Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Cultivating that tipping point

A columnist wrote this the other day:
And yet, and yet — Harper seems to have somehow, at this time, finally and completely broken faith with many Canadians. Conservative MPs and spinners are trying mightily still to persuade themselves the prorogation protest is a tempest in a teapot.

They’re wrong. People are angry. On its own this prorogation might not have been a big deal. But it’s part of a pattern of heavy-handed, naked partisanship — and perhaps, a tipping point.
Chantal Hebert was framing it as a "turning" point this week too, citing the Prime Minister's personal management style as one that people increasingly perceive as unfair, a style where the ends justify the means.

So what are we witnessing this week? More "heavy-handed, naked partisanship," the hallmark of the Harper led government.

1. From Canadian Press we read that Pierre Poilievre, the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Secretary, is openly questioning the impartiality of Elections Canada, picking up on John Ivison's seeding yesterday. This clearly comes with the blessing of Harper and that's outrageous enough for a Prime Minister to be so doing.

Poilievre and the Conservatives are quite upset that former Liberal leadership candidates were granted extensions on their repayment of leadership debt by a court last week. The candidates are entitled under elections law to seek an extension from Elections Canada, initially, and then a court for further extensions. So a court granted extensions to these candidates last week. You would think that if anything, such matters would be off the table for partisan attack. Shouldn't we value people running for leadership and support them, across party lines, if they seek in good faith to repay their debts? This government apparently doesn't and seeks some kind of punishment for them instead. It seems very partisan and petty since the CP report notes that Conservative candidates have benefited from debt extensions as well.

Recall that the Conservatives changed the law to lower the contribution limits to leadership campaigns, effectively changing the rules on which those Liberal candidates ran in the first place. Many of them likely would not have run under the tightened fundraising limits. The Conservatives effectively put the squeeze on and yet begrudge these candidates seeking extensions. It's unseemly for them to be whining, as Poilievre, sanctioned by the Prime Minister, does.

The debt extensions, the Conservatives argue, represent a double-standard in the way Elections Canada treats Liberals and Conservatives. But it's a bit of apples and oranges logic. The leadership debt extensions are permitted to be sought under the law, there are specific provisions for those extensions. What there are not specific provisions for, by contrast, are in-and-out election schemes and GST rebate deductions, both of which the Conservatives sought in order to breach specific party spending limits written in the law. See the difference? The Conservatives challenged the provisions of existing law. This is why their actions have met scrutiny. It's fair enough if they test the laws with novel challenges and engage in resulting litigation with Elections Canada. But that litigious engagement with Elections Canada does not constitute a situation of bias and it's irresponsible for them to make that allegation. It is a matter of Elections Canada doing its job, assessing those novel challenges put to it by the Conservatives.

Attacking one of our foundational democratic institutions, Elections Canada, as they are doing is terrible optics when they've shut down Parliament for months. You have to wonder what restraints they willingly accept.

2. We also read about new ten percenter flyers about to carpet bomb the nation, attacking the Liberals for raising questions on the Afghan detainee transfers and framing Liberal questions as attacks on the troops. Perhaps the issue will come up at that Afghan forum being held today in the form of some discussion on the concept of command responsibility, to illustrate why the Conservatives' use of the troops as a shield in such political attacks is misguided.

These flyers will be disseminated at a time when the Parliamentary shut down has put an end to questions at the Commons Special Committee on Afghanistan. Tom Flanagan, a former top adviser to Harper, cited this as the reason for prorogation. So having shut down the democratic, participatory institutions in which the opposition can ask questions, the Conservatives nevertheless engage in character assassination by unleashing such advertising attacks. Again, the substance is untrue, it's unseemly and bolsters the picture of an aggressively partisan governing style.

The Conservatives seem to be bent on magnifying the negative perception of Harper at a time when people are putting it all together. Continuing to dig while deep in the hole, interesting strategy.