Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Waste Of Time

The much hyped Afghanistan meeting between Harper and Dion, to discuss this complicated issue, turns out to be mostly a farce. Here's why:
The two leaders disclosed little after their 25-minute talk in the Prime Minister's Office in Ottawa.

Take out the requisite couple of minutes for small talk, and you're left with about 20 minutes of actual "discussion". That translates to Harper offering his superficial position, Dion re-iterating his alreadly known views.

The big outreach, the meeting of the minds, the attempt to find common ground, reduced to basically a discussion of soundbites. Impressive stuff.


This explains the detailed meeting h/t Mushroom:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has warned Liberal Leader Stephane Dion that the Conservative government is prepared to go to the electorate as early as next week to seek a mandate to extend the military mission in Afghanistan, CTV News has learned.

An attempt to bring people together, or really an occasion to issue threats and ultimatums? Typical.


Scott Tribe said...

You've got Super Tuesday on your brain, Steve. That Update link is leading to CNN's election primaries page results.. not the CTV link :)

Jason said...

Waste of time? probably.

You can't really lay all the blame on Harper though, none of the parties are willing to work together on this it seems.

"Ahead of the meeting, Dion told reporters he wouldn't budge on his position."

"Dion has made it clear he will be pushing for a united caucus on the issue, and Liberal MPs will be expected to toe the party line when they vote."

I suppose you're definition of working together would be everyone adopting Dion's position?

Steve V said...

LOL Scott.

Scott Tribe said...

A whipped vote is nothing new in a parliamentary system, Jason. The Cons under Harper have shown that to be a daily occurrence.

As for this, this is another broken promise by Harper. When this government was elected, it said only money bills and supply bills would be considered motions of confidence. Now we're doing it on a panel report?

I say let's bring it on and go.

Gayle said...

So much for that conciliatory tone Harper's boys were talking about Monday.

Remember when they were saying this issue should not be politicized?

While I agree that Dion's statements demonstrate an unwillingness to negotiate, I do think he has good reason not to trust Harper on this. We have had two years of a minority government that has never negotiated on anything. Even on this issue all Harper ever really said was that Dion will have to come around to his way of thinking, on the basis of a report that was a fait accompli before it even got off the ground. I do not recall eer hearing Harper say he would like to negotiate a compromise with the liberals. To him the compromise was the report prepared by individuals who he knew shared his point of view.

As PM, can't Harper simply make the decision to extend the mission without going to the House? I know he promised to make this a vote in the House, but it would not be the first promise he broke in the public interest. I am confident he could make a sound argument that extending the mission is necessary, and it is wrong to bring this to the House because of the partisan politics surrounding the issue.

I think Harper sees this as an opportunity to revive the division amongst the liberals. What better way to weaken your opponent in an election than by dividing and conquering?

Steve V said...


I think you nailed it. Dion is rigid here, but part of that posture is in reaction to the climate Harper has created. If he wasn't rigid, we would probably get another cheesy "not a leader" ad, or Harper would exploit that to paint the Liberals as divided. The "concilatory" approach was always a ruse, a necessary, and temporary, fact to accomplish the goal.

Gayle said...

Which probably explains the new position on the aid package we were discussing the other night.

See how conciliatory the conservatives are? They listened to the opposition. Why won't the oposition play ball?

Steve V said...

And, to Scott's point about the whipped vote, I understand why, but I don't necessarily agree. The reality, this party is very divided, much like the Canadian mainstream. An open vote would allow people to vote their conscience, instead of going against their instincts. That said, politically the notion is complete suicide. Layton and Harper would both pounce on divisions, apparently different perspectives are somehow a weakness for the pure.

Jason said...

"As for this, this is another broken promise by Harper. When this government was elected, it said only money bills and supply bills would be considered motions of confidence. Now we're doing it on a panel report?"

I don't remember Harper saying that, I'm not saying your wrong but I don't remember that.

Regardless, if the most important foreign policy issue facing the country isn't a matter of confidence then what is?

If the government's position on such a key measure is rejected then surely they don't have the confidence of Parliment.

"As PM, can't Harper simply make the decision to extend the mission without going to the House? "

Cabinet can make the decision if they wish, that is exactly what the two previous Liberal governments did. Harper said he would put it to a vote and he is keeping his promise, what is there to complain about?

Scott Tribe said...

See my post at my blog, Steve, why the caucus needs to be united on this... it's for obvious reasons, I would think.

If Harper wants to go on this, I'm all for it... and it's time for the Nervous Nellies to put up or shut up... and besides, we've got plenty of issues we can run on beside Afghanistan.

Steve V said...


It is obvious, very obvious. I'm just arguing what should happen, not what needs to :)

Gayle said...

"Harper said he would put it to a vote and he is keeping his promise, what is there to complain about?"

He promised a lot of things.

I am not complaining about putting it to a vote. i am suggesting that if Harper truly felt this mission was that important and that it should not be a matter of partisan politics, he need not bring it to a vote. He need not make it a confidence motion and he need not make it an election issue.

Canadian soldiers are dying over there and our politicians think it is important to play partisan politics over that.

I would respect him more (and I do respect him at times) if he just made the decision and stood by it. If the opposition wants to take him down for that they can do so on a confidence motion.

Gayle said...

Scott, I read your post and I agree with you. If Harper did not make this a confidence vote perhaps Dion could allow his caucus to vote their conscience. That could have been a compromise right there.

But I do not think this is really about getting a compromise. I think it is about finding an issue that divides the liberals and having an election over it.

Scott Tribe said...

As per my earlier post yesteday talking to my friendly observer acquaintance on the Hill.. she didn't think Harper was trying to get an agreement either.. just a reason to blame Dion for "ending the mission". It appears he's going to go one step further however.

My analysis is: if the Libs were to hold a free vote and we got the same split we did as last time.. Harper will have succeeded in showing Liberal division, whether he wins that vote or not.

With a united caucus, that advantage is taken away, and although I've been a tad critical of Dion's advisers, even they won't let the Liberals only be fighting this as a referendum on Afghanistan.

We can turn this into a referendum of the Harper/Cons on the environment as an example, and there are legion more reasons that I list at my blog that I'm sure the Liberal brain-trust can come up with, if I'm able to do it

(I did provide a link to my list for them though, if they need some help ;) )

Anonymous said...

If Harper truly wants the House to fall on Afghanistan, he can tell the backbench to stay away from the House during the vote. Leaving a token presence on the government bench may help make Dion's decision much easier.

There cannot be a free vote on this issue. This represents a challenge to Dion's leadership. Harper is basically saying we will not go to the NATO head of state meeting until the Canadian people decides.

Besides, with the Schreiber inquiry and a worsening economy, Harper believes this will be the last good chance he can go to the polls on an issue of his own choosing.

Anonymous said...

Threatening a confidence vote, right now when we are supposedly trying to get a face-saving extra 1000 NATO troops etc., simply shows the cynicism of this gov't.
If we don't whip (and hold all members together) on this vote - well we may as well hand the keys to the country to the republicans ...

MarkCh said...

Maybe Harper actually wants to extend the mission, and he thinks a confidence vote, with election to follow if necessary, is the best way to make that happen.

Gayle said...

markch - the best way to ENSURE it happens is to use the authority he already has and make the decision without a vote.

We are spending a million dollars a day in Afghanistan. You think the best way to extend the mission is to spend hundreds of millions more on an election he may not win

MarkCh said...

gayle - you are perfectly right, but that might be a little undemocratic even for Harper to swallow. I support the mission, but I still believe that parliament should have a say over this sort of thing. Dion can always abstain or vote with the government if he wants to.

Gayle said...

markch - as PM it is Harper's responsibility to manage this war. There is nothing undemocratic about exercising the authority he has been given by virture of winning the last election. Not that he has been a good example of democracy at the best of times, ignoring, as he has, the representatives of 60%of this country by trying to derail committees and otherwise trying to force his agenda down our throats (banking on a split on the left).

It is not up to Dion to abstain in order to save the mission. Harper is being a coward.

Miles Lunn said...

Harper does seem inflexible here more so than Dion. Dion has not said the military must pull out of Afghanistan, he simply says we must end our combat role. And if as Harper says, this is a NATO mission, isn't it reasonable to ask others in NATO to take their turn in Kandahar?

Besides it seems odd that Harper would want to run an election on this as this is one of his weak spots. While me may be hoping to polarize people on the issue since close to 40% still support the mission, most of the 40% only somewhat support it whereas there are twice as many people who strongly oppose the mission as strong support it and usually people vote more on the issues they feel strongly about rather than mildly support or oppose.

Steve V said...


If Dion is correct, then the vote will happen after the budget. Given the fact the Tories just fast-tracked the industry aid package, I assume they think the budget might not pass. The big question, have they calculated the big Afghanistan vote is unlikely to happen? I believe Harper thinks he can run on the Manley panel, it will give him some soft Afghanistan supporters. Bi-partisan panel, bi-partisan panel, that's all we will hear, and he might have more play if people know the election is over this mission. It might hurt him in Quebec, but it might help him in Ontario where the pro-Afghan vote is over 40%, so they might be factoring here. Just a thought.