You think everything is quiet now in the dog days of summer. Wrong. The issues are simmering just below the surface. There is much to puzzle through. Much to think about. There are strategies to decide, tactics to consider.
Stephen Harper currently seems to be enjoying the prestige of office, meeting with U.S. President Obama and Mexican President Calderon. With their mathematical majority, the other less likely three amigos, the Bloc’s Gilles Duceppe, the New Democrat’s Jack Layton and the Liberal’s Michael Ignatieff are doing their duty rounds of their parties and contemplating strategies for September. Each, in their spare time between duty appearances, must decide their future.
Harper will make his party’s decision about the path to follow in attacking Michael Ignatieff. The public has tired of the Conservative campaign that attempted to vilify Ignatieff for spending years outside Canada, completing his education and teaching in England and the United States. More of the same will just show Harper to be mean spirited and desperate for something with which to defame his opponent.
Ignatieff is a very different person from his predecessor Stéphane Dion. Dion’s inability to respond effectively last fall played right into the Conservative election strategy. Ignatieff is not as easy a target. He can handle Conservative smear campaigns with wit and intelligence.
The Liberal leader is active shoring up his party’s hopes and enthusiasm for an election, when and if it comes. He can convince the rank and file to be ready for an October/November election but knows he might have to leave them hanging for another year if the party gurus see no victory when they look into the entrails. He has no choice but to listen to the advice.
Duceppe and Layton already know that there is no victory for them in an election this fall. Gilles Duceppe has nothing to gain beyond the Quebec seats his party now holds. Jack Layton has too much to lose in the fragile position of the New Democrats. The smaller parties will find they are also rans in the second dust-up between the Conservatives and the Liberals within a year.
Their respective advisors have told all party leaders that an election over an issue such as Employment Insurance (EI) could be a non-winner. EI is an issue that directly effects less than 20 per cent of the voters. There are many misconceptions and urban myths attached to it. And Harper and company are hardly going to worry about attacks on their handling of any part of the recession as long as Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney is going around telling Canadians that the recession is over.
Assuming, we hope, that Carney was just trying to shore up consumer confidence with his obviously premature announcement, nobody wants to continue to run around claiming that the sky is falling. One ponders, in this light, what avenues are still open for Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition?
The light at the end of the political tunnel is that there is a trap there for Harper if he just falls into it. Unemployment figures that will come out in late October could be devastating. Ontario is already running at over ten per cent unemployment and continuing to drain jobs at a serious rate and Quebec is close behind. The rates in the Atlantic are not going to be any rosier. The West will be supported by resources and B.C. by the coming Olympics but there are lots of people out there who can read the signs of trouble.
The key, if Michael Ignatieff’s communications people can start to humanize the problems with EI, is to shame Duceppe and Layton into helping bring down Harper at the end of September. Harper looks like he will help because he and his brain trust are not going to go along with any major improvements in EI.
But then the crucial need will be to develop a secondary issue that Harper cannot handle as easily as EI. If I was strategizing for the Liberals, I would come up with a policy to bring home our troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible.
The truth is that Canadian soldiers are equipped and trained for peace keeping, not war. They are disciplined peace keepers. They are willing warriors but not all that good at sacrificing themselves as cannon fodder in a war of attrition with the Taliban. It is time to admit that we have put our soldiers in harm’s way in a war where they do not belong. Since the first British soldier set foot in the Khyber Pass almost 200 years ago, the Pashtun and other tribes of Afghanistan have feasted on foreign rations. They drove out the British, defeated the Russians and seriously bruised the Americans. Are we doing a better job? Are we doing it smarter?
In war, as in politics, you can only win if you can take ownership of the issues.
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