Friday, April 27, 2007

Rights issues are like kryptonite to Conservatives

That and a few other thoughts on the Afghanistan torture situation and its political implications...

This issue has galvanized the opposition to Harper like no other issue to date. It's given life to the Liberal bench in particular. Defending human rights on the international stage? That's right in their wheelhouse, baby! And Mini Bush served it up to them on a silver platter. I don't think there could have been a better antidote to the fog of a new leadership team than a challenge like this to notions of who we are as Canadians. It demarcated the parties clearly.

And so we saw Dion and Ignatieff team up this past week to fight it out with Harper on turf that I would say is their natural home advantage. Rights politics is an easy gig for these guys. They're both academics and it fits with the Liberal party's historical mission post Charter adoption.

The Conservatives, by contrast, are uncomfortable with human rights issues. It explains how they could be so incompetent as to miss an explosive issue erupting in their faces. They're programmed to marginalize such issues as those of the lawyer-set, not ordinary Canadians. The Conservatives couldn't even bring themselves to fully embrace the Charter on its recent 25th anniversary. No graceful recognition of the event. Just partisan marginalization of it as they view it as a Liberal achievement. They resent that aspect of it and they don't like the jurisprudence that Canada has been given as a bi-product. They don't get, however, that it's a symbol of Canadian values that most of us actually admire.

The Conservatives also inexplicably fail to recognize that Canadians are proud of their historical position on the world stage as peace-keepers, as a tolerant and law abiding country. That's fundamentally who we are. That's how we're viewed. Whether the Conservatives like it or not. The Afghanistan mission is an aberration, yet it's not viewed as such by the Conservatives. They seem to relish it. What we saw of ourselves as a country this week, with the brushing off of serious questions about how we're handing over prisoners of war? It was antithetical to who we are. That's not us.

So for the first time, in my opinion, we've started seriously looking at the faces on the Liberal bench as a possible government-in-waiting. And compared to Harper's slim pickings, it doesn't look bad at all. As Andrew Coyne suggested last night on the National panel, who would take O'Connor's place as Defence Minister if he's fired? After a year in government, there are few, if any, rising stars to speak of who might ably fill in for O'Connor. And excuse me for not having names come to mind, but they just don't. Mini Bush and his communications people don't let other Ministers or MP's shine. They keep the clamps on them out of fear of what they might say and to ensure an airtight, controlled government message. It's done to such an extent that no one else seems to get the opportunity to attain any level of public profile and support other than the PM.

On the Liberal side, by contrast, there's a crop of up and comers and solid faces kicking around. Mark Holland, David McGuinty, Ignatieff, of course given the profile he's been accorded. Just a few who come to mind of late because Dion has let them do their thing. He isn't afraid of sharing the spotlight and trusts the quality of the people he's got. Harper doesn't seem to do the same. You always get the sense that his Ministers are on a short leash with the media.

It'll be interesting to see how this all shakes out if there were to be an election in the near future. Give the Liberals a bit more time, and they'll have built on this week, which seems to have been a real turning point for them. And a reminder for Canadians about who they might want to be speaking for them on such issues to the world.