Thursday, April 2, 2009

Harper Winning The Chess Match Versus Iggy

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I have no affection for Prime Minister Stephen Harper whatsoever. With that being said, balanced commentary demands that one look past personal biases when taking stock of a situation. While bloggers tend to be very partisan in nature, most Canadians are not. I know there are some voters who will cast their franchise with the same party every election, regardless of the leader or political climate...but I've never been one to marry a single party. I've voted Liberal, Conservative and NDP in various elections over the past 20 plus years.

So...taking a step back from my own personal views, its hard to avoid the conclusion that Harper is besting Iggy right now in the political arena.

I've been waiting anxiously to see Ignatieff 'grow a pair' during his sparring with the Prime Minister. But every time his cajones seem to be swelling, they quickly shrink back to a pair of ball bearings. Ignatieff started off well after assuming the leadership, galvanizing his support within the party, and with chief rival Bob Rae providing a strong endorsement. Since then there's been a series of missteps, nothing catastrophic....but cumulatively they're beginning to add up.

It all started with the budget. Ignatieff initially said he would not be providing any input. He wisely insisted it was the job of the governing party to outline the direction, and that the Liberals would respond. This was a good move, because in a severe recession it wouldn't matter what initiatives were taken, there was still going to be plenty of pain to go around. But then surprisingly Iggy changed course and outlined several areas he said needed to be addressed. Harper and the Conservatives wisely included measures to assuage Ignatieff's concerns, thus undercutting the credibility of any future criticism.

Next came the $3 billion left over from the previous budget year. Ignatieff threatened to bring the government down if they didn't provide details as to how the money was to be spent. Calling the $3 billion a 'slush fund', the Liberal leader said his party would not issue the Conservatives a blank cheque....But again, Iggy backed down and let the Tories have their way, allowing them to spend first and provide details later.

Now its the gun registry. Harper is signalling that the Conservatives will introduce legislation to eliminate the controversial program. Ignatieff is once again sticking out his horns and threatening to defeat the government. On its own this wouldn't be a confidence vote, so the fate of the government doesn't necessarily hang in the balance. But if Harper wants to engage in yet more could. The Prime Minister could declare it a confidence motion, or conversely he could wrap in some budgetary measures making the matter of confidence automatic. Either way the potential for a snap election exists if the Conservatives use it as a matter of confidence and Iggy sticks to his guns.

The Conservatives have been in election mode for sometime now, with the Liberals just starting to catch up. Harper is making good use of events like the G-20 summit and his meeting with President Obama. While those who would never vote for Harper in any case bristled at his Fox News appearance, the fact is the Prime Minister looked good handling softball questions from the decidedly conservative network.

Ignatieff and the Liberals need to be very cautious about bringing the government down. Taking the bait on something as pithy as the gun registry could spell electoral disaster. Political junkies aside, Canadians are sick of voting in federal elections. With the economy in free fall we want our elected officials dealing with this crisis. Political games can come later.

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