Friday, January 05, 2007

Environmental Politics And The Problem Of Perception

Everybody and I mean everybody is speculating about how John Baird's appointment means that the Tories are now going to roll out a green plan that will be good enough to get them elected. According to the conventional wisdom, they are going to come courting on Jack Layton and the NDP. The problem is, I don't think it will help either party very much. On the Tory side, there is still a sense that they just don't get it. They are still approaching climate change as if it is just another marketing issue. So, any approach to the NDP will look like what it is, a cynical move to do just enough to neutralize the issue, so they can go back to what they really want to do, which is dismantle the federal government as a force for social policy in Canada.

On the NDP side, Jack is in a real bind. His move on the Liberal budget was seen as a great stroke of political strategy. The NDP spin was that they were able to wring spending out of a weak prime minister who was circling the drain. This is not going to be the perception this time. Say what you will about Harper, but he is not Paul Martin. This time, it is Harper who is maneuvering Layton around in hopes that Layton will be his willing pawn in his repackaging effort. Layton is going to have to score very, very, big to counter the perception among his own voters that he is being used to advance the cause of the Tories, rather than helping out the environment.

NDP supporters are very suspicious of Harper's motives and his willingness to follow through on anything Layton can squeeze out of him. Without an iron clad guarantee that Harper will move and move hard on greenhouse gas emissions (which I for one do not see coming), Layton will face a revolt among his base and all this maneuvering will have been for naught. If, on the other hand, Layton does somehow get those guarantees from Harper and it looks like he might actually do something substantial on this file, Harper may face his own revolt from his base.

I guess what I am saying is politics looks like a chess game, but the pieces on the board are humans, not inanimate objects. They will not always move where the players want them to go and sometimes they fight back. I think Layton and Harper are about to learn that lesson to their despair.
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