Saturday, January 10, 2009

Is Stephen Harper Getting Religion?

For those unfamiliar with the term, ‘getting religion’ often refers to an individual who recognizes his or her sinful ways and repents. With Stephen Harper backing away from partisan politics and preaching a new gospel of conciliation and compromise it seems a fitting description. What caused this sudden about face and will it last? Is our Prime Minister abandoning forever his penchant for political combativeness, or is this just a temporary reprieve?

A big part of this sudden conversion is likely the release of new polling numbers. A Nanos Research survey released Friday shows the Tories and Liberals in a virtual dead heat, with support at 33 and 34 percent respectively. The poorly received Economic Statement released in late November, (which resulted in the formation of a Liberal – NDP coalition) used projections that were almost universally derided as overly optimistic, a fact acknowledged by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. Newly minted Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is using his new position as leader of the Official Opposition to put the government’s feet to the proverbial fire as we wait for the Conservative budget on January 27th.

Ignatieff is advising the government to introduce measures that pass a “national interest test”. The Liberal leader is calling for initiatives that protect the vulnerable, for infrastructure spending that is ‘targeted in the right places’ and for investments in the economy to get us out of the current economic mess faster. While these all sound like wonderful ideas, they’re very short on specifics. The only thing concrete I’ve seen mentioned is a proposal for increased spending on military initiatives as a means of stimulating the economy, with shipyards repairing military vessels and automakers being given military contracts.

I fully expect that no matter what the budget document looks like, that the Liberals will support it with reservations. And so long as Harper perceives the Liberals to be a genuine threat to his hold on power I think we’ll see a cooling of tensions on Parliament Hill. The big losers right now appear to be both the NDP and Greens as Canadians coalesce around our two major parties. The media is currently fixated on “The Stephen and Iggy Show”, while Jack and Liz are shunted off to the side.

It’ll be interesting to see if Monsieurs Harper and Ignatieff can maintain this tone of reasonable discourse. Personally I don’t expect it to last.

Media Articles:

Ignatieff vaults Liberals into tie with Tories Canadian Press

Ignatieff Liberals move into tie with Tories National Post

Liberals neck-and-neck with Tories Globe & Mail

No longer combative, Harper calls for co-operation in drafting federal budget CBC News

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