:50 AM  
Blogger The Tiger said...

That said, I, being the partisan Conservative that I am, think that they should steamroller the Liberals while they can.

But I'm not known for my politicla savvy, and Harper has been really good at binding seemingly disparate groups together and then gaining their support.


1:51 AM  
Blogger Jason Cherniak said...

Harper is playing the long game and that is why the Cons are in the beset spot they have been for a while. However, I am convinced that this plays into Martin's hands. Gomery clearly liked Martin when he testified, and (after reading Lawrence Martin in today's Globe) I think the final report is likely to attack Quebec politics instead of the Liberal Party.

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You said it dude!

Brian Walsh

9:07 PM  

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