Monday, September 14, 2009

Electoral chicken and crisis politics: who is ultimately responsible?

Update (3:20 p.m.) below.

The manoeuvrings over whether there is going to be an election or not were described in this Globe report last night as the four parties continuing "their high-stakes game of electoral chicken - preparing for an election but looking to shift the blame for its call on their parliamentary rivals." Electoral chicken, what a great phrase. And then one begins to wonder, well, who ultimately is responsible for this? Is there no one leading the Canadian government that can put a stop to the confusion? The diffusion of responsibility we see, here and elsewhere, is comic. Apparently we have a Prime Minister who's a helpless bystander. Presiding over the latest chaos, powerless. The "Stephen Harper: Leadership" chronicles continue.

No matter how much rival parties want to point a finger at Michael Ignatieff and Liberals for the uncertainty, unfortunately there's someone else in charge. The Prime Minister is responsible for maintaining the confidence of the House of Commons. It won't take long for the Canadian public to make the next leap when they start asking serious questions. Why then are we having all these elections? Four elections in six years, the constant refrain, the threat that hangs over the nation and pesters the citizenry. Well...what is it about the present state of affairs that's not working? That doesn't fit? That's the next judgment that's going to be made.

Which brings us to the game that's apparently underway with EI reform. It's just the most recent example of the chaotic governing style of Stephen Harper. Having earnestly agreed to an EI panel with Liberals that met in Ottawa over the summer, Stephen Harper let his Conservative representatives make a mockery of the process. The Parliamentary Budget Officer confirmed that on Friday. Whatever proposals he's presently floating could easily have been worked through during those sessions.

The fact that he's now hauling out something to entice NDP support is pure political opportunism. Why did the Prime Minister wait? To boost a more politically advantageous adversary? Probably. But in the meantime, Stephen Harper leaves the unemployed to twist in the wind throughout the summer. Choosing to play politics with such an issue to ensure the survival of his government.

More chaotic tactics have been present under Mr. Harper than any Prime Minister in recent memory. The ongoing negative ad campaigns against political adversaries are there. There's the December constitutional crisis from last fall that came out of his economic update fiasco. There are the dysfunctional parliamentary committees sown by his party. The latest? New Conservative ads that fib about a mythical coalition. He's ready to roll the dice with national unity once again.

Even if this EI gambit works, and that's a big if, we'll just be in for the next hill in Stephen Harper's roller coaster government that's incapable of steady, balanced, measured, responsible governing. A responsible form of leadership that wouldn't have us on the precipice of an election so frequently.

"Is Canada broken" asks John Ibbitson. No, but a very key player in Ottawa is throttling it at every turn for his political survival.

Update (3:20 p.m.): Pogge weighs in:
The next time you see a pundit trying to point the finger somewhere else, see if any time at all is spent discussing the measures Harper has actually taken to convince one of the other parties to stop voting against him. I don't think you'll see much. What you'll see is a petulant and hyper-partisan prime minister who insists on governing as though he has a majority when the best he's been able to manage is roughly a third of the vote. A lot of people are trying to change the subject but if we go to the polls, the primary reason will be that Stephen Harper and friends don't work and play well with others.