Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Will There Be An Afghanistan Vote?

I'm not so sure, in fact the proposed vote might be an illusion, put out for partisan advantage. This is what Dion said today:
“We'll do it in a civilized way this time. We'll have the time to look at that. [Mr. Harper] doesn't want a vote on Afghanistan before the vote on the budget ...

The Afghanistan vote will come after the budget, which is a critical point. Last week the government reversed course and tabled the industry aid package separately. Some conjecture here, but that flip flop suggests the Conservatives were worried the budget wouldn't pass, and they didn't want the stench of political blackmail hanging over their head during an election. In taking the aid package out of the budget, Harper now has a talking point in a campaign. The fact that Harper backed down on this point is very telling, and I see it as a recognition that the budget won't pass.

Now, we learn that the critical Afghanistan vote won't occur until after the budget. If you assume the Conservatives have calculated the budget is unlikely to pass (we already have the Bloc and NDP firmly against, the Liberals obviously encouraged by recent polls), then delaying the Afghanistan vote might be more about posturing than a real "civilized" debate.

Harper is desperately trying to look diplomatic on Afghanistan, in a sense distancing himself from direct ownership. Manley was always a political exercise first, and now Harper has that powerful tool as argument. The question then becomes, would Harper rather run with Afghanistan still on the table, demanding a majority to implement Manley? In some ways, you assume Afghanistan is a weak spot, but you don't need a majority to agree, just around 40%, which is conceivable.

The other two big issues on the table are the economy and the environment, both of which present obvious challenges for the government. Could it be that Harper feels confident enough with his "bi-partisan" panel to force Afghanistan to the fore during an election? When you look at the alternatives, Afghanistan might not be half-bad. Harper's advantage lies in his apparent leadership qualities, fighting a campaign on Afghanistan might highlight his strengths.

I'm starting to think that the Afghanistan vote is more theatre, than reality. Harper presents the vote, to give the perception he is seeking approval, reaching out, all the while having calculated his budget will fail. What is really going on here will crystalize once we start getting some leaks of what is in the budget. If there are "poison pills" or hardline offerings, then we know with certainty, the Afghanistan vote was never on the table.


Canadian Tar Heel said...

Some conjecture here, but that flip flop suggests the Conservatives were worried the budget wouldn't pass, and they didn't want the stench of political blackmail hanging over their head during an election.

If Harper is posturing, as you suggest, to ensure that something passes in the HOC, it does not necessarily need to be the budget.

Also, I think that you're right about Harper anticipating enough support among Liberals for Afghanistan provide the Conservatives play ball.

ottlib said...

You are assuming that the Liberals will not finesse their position regarding the Afghan mission during an election.

As well, you are assuming that Afghanistan will be the central issue in an election.

And you are assuming that The Manley Report will actually change public opinion.

The Liberal position is to stay in Afghanistan but in a non-combat role while the Conservative position is to stay in Afghanistan in a perpetual combat role. Even amongst those folks who still support the mission the appetite for continued Canadian involvement primarily in combat operations is not there. There is a strong feeling amongst Canadians that we have done our bit and it is time for others to step up. That is more in keeping with the Liberal position than the Conservative one so it would be interesting to see which party is really forced to do some fancy footwork on this issue.

The economy is quickly going into the ditch. We are seeing almost daily reports of bad news in North America. This is particularly true in the two provinces where this election will be hardest fought.

As well, election campaigns take on a life of their own and what is considered important during the campaign is often not what was expected just weeks before the campaign started. Witness the 2004election and its focus on the Charter and the 2006 campaign and its focus on law-and-order and the GST cut.

The Manley Report was well received by the pundits but I am not so certain about ordinary Canadians. As well, there is enough in the Manley Report that can be used by opponents to the mission so it may be a little counterproductive for mission supporters to highlight it too much.

Stephen Harper wants an election before the economy reaches the ditch and settles in there for awhile, which should be by the end of this year. That is why he is making everything, including his trips to the john, confidence motions.

He does not want to fight this election on Afghanistan because he knows he will lose as many votes as he will gain. The same is true of Mr. Dion, which is another reason why I believe it will not be as big of an issue as people expect.

He is hoping the budget will be defeated and he can fight this election on economic and crime issues.

With regard to Afghanistan he is hoping to win the election and if he does he will use the argument that it is too late to effect a withdrawel of Canadian troops of Afghanistan. A good NATO partner would not give its fellow members just 8 or 9 months to find replacements for Canadian troops. So instead Canada will just stay put for a little while longer.

All of this to say that I happen to agree with you Steve. There will be no vote on the Afghan mission before an election, unless the Liberals decide to hold off a little while longer and allow the Conservatives and the economy to make a little more rope for them to hang themselves on.

MississaugaJoan said...

I'm lost. What exactly could Harper put in a budget that would warrant the Liberals to force an early election? Another GST cut? The 2007 Budget did not force an election, and neither will the 2008 Budget.

Harper is probably internal polling to death the Afghanistan issue. I agree that if he can make it THE issue, and 40% of Canadians vote on his side because of THE issue, he could get a majority with a split centre-left (Liberal/NDP/Green).

However, I do not think after an election focused on Afghanistan will he be able to muster more than 30% - the focus on the poppy/heroin growth in Kandahar (and the rest of Afghanistan) exposed in the most recent (2007) UN Drug and Crime Report on Afghanistan - will keep home or even alienate gun-loving, hard-on-crime, right-wing fanatics.

Quotes such as...

“In 2007, Afghanistan cultivated 193,000 hectares of opium poppies, an increase of 17% over last year. The amount of Afghan land used for opium is now larger than the corresponding total for coca cultivation in Latin America (Colombia, Peru and Bolivia combined). Favourable weather conditions produced opium yields (42.5 kg per hectare) higher than last year (37.0 kg/ha).

As a result, in 2007 Afghanistan produced an extraordinary 8,200 tons of opium (34% more than in 2006), becoming practically the exclusive supplier of the world's deadliest drug (93% of the global opiates market). Leaving aside 19th century China, that had a population at that time 15 times larger than today's Afghanistan, no other country in the world has ever produced narcotics on such a deadly scale."


"...opium cultivation in Afghanistan is no longer associated with poverty."

...may very well result in a Liberal majority (as Kinsella alludes to).

As long as Dion stays firm with (or shuts up) the small minority in the Liberal Party who voted with the Conservatives last time around.


30+ insightful pages

Ron said...

If as some observe the two major issues of the campaign become the economy and Afghanastan, it could well be a problem for the Liberals. While they can truthfully say things got worse in the last two years, it is quite evident that the cause is the American slow down and not necessarily something the Harper government caused. Perhaps a longer time in a recession will cause some to blame him for not fixing it; an election now at the start of a downturn that can easily be attributed to the U.S. may not be a plus for the Liberals -- if the ballot question is who is better able to manage the coming slow down - the economist Conservative PM or the acedemic professor Dion? I am not too sure Dion will come out the winner. On Afghanastan, before percipitating an election, I would like to hear Dion answer a simple question that I am sure he will get during the election. Your policy of moving Canadians out of the southern area combat zone to participate in non-combat reconstruction roles in 2009 is based on the premise that NATO will move replacement forces into that area. If that does not occur, what is you plan? He had better have an answer before the election because if he doesn't, it will look pretty bad. Would we simply leave anyway? Would we stay anyway? What if NATO can't or is unwilling to provide replacements? They have shown no willingness to do so up to now - there are a few countries willing to increase their numbers but there is no indication anyone will step in and replace Canada - What would the Liberals do then?

Steve V said...

"All of this to say that I happen to agree with you Steve. There will be no vote on the Afghan mission before an election"

Ottlib, then why does Harper set the stage for Afghanistan dangling in the wind, heading into an election? The Afghan vote looms right after the budget, I realize things can happen during the campaign, but you jump off with this whole question center stage. After the election, everyone will know that Afghanistan has to be resolved, which says to me the timing and importance guarantee a healthy debate.

I really don't think Harper wants to fight an election on the economy, it doesn't play well in Ontario and Quebec to fight with perceived weakness. I see tremendous opportunity for Dion in Ontario to make the case that the government has neglected, and let fester, the slowdown. I also see Duceppe raking Harper. The government will be on the defensive, the economic news is posed to get worse in the short term.

tar heel

Agreed on something other than the budget, today's threat on the crime bill gives the impression they are itching for a quick non-confidence. For myself, another sign of trying to pull the plug before this vote.


Good points. Did Kinsella actually say Liberal majority? Wow, and, let's keep it real here.

Steve V said...


Fair points on Afghanistan, although there are good retorts. Those lines speak to why Afghanistan might not be a bad calculation for the Conservatives. On the economy, our downturns are always tied to the Americans, and that hasn't absolved any government. The Libs look to be doing quite well in Ontario, I think Dion has a powerful argument about neglect and slow action, weaved within seat distribution. Dion can paint a convincing picture in Ontario, and I might add, the Liberal record on the economy was never a negative. Dion's penchant for nostalagia might actually work on this score, Harper will have a hard time painting the Liberals as fiscally irresponsible. I guarantee all the promises will be costed out, making for a solid presentation.

MississaugaJoan said...


"Here we go. Two things:

• The Manley Report doesn't give them the cover they obviously think it does. The Tories are rolling the dice, big time.
• The country feels we have done our bit, and it's time for other countries to step up to the plate. The Liberals could win the election, big time.

(And I say those things as a guy with no involvement at the federal level.)"

I interpret Kinsella sees possible Liberal majority if Afghanistan is THE issue (which it should/will be; like John Tory's Religious Schools).

Steve V said...


Partisanship aside, Warren is dreaming in technicolor. I agree, Afghanistan is rolling the dice, but the fact of the matter, Harper can't seem to move his numbers, we are two years on, he has to go on something, maybe this is the calculation, on an issue where he actually has genuine conviction.

burlivespipe said...

Ron theorizes that the Liberals would put the blame of a possible recession at the feet of this CONserfative gov't. I seriously doubt anyone could pass that off as reality... However, there were a number of decisions Harper made which knocked Canada's financial footing from 'rock-solid' to 'solid but showing cracks'. He first pulled the plug and flip-flopped on Income Trusts - which sucks $32 billion out of people's paper savings. That created an echo in other areas -- suddenly, grandma was now counting pennies, teachers' pension needed to sell off some other stocks, companies with major investment plans held off some other investments. Then came the backlash -- a whirlwind of foreign acquisitions of Canadian business/corporate properties.
Harper proceeded to spend more than any recent gov't has done, slathering it on thick for Quebec. He offered piece-meal tax breaks to complicate your taxes, while saving you a handful of dollars. Don't forget that growing bill for his polling and focus-get-togethers.
Added to the pile of promises made, promises broken, he continued the trend of dishonesty in budgetry, but when its a Flaherty budget, should we be surprised? In his ideological mindset, Harper then took George W.'s advice and cut the GST - not once (which he raised income taxes to cover), but rushed ahead and did it again. Then, in anticipation of a fall '07 election, he tried to buy the votes with an income tax cut, which along with the above made for a weaker financial foundation.
Face it Ron, unless you see his economic degree in person and confirm it wasn't signed by Clifford Irving, I'd stack up the Liberals' finance credentials with his pretty confidently. Of course, Harper is skilled at lying, so maybe you'll believe that too.

I won't govern by polls... I'll protect the Income Trusts from... We'll honour the agreements signed by the previous gov't... We believe in open and accountable government... Stop me if you've had enough.

Anonymous said...

A Liberal majority on Afghanistan can only happen if Harper did a John Tory or a Paul Martin. That is to let Dion take an anti-war approach and hammer Harper relentlessly without a rebuttal. Or foolishly waiting for Ignatieff and Manley to sabotage Dion's campaign mid-way.

Harper is a better campaigner than the two aforementioned party leaders. But he is known to have blown the last week of the 2004 campaign and may do so again this time. Of course, keeping Cheryl Gallant and Stockwell Day quiet in a tight campaign in the late stages may be much more difficult when you are the Government with arrows fired at you in all directions.

Steve V said...

"A Liberal majority on Afghanistan can only happen if Harper did a John Tory or a Paul Martin."

The chances of this control freak going off message are slim.

MarkCh said...

The timing of the Afghan vote may be guided by the Nato summit (April 2-4). If Harper really wants the extra 1000 troops and choppers, the best way to get them is not to say to Nato: "give them or I quit", but to actually have an election going on in which one party wants to quit, and one party wants to keep going, conditional on those extra troops. If Nato comes across during the election campaign, the CPC will be in great shape to win. If they don't, it will be good for Dion, which would scupper the mission.

Dame said...

Harper is smart enough to see the Mission is Impossible.

I told You way back in your blog Harper really see this involvement In Afghanistan as the most important thing Canada should do BUT same time he sees It is an impossible mission and has to retreat the Canadian forces.
So this is the way he is washing his hands and can put all blame on the History Books will write it as the Liberals Unmanly Act...

So all the posturing is about washing his hands..

By the way the whole thing will be decided by outside events and forces asthe world turns...

Steve V said...


I agree, this entire exercise, starting with Manley, was an attempt to wash his hands, take away ownership of the mission.

MarkCh said...

Dame: why don't the Liberals just call his bluff, allow a free vote, and let the extension pass? By your theory, that would really stick it to Harper.

Steve V said...


A free vote is politically suicide for the Liberals. Come on now. I think they should, if I isolate myself to principle, but pulling back you can just see Layton and Harper jumping all over the "divided" Liberals, that stand for nothing, meme.

MarkCh said...

I suppose I think that, on matters of war and peace, every party has to take a stand on what they sincerely believe is the right thing for Canada, and then live with the consequences.

Steve V said...


I agree, but the reality is others will use a free vote for partisan advantage. I love the fact Liberals are often divided, it speaks to real debate and best reflects Canadian divergence. The purists however, love to pounce, which makes a free vote dangerous. Someday....