Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Well Mr. Harper, you were denied yet another election

This is the third time that you have tried to engineer an election and failed. This is the third time that you have caused a media frenzy only to see it fade away into nothingness. This is the third time you have fired up that much ballyhooed "Election War Room", only to have to turn out the lights again.

This is the third time you have been denied. Which is interesting because many believe you to be a political strategic genius and you are supposedly up against a weak and bumbling leader in your chief opponent.

It kind of makes me wonder who is the superior political strategist.

With Mr. Dion deftly neutralizing Afghanistan and crime as election triggers your last chance was the budget. However, that budget is so innocuous that it will be forgetten by the weekend and Mr. Dion can safely prop you up until the time of his choosing. Although, this budget and your other budgets might come back to haunt you in the fall when your government is forced to post the first deficit in more than a decade.

You can take some solace in the fact the budget will be well received so you may see a temporary uptick in your support. However, it will be small and short lived and you will be in no position to take advantage of it.

You can also take some solace in the fact that some Liberals are upset that Mr. Dion has not toppled your government. You can find many of them right here on Liblogs. Unfortunately for you however, Mr. Dion has surrounded himself with experienced and hardnosed political operatives who realize that realpolitik requires political idealism and principles be tempered with political calculation.

Of course the usual suspects will say nasty things about Mr. Dion for propping you up. However, you know it will be quickly forgotten because it is the curse and the blessing of being the Leader of the Opposition that people will forget what you said or did and it will have no impact on the next election. You know this because you did exactly the same thing when you were opposing Paul Martin. You propped him up two or three times in order to wait for the time you thought was more advantageous to you.

You can also take some solace in the fact the media has still not turned completely against you. They will do so of course as they always turn against a government after a time. However, for the moment they have not done so. They are no longer doing the collective Lewinsky to you as they were doing when you first came to power. They have stood up and are now looking more critically at your government but so far it has not had much of an effect on their narrative. Of course that will really change as the economy goes into the ditch and the first hints of deficits appear in the fall.

So what now? You have blown your wad. You find yourself leading a government without much of an agenda and going into an economic slowdown. Your government will be slowly eaten away by events beyond your control (Hello Linda Keen!). You have lost the Afghan war and crime as issues on which to fight the next election. The economy is slowing down, particularly in the Canadian heartland, and you have put your government on the path to deficit. As well, the "prudence" of your budget will constrain you in doing what all governments do this late in their mandate; throw money around. It will undermine your credibility if you spend the next 6 months running around the country making funding announcements.

And that clever, underestimated, bespeckled man across the aisle now holds all of the cards with regard to when an election will be held. I can assure you that when he finally decides to topple you and your government it will be at a time that is most inconvenient for you and it will be on an issue on which your government will be loathe to fight an election.

All-in-all Mr. Harper you and your supporters will probably look back at February 2008 and realize that it was that time when you lost the last chance of fighting an election on your terms and you might even be doing that as you watch Stephane Dion being sworn in as Prime Minister.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Liberals, the Habs fans of the Canadian Political Scene

I am a fan of the Montreal Canadiens and I spend some time on various fora on the web discussing the team. One of the things that stands out for me when I visit these sites is there are a significant number of Habs fans that brutally criticise the team regardless of what is happening on the ice. In addition they are constantly harping on the GM and coach to do something. You know, some will constantly complain that Bob Gainey still has not swung that trade where the Canadiens exchange a 7th defencemen, a case of used water bottles and a bag of pucks for Crosby and Malkin.

This line of thought occured to me after I read the story that Mr. Dion has hinted he may not bring down the government over the budget and the reaction of many Liberal bloggers to that news. By and large, it is very negative, full of angst and frustration as Scott Tribe so accurately describes it.

The arguments are all the same. It shows weakness. It shows a lack of resolve. They all wonder what it will take for Stephane Dion to step up and show some guts.

First of all deciding to trigger an election is not done on a whim. A great deal of political calculation goes into it and alot of information goes into that calculation. The guys and gals on the inside have access to all of that information and they are all seasoned political operatives. So I do find it amusing when folks who have access to much less information so earnestly criticise Mr. Dion for not going for it.

Second, Mr. Harper desperately wants an election. He has gone so far as to try to convince Canadians that the Senate not passing his crime bill before his deadline is an indication that his government no longer has the confidence of the House. When someone wants something go desperately the obvious question is why. As most agree, it is not because the conditions are ideal for Mr. Harper. In fact the conventional wisdom is because he believes it is the best that it is going to be and it can only get worse going forward. So with that in mind why would the Liberals give Mr. Harper his election?

Or to put it another way. It is generally bad political strategy to give your political opponent what he wants, particularly when he demonstrates he wants it so desperately.

Third, most of the books on strategy that I have read, and I have read many, state that, unless forced to, you should not enter into battle with your opponent until the conditions are such that your chances of success outweigh that of your opponent's.

That is not the case right now. If we were to have an election right now it would be a crap shoot. It could go either way. There are no do overs in politics so if we have an election and Stephen Harper wins we are stuck with him for at least two additional years.

It is not often that an opposition party is in the driver's seat with regard to election timing in this country so the Liberals would be prime idiots to squander that advantage with a premature election call. It is better to wait until the conditions are a little more favourable to them.

Those very same books on strategy state that it is not weakness to retreat in the face of your opponent if the conditions for battle are not in your favour. Indeed it is good strategy because it will give you greater opportunity in the future to wrong foot your opponent and fight the battle at the time and place of your choosing.

Of course, if the budget does pass then we can expect the usual suspects in the media to spin it to the Liberals disadvantage. Who cares. I find most of the pundits to be wannabe political strategists anyway and the only reason why they are writing about political strategy instead of developing it is because they lack any actual political strategic ability.

With the exception of some Liberals, Canadians are not clamouring for an election or a change in government. So Liberals have to be careful they do not mistake their desires with that of the electorate because in most cases nothing good ever comes from that.

Many Liberals believe Mr. Dion is weak so I cannot understand why they would want him to trigger an election where he would have to defend his decision during the first two or three days, thus putting him at a disadvantage from the beginning. It is much better to wait until conditions improve and then use their advantage of being the party that controls the timing of the next election to much more advantageous effect.

Friday, February 01, 2008

So General Hillier is now a lawyer

I was just reading through the media sites on this snowy Friday night and found this chestnut.

Although what he says in technically true it does not take away from the fact that the allegations against the Governor of Khandahar of him personally taking part in torture come from reliable sources, including our own diplomats.

As well, we are not talking about a court of law we are talking what Canada's role should be in Afghanistan and to some extent whether Canada should still be involved in that war.

And, he totally misses the point that the real crime in this story is not the allegations but the fact the government tried to cover them up, which is the pattern for this government. Canada is at war and its citizens have the right to know what they are at war for. Platitudes and jingoism are very thin substitutes for real information which is why support for the war continues to wane and it could also be a contributing factor to the fading poll numbers for the Conservatives.