Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Conservative distraction efforts on H1N1

The Conservatives are working hard to create a media narrative of how Liberals and other opposition parties are playing politics with the H1N1 issue. They may be succeeding to a point, media are taking up the challenge, framing their questions to opposition members in that manner, asking them whether they are indeed playing politics. It's difficult then for opposition members to have to justify their very role when media question their bona fides like this. They're put in a position of having to justify, from first principles, why they're even entitled to be there speaking about the issue. It's all nonsense though. A major health care issue is challenging the nation and yet tough questions raised about government decisions are chalked up to playing politics? Tough slogging being in opposition these days when that's the presumptive narrative you're working against. Especially because of the politics inherent in the Conservative effort to shape the debate in this way. Let's take a look at a few of their talking point efforts.

1. First, in respect of the worked up outrage over the "Katrina" comparison. Found in a breathless Canwest headline: "Liberal launches political storm by comparing H1N1 response to hurricane Katrina." Political storm! Made up of much faux Conservative outrage! Oh, and one courageous anonymous Liberal. Well, here are two non-Liberals who have raised the prospect of H1N1 being a Katrina-like challenge:

Lorrie Goldstein.

Andrew Cohen of the Historica-Dominon Institute on the CBC show yesterday (slide to the last six minutes of the video, it's easy to do. You'll see the reference to Katrina in the context of government managerial competence, which he says he made in the absence of knowledge about Apps' letter).

This is not an over the top partisan critique, it's an apt comparison that others have independently made. It's up to Canadians to decide whether it's fair or not, they can judge for themselves. But the Conservative indignation about such an assessment being levied is a bit rich, serial exaggerators they have been shown to be in their many, many ad campaigns personally attacking opposition members. When the terms of the debate get very tough in return, they bristle.

2. Another one...Conservative hands were tied when it came to choosing a supplier for the H1N1 vaccine, that they were bound by a "sole-supplier" contract signed by the former Liberal government in 2001. Showed up on twitter via @davidakin last night:
#cpc line: [Apps] attacks decision to go w/ single vaccine supplier. But decision to lock in w/ single supplier made by 2001 #lpc govt
This is typically the first line of spin from the Conservatives, an attempt to blame the Liberals for whatever present misfortune they are suffering. Yet we know that their own recent actions have undercut the legitimacy of this talking point: ...Canada ordered two million doses of unadjuvanted vaccine, including 200,000 doses recently purchased from Australia. There must be circumstances provided for in that contract that would enable the government to purchase from other suppliers. The problem is that the Health Minister didn't consider the risk that shortages might occur and plan for that possibility by diversifying. Here was Aglukkaq at the end of July:
"No, there will not be a shortfall. Vaccine will be available for any Canadian who wants it or needs it," she said. "The order for the vaccine will be made at the end of this week," she said.
Of course you can't predict exactly what might happen and that's the point. It's why it would have been prudent to hedge a very foreseeable risk when you have one supplier: what if something goes wrong with that supply? And talk about an incredible amount of leverage that the government has, as well, to do just that. So, the choice has been made and we'll see how it goes. But let's not absolve the Conservatives from responsibility.

3. The endless parading of the Liberal "bodybag" ten percenter out for grand outrage. Yes it's terrible and it's been apologized for, thoroughly. How many times was it mentioned last night in the House of Commons emergency debate by Conservatives though? Particularly by Conservative MP Rob Clarke who has been known to distribute legions of ten percenters himself. And while I haven't seen any of Mr. Clarke's flyers, I'm betting they weren't exactly highly issue-oriented materials and were more likely of the "Just Visiting" variety. Saskboy was irked enough to write about the many he had received from Mr. Clarke (9 out of 16 he'd collected). Really, this ten percenter practice needs to be cleaned up. But last night it was a convenient tool of Conservative deflection away from the issues at hand.

They're very good at all the distractions but that shouldn't stop anybody from asking pertinent, tough questions of the government.