Monday, May 03, 2010

Day 6

We're into day 6 now out of a possible 14 day battle negotiation over the detainee documents. Not that anybody's counting, right? Two points today on the ongoing Thrilla on the Hilla...

1. While this interview with Ralph Goodale is mostly centred upon the likelihood of working out how that parliamentary review of the detainee documents will take place, this concluding part was notable:
Q: If it turned out that no compromise on the documents can be reached between the parties within the two-week time frame dictate by the Speaker, are the principles involved in this dispute worth going to an election over?

A: The principles are critical. You could hardly imagine a more profound set of circumstances. If the government falls back from where it seemed to be going on Thursday in our preliminary meeting, if it falls back to a position of non-transparency and stonewalling and lack of respect for what the Speaker said, there could not be a more fundamental problem for our democracy and it would be critically important for political parties to not just look the other way but to stand up for the fundamental principles by which we govern ourselves.
Does that sound timorous? Anyone?

2. In the event that we don't get to a resolution on the documents, this piece by Professor Amir Attaran, "Don't back down," contains one piece of advice that the opposition should be hesitant to follow:
Thus when the opposition introduces a motion finding the government in contempt, that should also recall Harper's March 2008 motion, and revoke Parliament's consent to the combat mission extending through 2011. Harper will howl, but he linked "greater transparency" to the combat mission's continuance in the first place.

Done this way, Harper will fear making the contempt motion a confidence matter, because if he precipitated an election, the Conservatives would be isolated as the only party backing an unpopular war. This they cannot afford: over half of Canadians polled oppose the war. And more will soon oppose it, once the summer fighting resumes, bloodier this year because of more aggressive American tactics in Kandahar. (emphasis added)
We have a withdrawal date of end of 2011 that's been agreed to by Parliament. That end date of the mission has been settled as a political question for quite a while. But I don't think Harper would fear a re-opening of that question at all.

Such a motion would change the subject. Even though that 2011 date is fast approaching, you could just imagine the "cut and run" argument that would be fashioned. I haven't looked at polls lately, and agree that the war is unpopular and sentiment is that we should get out. But is the sentiment to get out today? Or is there strong sentiment to leave given that the 2011 end date is in place? That 2011 date enables a reasonable draw down time, support for allies to go on in the meantime, etc., you can imagine what the Conservative arguments would be. Such considerations would shift the whole focus of the debate and it's not clear Canadians would support a quicker withdrawal than we already have on the table.

The narrative and the argument to stick with is the anti-democratic one and to keep it simple. Along the lines of Harper defying Parliament, Harper defying a widely supported Speaker's ruling, Harper forcing an election, the rule of law not men, etc. A legal door has been shut on Harper (the Speaker's ruling), the military has shut a door on Harper (CDS Natynczyk okay with documents being seen), why should we be opening new doors?

Otherwise, there is a lot of merit in that op-ed, in terms of the legal advice. The point that Iacobucci's legal relationship with the government is a bar to simply expanding his mandate to report to Parliament is a good one. The suggestion regarding a public inquiry as compromise, particularly given the lack of resources MPs have to go through the thousands of documents themselves, also worth considering.