Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Harper's Strategy

There seem to be some big misunderstandings about what Stephen Harper is trying to do. Everyone seems to be assuming that he's fighting for his job. That's not it at all.

If Harper's goal were political survival, the content of his PR compaign would be markedly different from what it is. It is not a good tactic for self-preservation to call a quarter of Canadian voters (Quebec) "the devil" and claim that Quebec's MPs should not be able to vote in parliament. In fact, it's totally self-destructive. This seems more like a tantrum than a strategy. The message coming through is, If you won't vote for me then to hell with you, you stupid dolts.

Likewise, Harper's repeated assertions that a coalition is undemocratic and that it furthers the goals of separatists, along with being untrue, do nothing to further his cause. Harper has very little chance of stopping the coalition, and so his strategy seems to be to dupe Canadians into believing that the coalition government is illegitimate. In other words: If you won't let me play in your clubhouse then I'm burning it down.

Harper's survival rests on two things:

1. The willingness of the Governor-General to accede to his requests, whatever they turn out to be (proroguing parliament, denying the coalition's request to form a government, appointing opposition MPs as senators, even stepping aside herself if her decisions aren't to his liking).

2. Regaining the confidence of MPs, either directly by convincing coalition MPs, or (more likely) indirectly, through the constituents of coalition MPs.

Harper has lost the confidence of the House, and in that situation the majority of MPs have a perfect right - a responsibility even - to try to form a government. If he were really serious about surviving as PM, he'd be trying to win back the confidence he threw away in last week's economic update. His message would be that he can manage the economic crisis; that he is willing to reveal the true state of the federal books; that he won't ever try to abolish political financing again; that he can learn to play well with others. He might not go so far as to apologize, but he could be doing something in that direction.

The common theme of Harper's PR campaign seems to be: I will prevail or I will tear the country apart trying. Or more accurately: I have lost and so I will make an unholy mess as they drag me out the door.

Harper's fate may already be set it stone. As Bob Rae said today in a scrum, Harper has lost not only the confidence of MPs but also their trust, and that is a more difficult thing to regain. Still, I hope Harper comes to his senses. He has a chance in his national address tonight to turn things around. For the sake of the country, I hope he does.

Update: Nope, he did not change his message one iota in his address to the nation. It's still Burning Down the House.



Anonymous said...

Good post. Through all of Harper's ads claiming how the coalition is undemocratic, he is not communication to Canadians why he should have the confidence of the house. All he is saying is that the alternative isn't better than his government.

Anonymous said...

You're hoping for a lot, Yappa, though I agree with your assessment completely.

I think he'll be on his best behaviour, only because the only way he can be is to be pre-recorded, in private, and in complete control. With this statement he has those conditions.

But anyone who thinks 10 minutes of "play nice" and "sound good" make up for the holy hell he is slinging and willing to drag this country through to hold power is going to be wearing heavy blinders indeed.

I expect it will be a "we must all step back from the brink" speech, which is Harper-speak for "I haven't won yet so I need more time to attack, maim, and destroy the forces that hold me from my God-given destiny."

the regina mom said...

Harper's tactics seem to me to be a page out of the McCain/Palin playbook: defeat is certain, so rile up the troops. And that, to me, is horrid, but it is most reprehensible coming from a Prime Minister.

Beijing York said...

How many times can Canadians believe that Harper will change his ways. He only pretends to be moderate and considerate and respectful of democracy when it serves his purpose.

After winning a second minority, he claimed to have learned from his folly in the previous session (while never owning up to the fact that he was the only dysfunctional element in our 39th Parliament) and that he would cooperate with the opposition parties this time round.

It's like he gets his kicks out of lying and not ever getting called on it. Well Ed Broadbent pegged him alright, he is a liar.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but last night's debacle of the Liberal tape does nothing to help the situation and everything to help Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. It's about time they compelled Stephan Dion to get out of the way, appoint John Manley as interim leader, and move up the leadership convention.

This is a big mess and not one, clearly, the Liberals can clean up because there's too much mess in their own ranks.

Mme. Jean had no business acceding to Harper's request as she did, but frankly, the alternative smelled to high heaven.

No-one in their right mind, surely, no matter how partisan could support the spectacle of Mr. Dion as Prime Minister of a coalition, and expect the West and Quebec to take this seriously.

Yappa said...

Hi Anonymous at 1:40 -

I have some sympathy for what you say, except about the west. Since the 70s NEP and probably before, the west doesn't like the Liberals. All my life I've been hearing how one Liberal leader after another "doesn't have a mandate" because they don't have seats out west. It's a problem, for sure, and we should find a way to fix it, but you can't blame it on Dion and you fix it simply by replacing him.

Anonymous said...

The Lberals have had seats out West, granted primarily in B.C. ridings. Alberta doesn't have many seats and it's always been clear even before the days of Trudeau's National Energy Program that Alberta would have been alienated from the Ottawa power centres claiming that they'd lose oil revenues no matter what until they had a Western party (Reform) that would look after their interests.

However, given the division of seats, the West doesn't nearly account for the number of seats held by Quebec which is conjunction with Ontario is the power nexus of the country. Simple mathematics whether they like it or not. This is not the first time the West has found a reason to scream "we're outta here, Quebec gets everything" and it certainly won't be the last.

I don't put the blame so much on Mr Dion personally for this state of affairs in the Liberal party; but I do think his handlers, advisors, whatever they are should be taken out to a dark alley somewhere and read the riot act.

Yappa, face it, like him or not, he will NEVER carry the party to a winning position. Not only that, but this latest nonsense may well cost Jean Charest the election in Quebec and released Jacques Parizeau, the quintessential pot stirrer from his cupboard. Didn't anyone think of that??????

Yappa said...

Now we're in agreement. I just wrote emails to Doug Ferguson and Stephane Dion, pleading with them to drastically change the way he leads the country. At this point, having him step aside and appointing an interim leader might make us look even more in disarray, but there are things he could do. One is that he should be put completely out of the limelight and not be allowed to make any decisions. After his hysterical incoherence in the House this week, I don't think he should ever speak in parliament again. (I told him this.) Harper is making a case that he needs to protect Canada from the incompetence of Dion, and that idea is going to gain momentum. Another thing I asked is that they create a plan for what to do about leadership if there's an election before May; we cannot have Dion as the face of our party again, but perhaps he could sit it out and let Ignatieff and Rae split the duties.

I think we should all write to Dion, Ferguson, our MPs, and anyone else with influence in the party and plead with them to do something about Dion's disastrous performance. Things have gone too far to continue to politely support him.

As to the eruption in Quebec, that's all down to Harper. I don't see how Dion or anyone could have stopped it.