“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.