Sunday, January 04, 2009

Poison Pills

I could be wrong, but I would argue the odds of any "poison pills" in the upcoming budget to be remote at best. Not because Harper can be trusted, but because the political landscape won't allow it. The Conservatives have shown their political tin ear before, a mix of arrogance and detachment, so anything is possible, but a provocation in the budget would be such a colossal error, it's hard to imagine.

Leave out the threat of a coalition for a moment, and you are left with the Conservatives basically forcing another election. Despite the false perception of "riding high" in the polls, I don't think many serious Conservative strategists subscribe to the folly of thinking an election is the answer. As a matter of fact, it's hard for me to see any scenario, wherein the Conservatives actually attain a majority, more likely the status quo or worse. Do the math, where exactly do the Conservatives extract the needed MP's to form a majority? A very real possibility that the Conservatives would lose seats in Quebec, this crisis and the insult, fresh in the mind of Quebecers. That simple fact translates to all hopes riding on Ontario, and apart from a final push into the Liberal heartland, the numbers just aren't there, if one is being reasonable. A failed budget, Harper takes to the hustings in Ontario, ground zero on the economy, and he improves considerably? That logic is beyond sketchy, holding on to what you have more likely, because the debate would surely get serious, and last time I checked, no matter the starting point, people don't generally reward parties in power, while the economy is crumbling. In other words, good luck putting your faith in flimsy polling, the simple facts will surely supersede any temporary comfort, a "sweep" would amount to a historical oddity, given the economic state. Imagine an election climate, wherein the government of the day is bombarded with almost daily poor economic feedback, smack dab in the heart of the recession. Then try to argue how that negativity helps the "hand at the tiller" party. Okay. If anything, I could cobble together a more realistic scenario for the Liberals wanting an election, real and present problems aside.

If you accept the likely possibility that the Conservatives are denied a majority, a real danger of a lessened mandate,then that result equates to Harper effectively being DONE as leader. The next election is Harper's last chance, the risks now are immense for him personally, which is why I think he will try and avoid an abrasive budget- he really has everything lose, and not much to gain, wishful thinking aside. Go to the people, because you poked the opposition again, resulting in a failed budget, in the aftermath of an abysmal fiscal update, and you're asking for serious trouble. I'll give Harper's team enough credit to realize the pitfalls, if they don't, it's simply astounding.

The only calculation for a poison pill budget, that makes sense to me, Harper thinks the coalition is clearly on the table and purposely provokes a series of events that lead to a new government. That is a far fetched strategy, but really the only one where provocation makes sense now. I'm operating on the assumption that Harper doesn't want another election, and I would suggest his moves of the past few weeks support that thesis. The optics of what we've since look more like damage control, and scrambling to hold onto power, rather than a party itching for another fight.

I guess it comes down to your definition of a poison pill. If you define it as anything that doesn't completely agree with the opposition point of view, I'm sure the budget will deliver that "hard swallow". If, however, you see a pill as a deliberate, ideological provocation, that tries to corner the opposition, akin to prior behavior, that appears unlikely from here.


Northern PoV said...

No need for an overt poison-pill.

Don't forget the power of "Order in Council" - the bad-meat scandal of last year was kicked-off by changes made this way.

It is not just how much money - it is how the money gets spent.
If there is no EFFECTIVE Parliamentary Committee mechanism to vet the spending it will go to friends of Harper. (We all know how well Committees worked in the last Parliament). Most of the $700B in the USA has gone to the crowd that caused the current crisis cause Congress gave all authority to the Bush admin. for this bailout cash.

Harper and his cronies want the federal gov't to fail in any nation building endeavor while they destroy any viable opposition to their party.

Reject any budget that does not have good Parliamentary over-sight including enhanced power for the Auditor Gen, Parl. Budget Officer, and an empowered finance committee.

Scott Tribe said...


If the Conservatives idea of stimulus is "tax cuts" rather then an actual Obama-like spending plan, one could argue that while that isn't a poison pill per se, it more then justifies bringing down the government.

Steve V said...

Umm, isn't a massive stimulus on the table?

Jesse said...

I don't think defining stimulus as tax cuts has been ruled out. Spend 500 million on building stuff, so you can argue you built some stuff and confuse the issue, then hack and slash... and cut a bunch of government spending to pay for it...

Steve V said...

I think they've already signalled a very sizeable stimulus. If it's as paltry as you suggest, which it won't be, then we will have a powerful argument.

Jeff said...

Since speculation is cheap ...

Consider: What is Harper's overall goal? To cripple, if not wipe out the Liberal Party, leaving the Conservatives as the dynasty of the 21st Century.

It looks as though the Liberals under Ignatieff will just get stronger from this point on. If that's the way Harper sees it, then the time for him to move is now. Best case scenario for him, then? Throw in a poison pill and hope that a coalition takes over without an election. Then the government is a very unpopular coalition arrangement that is governing in terrible economic times. Harper remains as leader, and hopes that the bad economic times will be blamed on the Americans and the coalition. The Liberals' support is further eroded by its participation in the coalition.

Yes, it's risky, but if the overall goal is to wipe out the Liberals, that seems the most likely way.

If no coalition is offered, then the Conservatives take their chance during an election.

A Shakespearean moment for Harper:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries."

Anonymous said...

Jeff - I'd agree with your argument of a suicide-pill provision if Harper was the strategist advising a Conservative PM rather than being the PM himself.

He's not going to commit suicide. This is the best (and arguably the only real) job he's had and he's not going to walk away from the limousines and the 24/7 arse-kissing to standing-in-line-at-the-airport and fighting-traffic and 24/7 back-stabbing (which would undoubtedly follow if he's no longer PM) without a fight.

Anonymous said...

what about this scenario: Harper needs to move as far to the center as possible to gain ground in Ontario, so he offers a budget that goes just far enough to not provoke the Liberals, while at the same time having something in it that purposefully would definitely anger the NDP?

That might be his way of him venting residual feelings he has for the coalition, and it might be a way for him to try to wedge it apart.

Kephalos said...

Chess is played with 32 pieces on 64 places. The pieces move as per specific rules. Any movement occurs one piece at a time.

Harper is a chess player. Politics has many moving players.

Go figure.

Steve V said...


Mala Fides said...

Harper will bribe enough of the Bloc to support his budget and he WILL put a few dashes of poison in the mix just for good measure.

Harper's maligning of La Belle Province during the coalition discussions now forces him to perform some level of pennance.

I foresee gobs of cash heading to targeted ridings and programs that will be vsible to Quebeckers and that will curry favour from the Bloc, who admittedly only give a shit about Quebec's interests.

Kiss the coalition goodbye and get ready for a whole new level of nasty, as Harper climbs back onto his horse.

burlivespipe said...

Anonymous sed: "This is the best (and arguably the only real) job he's had and he's not going to walk away from the limousines and the 24/7 arse-kissing..."

but don't forget the galas. Laureen likely would have ol' Harper on the couch indefinitely if she had to turn in her 'official gala opener' ribbon. She just loves hob-knobbing with those snide, elitist gala separatist-loving farts.