Monday, February 13, 2006

Harper's Gambit

By all indications, the first test of the new government will surround the child care question. Given the fact that all the opposition parties are on record opposing the Conservative plan, Harper's bold promise to move ahead with the childcare agenda represents a calculated risk. Since the election, Harper has repeatedly promised that parents would start receiving their childcare allowance by July 1. This declaration doesn't give Harper much time to force this bill through the House.

I actually find it surprising that the Conservatives are so focused on this issue, willing to test the minority government. The NDP is already on record with Olivia Chow's National Child Care Act proposal as a counter to the Conservative proposal. Liberal MP John Godfrey has suggested that the Conservatives force their childcare initiative "at their peril". Duceppe has said that the Conservatives must respect the current agreement on daycare. So, why make such public statements on a fast track approach to the Conservative plan?

Harper is clearly banking on the idea that the opposition threats are mostly bluster. The fact that the Conservatives can frame the argument into a simple question of money for parents, represents a challenge for anyone who considers defeating the government. Telling people that you will give them a check for $100 per month, per child, is superficially attractive for obvious reasons. It presents a challenge for the opposition to make the counter argument, because the alternatives aren't so easily articulated. The Conservatives have calculated that their proposal is transparent and popular, despite the seat counts.

There is no way the Liberals are prepared to defeat the government in the next four months. Despite recent events emboldening the faithful, logistically the Liberals are toothless in the near term. The Bloc is certainly not anxious for a quick election so it is doubtful they will draw a line in the sand over this issue, especially if Harper meets his promise to offer a "special" transition deal for Quebec. The NDP looks the best prepared to define the terms of the debate, but ultimately they are not powerbrokers in any concrete way.

Within this context, Harper's gambit still looks risky, but certainly demonstrates astute political calculation. Clearly, the Conservatives are counting on the lure of hard cash, a public not anxious for another election and a disjointed opposition. Assuming the Conservatives can pass their child care initiative, coupled with the GST cut and a few more innocuous portions of their platform, they are then banking on a resume that will give the opposition pause for the future. The Conservative plan is simple, pass out the goodies and leave the more unsightly measures on the backburner. If the opposition forces a vote, then the Conservatives can run on the attractive results. Placing such early emphasis on the childcare allowance offers us a clear window into the Conservative strategy.


Anonymous said...

Harper's bad first week may change how other parties view another election.

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