Shades of December 2008 - Harper prorogues Parliament again!
Conventional wisdom today is that PM Harper has prorogued Parliament for the second time since the 2008 Federal election because he's worried that the committee investigating the Afghan detainee/torture issue is costing the Conservatives too much political capital. That the issue will disappear once the afterglow of the Vancouver Olympics erases it from our collective consciousness like a MiB Neuralyzer.
However, Dimitri Soudas, the PMO's press secretary, doesn't think so. It's "old news" he noted in a conference call to reporters, according to the G&M's John Ibbitson. And, I tend to believe him.
Not with Soudas' statement, but rather that this is an accurate reflection of the government's attitude towards the detainee issue: they don't think they'll lose an election over it, and, as uncomfortable as the issue has become, it will eventually go away.
Besides, defence has never been this government's preference for action. They like aggressiveness. They like to squash the enemy.
They like to consolidate power.
The second piece of conventional wisdom circulating among the pundits is that prorogation is doubly advantageous to the Conservatives because it allows Harper to further stack Senate vacancies with partisan loyalists, effectively giving him a governing minority in the Upper House. This seems to be a little bit more in character...
But then, Harper didn't need to lock up the HoC and kill 37 pieces of legislation just to fill Senate vacancies. He could fill them while the House sits. Yes, prorogation effectively resets the make-up of Senate committees: without it, the Liberals could keep a majority in each committee until each one had finished its business, regardless of the overall make up of the Senate. But, again, going through with prorogation just to obtain a "governing minority" in a legislative wing of government that the Conservatives are (supposedly) ideologically opposed seems like overkill for much too little in return. Even for this government.
Last year at this time (more or less a couple of weeks), Harper was forced to prorogue Parliament to save his government's skin. As you may recall, the government had just won another minority in a Federal election that broke the government's own law regarding fixed election dates, on a platform of economic stability and no deficits. It's first act of business: to introduce a fiercely partisan economic update that virtually ignored the world-wide economic crisis in favour of financially crippling the opposition parties. The opposition parties reacted, and Harper found himself in a long discussion with the Governor General over the merits of using an obscure parliamentary procedure to avoid losing the confidence of the House.
Fast forward to now, after the largest deficit in Canadian history (by far), a couple of lily-livered attempts by the Opposition to knock the Conservatives out of power, and a relatively stable year of polling showing that Canadians are not comfortable with anything more than a minority of blue on the government's side of the aisle, and Mr. Harper decides to give the GG a ring. "One more time," he asks, "after all, everything worked out for the best last time round, eh?"
This is a strategic move, yes, but I believe it's only the first step and not the endgame.
See, if the government learned anything from its last year in power, it understands that it does indeed have a lot of power. None more than when the House isn't sitting. Mr. Harper is never so popular than when he's not defending his government and its policies (or lack thereof) in the House. Rather, he looks better when he's on trade missions, or announcing money for projects via stimulus funds, or even (strangely enough) singing.
Through prorogation, the government effectively buys 2 months of time in which they can set the publicity agenda through vehicles like "Canada's Economic Action Plan" in which taxpayer's money is used to promote the government, while the opposition parties must use their own money to get any airtime. And if (and when) they do, this conveniently allows for the PMO to send out one if its infamous "Alerte-Info-Alert" emails to Tory MPs and supporters which outlines talking points to defend/dismiss any criticism. And, of course, to fundraise for more money into the Conservative's election war chest.
Ibbitson, in the article linked to above, refers to a statement made by an anonymous government official, who notes:
"... the government wanted to give itself time and breathing room to think through how to manage the economy as it emerges from recession and to put in place a long-term strategy for balancing the budget."I believe him/her.
But only because I've seen this before. In essence, s/he is saying:
"The government has learned its lesson from last year: the 2008 economic update was much too hasty a policy-cum-political document to be (at all) effective. We had just barely recovered from fighting an election campaign and we didn't realize how seriously the economic crisis was going to affect Canada. We were rash; we didn't think things through.Whoa. Cynical much?
This time will be different.
This time we can design a budget that much more discretely aligns our political motives with one more year of stimulus spending, while beginning to cut programs under a facade of fiscal responsibility. This time we can create a document that much more effectively traps the opposition parties into either supporting us or being woefully embarrassed. This time, if they don't support us, it will be they who loses the public support, they who cause a $300 million election, and ultimately they who provide us with the means to finally win a majority government. And they won't have that pesky coalition option to fall back on.
This time, we can take the time to get it right."
Maybe. But yet I keep seeing in the media that the government intends to continue spending stimulus funds through 2011, and yet introduce a leaner budget in 2010. That the government has no intention of increasing taxes but rather intends to freeze or cut spending in order to get the deficit under control.
Something has got to give.