Elections [Not] Forthcoming?

It is common speculation lately amongst Canadians to muse over how and when Stephen Harper will manage to trick the other parliamentary parties into putting into motion another federal election. The question — one that arose immediately after Harper’s victorious campaign but dwindled soon thereafter due to Harper’s conservative (both in style and in fact) approach to politics — came into play far more vigorously as this year’s throne speech approached. Much like when Harper announced his first budget, rumours abound circulated concerning Harper’s intention to throw the vote, making such outrageous demands that oppositional parties would have no choice but to turn him down.

Let me be the first (ha, not likely!) to suggest that perhaps Harper’s intention is not to force an election, but rather to implement his policies as if he were in a majority government.

And the most recent update on the opposition suggests that his tactics are nothing short of brilliant!

There are two aspects to Harper’s governing tactics that I would like to highlight as particularly effective.

The first is evidenced throughout the entire article. In fact, the entire scenario playing itself out in government right now is evidence of my first point. Simply put, Harper has managed to place the onus on other parties. By laying out his nefarious ultimatum, Harper made it clear that if other parties disagreed with his policies, they would be pushing Canada into an undesirable election. By building up hype that his bill would thus be outrageous, placing the opposition between a rock and a hard place, Harper managed to place himself in the role of aggressor.

However, the Prime Minister had no intention of blowing the vote. Rather, he made propositions that were reasonable enough for the opposing parties to accept. Suddenly, the onus really is on the other parties. While on principle they may have been willing to vote against him in order to take away his power, suddenly Harper has a shield around him!

The second is the traditional (but oft-misused) divide-and-conquer technique:

The showdown over the Conservatives’ much-ballyhooed omnibus crime bill fizzled into a debate over technicalities yesterday as the government introduced a bill that opposition parties largely support.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s election ultimatum over the crime bill, the second in a parliamentary session that is only three days old, will not lead to any quick confrontation with the opposition.

And it appears unlikely that the crime bill will trigger an election even when it comes to a final vote – possibly months from now – because almost all of its provisions already had enough opposition support to pass.

Last night, the government passed its first confidence-vote test on its Throne Speech when a Bloc Québécois amendment was defeated by all three other parties. And Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion’s decision to have his MPs abstain on the final vote on the speech means that also will not defeat the government.

I have added the emphasis to draw out my point. Harper has managed to present a bill that — though primarily composed of ideologies of his own party — has a “bone” for each opponent. While I am afraid I have failed to verse myself deeply in the bill itself, I suspect that this will be a scene that becomes stuck on “repeat.” One party will find some detail they would change, only to have it revoked by the other parties who see the issue as either irrelevant or in their favour. It has been mentioned before that the Conservatives’ greatest advantage currently is that they are the unified “Right”, while the “Left” has two or three different factions amongst whom the vote is dispersed. Well, in this case the divide works in his favour in that each of the Lefties has slightly different preferences, and a good statesman should be able to pander to each of them, without really giving in to any.

Unless I miss my guess, Harper will do just that.

By placing a shield around himself in order to ascertain his vote would be passed, and by preventing over-amendment by playing oppositional parties against one another, Harper has ensured his present victory. Suddenly his minority government — theoretically crippled by the need to cooperate with others — is able to maneuver the way they want, when they want.

Genius!

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Stephen
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 09:35:55

    Harper really is a brilliant strategist, but he wears the public relations element of the job like an ill-fitting suit. I keep thinking he should be a backroom boy: the Karl Rove to someone else’s George Bush. (A more Canadian illustration would be Keith “the Reignmaker” Davies to PM Trudeau.)

    Election speculation is a full-time occupation for journalists now. It started when Chrétien was still PM, and the media were salivating for him to step down and let Paul Martin take over. They’ve been on constant high alert for a change of PM for oh, four years now. It wears a little thin eventually, even for a fan of politics like me!

    If the opposition parties want to bring down the government, they need an issue where they’re on the good side of public opinion. The crime bill isn’t it. The public doesn’t care about the facts (violent crime has been steadily dwindling for years), they are convinced that Something Needs To Be Done. So you don’t want to force an election on a law-and-order bill.

    The latest rumour is that Dion will not support the government’s never-mind-Kyoto environmental plan. That makes sense because (a) Dion has invested so much in that one issue that he would look totally unprincipled if he backs down on it; and (b) a large percentage of Canadians don’t think the Conservatives are sincerely committed to a fight against climate change.

    The NDP and the Bloc may also refuse to support the environment bill so stay tuned! Journalism is never easier than during a minority government, when election speculation provides an easy story almost daily.

    Reply

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