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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Conservative Smoke and Mirrors

Does Stephen Harper really think he has anyone fooled?

No matter what he might say about wanting to govern under his current mandate the Conservatives are clearly in election mode and Harper himself is practically salivating at the idea of going to the polls.

The timing for an election couldn’t be better for the PM and his rhetoric to the contrary is nothing more than Conservative smoke and mirrors.

The recent elections in Quebec were proof positive of waning support for the Bloc and Liberals there. The Liberals have yet to recover from the sponsorship scandal. Stephane Dion is floundering around with no focus or direction and, as one pundit recently put it, the Liberal party is so screwed up they’re actually stabbing each other in the front instead of the back.

For over a year and a half the Harper Conservatives have been playing to the masses by presenting themselves as a middle of the road party. As a result most people are beginning to forget their far right philosophy. It’s an image that has been carefully cultivated and one that will serve Harper well in an election. It’s doubtful however that the hard line conservative views of the party are really very far under the surface.

As comedian and political satirist Rick Mercer pointed out recently, since taking office the Conservatives have moved much further to the left than most of their bible thumping financial supporters ever thought they would, yet those supporters are still donating to the party in a big way. It’s enough to make one wonder if those supporters know something the rest of us don’t.

Harper can drone on all he want’s about not wanting an election, he has to say as much after having set an election date in 2009, but that doesn’t mean the PM won’t engineer a non-confidence vote over the Throne Speech this month or over its contents at a later time.

In a press conference held this week, apparently for no other purpose than to “chat” with the media, Harper noted that even if the Throne Speech passes, a Commons vote relating to any of the initiatives it contains would constitute a vote of non-confidence. He also said he was not impressed with the demands of the opposition parties. In other words Harper is setting up the demise of his own government at the time most beneficial to his personal goals.

One of those goals, beyond any ambition he may have to win another mandate, is clearly finding a way to resolve the ongoing political stalemate over the Afghanistan mission.

For months the PM has said he would seek a consensus of Parliament before extending Canada’s combat role in the war torn country. Now, after flying in the president of Afghanistan and the Minister of Education to talk with the media about how well the mission is going, Harper is saying he only requires a vote of 50% + 1 to extend that mission. A far cry from the sort of consensus spoken of in the past.

Harper's actions and words are those of a man hell bent on maintaining Canada’s combat role no matter what his government's official line might be.

In the current political environment, with the Liberal party in tatters and the Bloc severely weakened, Harper’s strategists clearly see an opportunity to form a majority government. With a majority firmly in hand you can bet your bottom dollar Canadian troops won’t be trading in their artillery shells or rifles for aid packages and blankets in February of 2009. In fact it’s doubtful they’ll be doing it for a long, long time after that.

If it's any consolation though, should Harper be successful in his bid to extend Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan, with the war machine in the U.S. in full swing the PM may be able to save a few dollars by getting a good deal on body bags from his friends down south.

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