Saturday, March 13, 2010

Well Let's Not Even Try Then

Robopundit, with his finger on the pulse of Official Opposition thinking, pens this bizarre paragraph today:
Iacobucci's document review serves the useful purpose of putting on hold a test of wills between Parliament and the Prime Minister that could provoke an election the Opposition doesn't want now and would be foolish to ever fight on the abuse issue. But the ultimate result will be more foot-dragging if Iacobucci is kept too far from the truth to explain why ministers let generals play loose and fast with Afghan prisoners. (emphasis mine)
This logic is, not to put too fine a point on it, insane. It is the logic that will keep Harper in power forever. The thinking goes, "We can't defeat Harper on X, because he has a solid, if small block behind him, while we have a larger, but divided block with us. Best wait until we can find an issue over which everyone coalesces around us." The opposition parties and in particular the Liberals, have been waiting for that magic issue for four plus years. That is not how it works. As Warren Kinsella is fond of saying, campaigns matter. It seems to me that Canadians would see the worth of having an election over whether or not our government is comprised of war criminals. And even if that is not so, some hills are worth dying over. Holding a government to account over torture, is one of those hills.

Also, does anyone believe Harper would like to dissolve the Parliament and hold an election to avoid being held in contempt by Parliament? How would that look to the average voter two weeks after the end of prorogation? The opposition would have a field day with that. So, even from a crass political viewpoint, the opposition has little to lose by bringing forward its motion of privilege.
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  1. "little to lose" -- try "nothing to lose".

    Same way the Democrats don't own Republican votes in Congress this year (as we've seen), the Tories don't own Liberal or NDP votes in the Commons.

  2. "little to lose" -- try "nothing to lose".

    Nothing to lose but their chains? ;)

  3. Really, the four years that Stephen Harper has held power have been an elaborate confidence game between him and the opposition.

    At any given time, they could have united and crushed him. (Well, the 2006 and 2007 budgets passed with Bloc support/abstention. But since then...)


    But here's the case I'd make on the Afghanistan file, if I were a Tory. (Wait, I am. Card-carrying, actually. All right, if I were in their political arm during an election campaign, then.)

    1. We muddled into bad practices under the previous government -- not through bad intentions, but through neglect and a failure to exercise due diligence.
    2. There were reports of detainee abuse in 2006 -- which we were initially very skeptical about, given that our adversaries have a policy of alleging abuse even when it does not take place. In retrospect, we probably (definitely) were too skeptical.
    3. Once we were confident that these bad practices were taking place (by 2007), we took action to ensure it didn't happen again.
    4. All of this talk about our troops or our officials being "war criminals" is overblown. (Optional: Stick in little shiv about opposition showing much more concern about Taliban detainees than winning the war. (Okay, Harper totally will do that one again. He enjoys it.))


    That's enough to sooth the 45% of the Canadian electorate who could think about voting Conservative -- it certainly would satisfy the 60% who were happy to let Omar Khadr sit at Git'mo for seven years.

    If this is the hill to die on -- I say go for it. I admire stands on principle. Makes for a better national politics.

    But if it doesn't get as much purchase as you would like among the broader electorate -- well, see the case I made above.

  4. I know the opposition is on to something big when the government starts up with "Let's look forward, rather than backward". You just know there is something big there. The Conservatives are singing that song this weekend.

  5. As much as I'd like the opposition to stand up for their rights in Parliament on this issue, it is ultimately a loser for the Libs. Any attempt to use the full weight of Parliamentary privilege against the Cons will immediately lead to charges that the 'coalition' is pursuing a coup.

    Harper will scream it and the electorate will buy it (again). Harper will then pull out his nuclear option and demand the GG dissolve the house and "let the voters decide". Mme. Jean or her carefully selected replacement will oblige. If you are Iggy, do you want to be fighting your first election over obscure Parliamentary rights and privileges? Didn't think so.

    In all likelihood Harper will win again. Minority or majority doesn't matter as either will put the boot to the Libs and force them to drop the torture issue.

    Absent a stunning document leak, this is a loser for the Libs and they know it.

  6. If Harper only wins a minority next time, there's a very real chance he gets turfed on the first Throne Speech.

    What has the opposition got to lose, at that point? Defeat him, and then see if something can be cobbled together. (Along the lines of Topp's recent book.)

    I'm with Harper -- see case above -- but I really don't see why the opposition shouldn't stand up for itself on this. If it's that or letting the PM govern like he has a majority -- make him win that majority! (He's managed to toss one away twice already.)

    But maybe I'm missing something here. Don't know. Greg?

  7. I think the only things missing are Iggy and Jack's resolve.

  8. As much as I'd like the opposition to stand up for their rights in Parliament on this issue, it is ultimately a loser for the Libs. Any attempt to use the full weight of Parliamentary privilege against the Cons will immediately lead to charges that the 'coalition' is pursuing a coup.

    But the only way that could be true is if the opposition moved, in concert to bring him down (which, if I am understanding correctly, they are not proposing that course of action). If Harper pulls the plug himself, he will be roasted by the press. As far as I can see, Harper will have to either sit there and take his medicine or pull the plug and get tagged with running away again. At this point sitting there and taking it might be the better option (unless of course there really is something terrible to hide and then he can only pull the plug and take his chances). Either way, if the opposition has the spine, they are in a good position.

  9. @ Greg...

    Understood, but all Harper has to do is, based on the inevitably supportive Iacobucci report, simply refuse to hand over anything of substance. Period. The opposition can huff and puff in the Commons but Harper will simply wave the iReport (sorry) and be effectively inoculated. Harper will be: "Parliamentary privilege, eh. Bring it on."

    What's then left for the opposition? Only to drop the issue or escalate using rarely used and obscure Parliamentary rights and priviliges. Unlikely the Speaker will play ball, so he may have to be removed. Then what, you start citing ministers for contempt of Parliament? Bar them from the Commons?

    As I wrote above, Harper will scream coup and the voters will buy it. He'll scream he cannot govern with the opposition disrupting the Commons and barring his ministers. An airport hissy fit will seem mild in comparison.

    The media - save some papers - will try to explain the legal and historical precedent for the opposition moves. But most Canadians won't get past the headlines which will scream "Minister cited for contempt"; "Minister barred"; "Speak replaced"; "Bedlam in Commons".

    Creating this sort of Parliamentary/Constitutional crisis will not be productive for the Libs. No matter that it is actually the PM misbehaving, the Lbs will get tagged for it.

    Tag they're out.

  10. Ah, here's why the Liberals folded like a cheap suitcase. Notice came on their watch, in 2005, from the number two in the Kabul embassy. See, my case for the Tories to use on the trail becomes stronger and stronger. (Actually, I think the news story skews somewhat to the Tory side -- rare for a CBC article.)

    That's no reason why Jack Layton should stand down on the issue, though.