Friday, December 11, 2009

If it's's that time again

It's brinksmanship and constitutional crisis time once again. "Ottawa won't release Afghan documents," the Prime Minister says, defying the vote of Parliament taken last night. Will he really force a confrontation on this or will access be negotiated? The Liberals responded late today:
Liberals have just called for Defence Minister Peter MacKay and General Walter Natynczyk to appear before Parliament’s Afghanistan committee next week, and expect that the Minister will comply with the will of Parliament and bring the unedited documents surrounding the Afghan detainee controversy.

“We expect Mr. MacKay to obey the will of the Majority of MPs who voted in the House of Commons to have the government release all documentation – unredacted and unedited – so that we can properly determine exactly what the government knew about Afghan detainee transfers, and when,” said Liberal Defence Critic Ujjal Dosanjh.

Last night, the House of Commons passed a Liberal Opposition Day motion ordering the government to provide previously undisclosed and redacted documents to Parliamentarians for review, following the revelation by Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk that documentation conclusively proves it was known in 2006 that Canadian-transferred Afghan detainees were tortured.

“The Conservatives’ argument for refusing disclosure just doesn’t wash,” said Liberal MP Bryon Wilfert, Vice Chair of the Special Standing Committee on Afghanistan. “Parliament has the capacity to deal with sensitive information in a responsible manner, in a way that will not harm our national security or our soldiers on the ground. We are prepared to work out an arrangement that is mindful of national security.”

The bottom line is that Stephen Harper can do this the respectful way and comply with a Parliamentary vote, or he can do it the hard way. Parliament has all of the tools it needs to enforce its orders and to obtain the information requested,” said Mr. Dosanjh. (emphasis added)
If there is a confrontation here, it's in the Prime Minister's hands. The above posture is reasonable, says the information can be handled appropriately, taking into account security issues, albeit that they are years old. It presents a cooling off period. But the Liberals, and other opposition parties, need to keep up an ongoing visible presence on the issue into next week.

Because look what happened this afternoon. Five Conservative cabinet minister flunkies were trotted out like lemmings at the end of the parliamentary session to trash the Liberals in an incredibly contrived p.r. play, no doubt reading scripted rants by the PMO. They suddenly decided to itemize their take on how the Liberals handled the fall session. How bizarre. Who knew we were in for such tales on a Friday afternoon? The Liberals were playing politics, said they, at every turn in the parliamentary session. What an utter joke from the bomb throwing partisan experts. As Ralph Goodale put it, in response:
“John Baird complaining about somebody else being too political is just a bit outrageous,” Mr. Goodale told The Globe Friday afternoon.

The Conservatives, he said, have used millions of dollars of taxpayer money to run partisan advertising campaigns, sent out government-funded flyers attacking opposition MPs, and publicly attacked civil servants who disagreed with them.
But take note, there's a reason for this little display, it's not just a goodbye partisan Christmas message, it ties in with the above Afghanistan document issue. It's a warning shot. They're framing whatever coming battle between Parliament and the Conservative government as a partisan play by Liberals. This Friday assembly in the House of Commons lobby of cabinet ministers likely wasn't planned much in advance of today. It was meant primarily for messaging, to the media.

A demonstration that seemed to go a bit too far to me. Shark jumpage. It's highly irresponsible for federal cabinet ministers to be so vigorously attacking their political opposition like this in staged theatre. It does damage to our democracy when they do this. What is the higher purpose? None. It's a show of what the opposition's in for. The danger of having such people at the helm of our government is always evident when they pull such stunts. They're prepared to say anything to advance their political survival.

Hopefully, this will be resolved so that the Afghan committee gets to see the documents it is entitled to see. Without the drama and spectacle of forcing a confrontation. It's up to Mr. Harper.