Sunday, April 01, 2007

Dion's Ace

Interesting piece in the Ottawa Citizen, detailing the similarities between Harper and Dumont, as it relates to federalism. This particular line is striking:
Constitutional expert Michael Behiels predicts that neither man is going to be in a hurry to clarify where he stands.

"(Harper's) going to be very, very cagey. He's not going to play his cards on this question of devolution until he has a majority."

It is Dion's job to force Harper to "play his cards" in the next election campaign for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Canadians deserve an airing of the various viewpoints on federalism, to better understand the party visions. More importantly, from a tactical perspective, Stephane Dion has the potential to dominate in this arena. Credentials, pedigree, all in defense of the nation, Dion looks the leader, demonstrates passion and conviction. Harper speaks of "taking it" to the Liberals in the election campaign, but any serious discussion on this issue will surely put him on the defensive.

In a sense you play the fear card again, but if Dion puts some urgency in his definition of Canada, it could be the sleeper issue in the campaign. Harper will do everything in his power to avoid talking about federalism, in any substantive way. The only caveat, Harper will surely makes some broad statements on federalism, during his Quebec campaign, to help his chances. This resistence means Dion and the Liberals must make this a central theme to force federalism to the frontpage. Just as Harper will have his singular themes, I can't think of a better one than a vision of federalism for the Liberals. The issue plays to Dion's natural strengths, reminds Canadians of his service and focuses the spotlight on Harper's agenda. Bring the hidden agenda to the light of day, with a powerful advocate at the helm.


knb said...

It is Dion's job to force Harper to "play his cards" in the next election campaign

I'm in a rush, but will try to come back later.

I just wanted to say that this comment that I've highlighted, is one of the smartest things I've seen written in a while.

We all know it, think it, but you wrapped it up neatly.

Gayle said...

I think he is already starting this. He has been pointing out how Harper has not clarified his position at all.

I especially liked how he corrected Duffy when Duffy said he stood for a strong central government, and he said he stands for a strong FEDERAL government.

Anonymous said...

Great blog! This is my biggest worry in a Harper majority...the complete dismantling of all we know as Canada. People have to understand that they are not voting for 100 dollars per month per child but really for the 'autonomization' of Canada.

I doubt many Canadians want to see the virtual elimination of the feds with the exception of spending more and more on the military to support his master's misadventures in the middle east.

It is important bloogers keep up this topic to make it dinner table conversation all around. This is the most critical election of Canada's history as it truly is about the future of the nation.

A weakened nation state next to the elephants is recipe for assured demise and quiet takeover. The tax laws in the new budget are already encouraging it yet no one in the MSM picks up on that.

doug newton said...

That part of the Conservative agenda is not very well hidden if you are paying attention. But is it practicable?
There would be so much oinking and squealing that it would likely be impossible for any party to wean us off the federal teat. It would take a strong will and back to back majorities.
As a voter I would very much like to have some clarification of the responsibilities between the three levels of government. The buck passing and finger pointing that goes on between these groups is one of the biggest turnoffs for me. If I thought there was a chance for an intelligent discussion on the subject I would be all for it.
My expectation is that the Conservatives will be vague, but provide enough generalities to encourage people to hope that we might put the sovereignty issue behind us and get on with more important matters. The Liberals will point out with all sincerity just how damn scary that would be for them and by extension for all Canadians.

knb said...

Gayle, I agree. Dion has started the process but as Steve points out, that avenue must/should be pursued.

As I have often bleated, no one is calling Harp to task. It must be done in a strategic way, what's the expression in media, "never ask a question you don't know the answer to"? Same thing applies and I know Dion is smart enough to do it.

This whole, "it's not fair" portrayal of him, is of course not just and it was justice that he was striving to get across.

Doug says: As a voter I would very much like to have some clarification of the responsibilities between the three levels of government

Fair enough, but it begs the question, why don't you know where to look for that info?

I think Dion has the mandate to put that on the table, as Steve said, and pull out of Harper precisely what he envisions. In a debate, if Harper goes low, spiteful and Dion responds with vision, brilliant.

Thanks Steve, great post.

Steve V said...


The only way this works is if there is a concerted effort by all the surrogates, not just Dion. The Tories are masterful at having all their people row in the same direction, if Liberals put their minds to making federalism a focus, the sheer repetition will make it a central theme. And, the beautiful part, as you say, Dion does have the answers, on the tip of his tongue. In my mind, this is a no brainer, it tackles the leadership questions with Dion and has the capacity to take Harper off the tight message. This strategy could be particularly effective in Ontario, because there are still lingering doubts and Dion's perspective may endear him.

knb said...

I agree, but, it must be carefully crafted Steve, it musn't go backwards and resurrect old idea's. IMO, it must always look forward and allude to the danger.

I really hope you are sending your ideas to the Party. They do listen to ideas and are looking for them.

Steve V said...

"it musn't go backwards and resurrect old idea's."

That's a good point knb. I suppose there is a danger in Dion looking the old guard Liberal, with the rejected ideas, particularly as it applies to Quebec. Dion needs to bring something new to the table to contrast with Harper. Someone needs to articulate the new realities, wherein the world, and by extension, this country is actually getting smaller. The old barriers of regionalism are smaller now, yet there is a greater call for de-centralization and inward thinking. Dion might be able to demonstrate the "evolution" of inter-connectedness, and frame this within the idea of nation. That might sound abstract, but I think there is something there, that no leader has tapped into IMHO.

knb said...

I'm an artist Steve, abstract thinking is good, imo, :).

I think you are on to something new, but presentation is key. I think you are on to "it" my friend. Push it, push out the boundaries, then pull it back in, to succinct points.

knb said...

Something I meant to say, I'm sensing a lack of appetite for the Harper attack. Were we in an election, I think at this point in time, people would tune out.

What is going on in Iraq and that obstinate view, well, it's going nowhere. We pick up on that here, the mood, the feeling, the division.

I think this strong guy, "stay the course" guy is fading fast.

Anonymous said...

Prime Minister Harper wants to respect the Constitution of Canada, there is no 'devolution' of powers, there is only respecting Canada by the Conservatives - something the Liberal Party of Montreal should learn, it would be about time.

Steve V said...


Thanks for introducing complete ignorance to the equation. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

introducing ignorance? clearly dissenting opinions need not be expressed here.

Steve V said...

"1995 for the now-defunct Reform party, Harper proposed 20 measures to "modernize and decentralize Canada" and to "assert the autonomy of the provinces." He wanted to transfer federal powers in nine areas - including natural resources, social services, language, culture and manpower training - exclusively to the provinces and forbid any new federal spending in areas of provincial jurisdiction."

ottlib said...

Thank you anonymous for pointing out what is so wrong about the debate on federalism.

Leaving aside the fact that the division of powers was crafted in 1867 this whole debate is about the interests of governments as opposed to the interests of Canadians.

We elect governments to serve us, the citizens, not themselves, so perhaps they should be more concerned about doing so instead of who has the power to do what.

There are alot of smart people in all of the governments and if they worked together to serve Canadians instead of constantly bickering about who does what and who should pay for it Canadians would be alot better off.

So I agree that there are some powers that should be exclusively provincial or federal but there are not many.

Most of the powers that are outlined in the BNA Act require cooperation from all levels of government to exercise them effectively and for the benefit of Canadians.

So what I am looking for is a real leader, whether he or she comes from a provincial capital or Ottawa, that will put aside the old arguments and call for real cooperation amongst the various players in our federation.

Stephen Harper is not that leader but so far neither is any of the others.

wilson61 said...

PMSH recently stated that the Cons will be clearly defining Prov, Fed and joint areas of jurisdiction. So, Dion will not 'force' anything, it's coming down the pipe, soon.
PMSH has been in discussions with the Premiers for some time.
As reported, Ont, Que, Ab and
BC(?) are on side.

Dion is late to the party on this one.

I'm curious as to 'if' Dion's Liberals have a position, or if their position is tba in reaction to the Con's position.

Steve V said...

"PMSH has been in discussions with the Premiers for some time."

And those discussions have been low-key, initiated by the federal government. Why wouldn't the provinces be on side Wilson?? Afterall, it is their role in federalism to argue for more, it is supposed to be the role of the feds to counter. As I have said before, Stephen Harper is the 11th Premier and the federation will suffer because of this fact.

Gayle said...

"I'm curious as to 'if' Dion's Liberals have a position, or if their position is tba in reaction to the Con's position."

Well right now their position is that Harper should not be negotiating behind our backs. I do not care that he is talking to the provicinces - I care that he is not telling me, the person who will be affected by these discussions, what it is all about and what he plans to do.

Of course the liberals will react - that is their job. Maybe you do not get that...

Steve V said...

I did a post on Harper's discussions with the provinces. Here are the relevant quotes from the article:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is discreetly sounding out some provincial premiers about setting formal limits on Ottawa's powers, even if it means possibly reopening the Constitution, sources say.

While discussions are at a preliminary stage, officials in Ottawa and several provinces suggested constraints on the federal spending power could eventually take the form of a constitutional amendment explicitly restricting Ottawa to its own areas of exclusive jurisdiction a move that would reshape federal-provincial relations...

A senior federal Conservative described the discussions as embryonic, saying it is "premature" to say Harper is proposing a full-blown constitutional amendment, and adding it's highly unlikely such a discussion will take place before the next federal election.

"Discreetly" and "unlikely" before the next election are the key words to understand what is going on.