Thursday, April 09, 2009

Who's On The Defensive?

I've read a few comments on this "moral compass" angle, wherein it's posited that Ignatieff has made a gaffe. Some of it comes from the usual cerebral auto-pilot crowd, which frankly doesn't deserve attention, but some of it is from more genuine commentators, an honest point of view. I fail to see the downside here for the Liberals or Ignatieff, for the simple reason that this debate takes place exclusively on Conservative turf, the fight is in their backyard.

I can't see the public becoming very engaged in this whole Mulroney "bags of money" inquiry. As a matter of fact, apart from media fascination, this is such a stale, done to death story, that it really won't resonate in any significant way. Simply put, most people already believe something, somewhat shady or gray occured, whatever "tarnish" is on Mulroney, this inquiry does have much prospect for introducing anything particularly new or riveting. Mulroney is OLD news, ancient in fact; so this argument that Harper has distanced himself admirably, while simultaneously leaving Ignatieff vulnerable because of his "affection" is pretty much rubbish.

There are relevant issues at hand, and this is why I see no downside in Harper sparring with Ignatieff over Mulroney. I wouldn't recommend Ignatieff keep commenting on Mulroney, but his actions to date come with little political risk. Harper was on the defensive yesterday, speaking about his party's internal strife, about his treatment of a hero to many Conservatives. In attacking Ignatieff, all he achieves is a further irritant within his own ranks, nothing more, nothing less. The storyline is a complete loser for Harper, he can't really win and Ignatieff can't really lose. Nobody really cares, apart from Conservative loyalists, Harper speaking is just more fodder.

This is the theme, and the more it's kept in the news, the better it works for the Liberals, against the Conservatives:
Robin Sears, Brian Mulroney's spokesperson, says at least six MPs and cabinet ministers called the former prime minister to express their sympathy and indignation regarding the kerfuffle over his Conservative party membership.

It seems these calls are in direct defiance of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's order. He told his caucus to have no contact with Mulroney.

Back in November 2007, Harper said: "I think it will be incumbent upon myself and also members of my government not to have dealings with Mr. Mulroney until this issue is resolved."

At issue is the business relationship between Mulroney and businessman Karlheinz Schreiber. The Oliphant Inquiry is delving into their dealings and last week, as the inquiry got underway, word came from Harper's office that Mulroney is no longer a member of the Conservative Party.

Mulroney was dumbfounded.

Through Sears, Mulroney said the allegation was completely untrue. " I will be a conservative until I die," Mulroney insisted.

Sears says not only have many Tories called to express their dismay, but Liberals Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae also called Mulroney.

Sears says it's not wise to push Mulroney's patience.

"At some point, he may feel he has to say something publicly. That's something I hope that those who are thinking about launching another attack think carefully about before they do."

Canadians are thinking about the economy, job losses, etc. About the last thing on ANYONE'S mind is whether or not Ignatieff was wise to wish Mulroney a happy birthday. In other words, there is no political price to pay for saying Harper shouldn't be so petty with a former Prime Minister, to consider that possibility is really a tertiary consideration. What is relevant, HOW Conservatives are reacting to the tension, HOW the media is scurring around looking for "anonymous" Conservatives to weigh in on the family squabble.

The above link highlights the meat of the discussion, and Ignatieff, then Harper's reaction to Ignatieff, just keeps the cycle going. Can you find one news item that doesn't rehash the Conservatives internal strife within the "moral compass" accusation? The Conservatives are playing defence here, Ignatieff just gave a mild poke and Harper's taken the bait, incorrectly thinking he can transfer the debate into a verdict on Ignatieff. It doesn't work that way, and I would suggest the tone of the coverage proves it.

This is a Conservative story, a negative internal dynamic that just begs for more media examination. In addition, this angle of internal divisions will be the main focus during this entire inquiry, mostly because it's the only fresh aspect to this saga. Ignatieff should get out of the way now, but I don't see Harper's tirade yesterday as anything more than a measure of damage control.


ottlib said...

Talk about self-indulgent navel gazing. (That statement is not directed at you Steve)

Really, do any of these folks really believe Canadians care that Mr. Ignatieff called Brian Mulroney to wish him a happy birthday?

Get real!! Even if we were not suffering through the worst recession in a quarter of a century most Canadians would just say "What a nice gesture.", if they even noticed it at all.

This is a non-event, or at least it would have been if Stephen Harper had not highlighted it in the last couple of days. Even so, it will not resonate very much past the chattering classes and the blogsphere.

Steve V said...


It will only resonate within Conservative ranks, and that's the point. It will only resonate, in the sense that the media sees the first fractures in the united presentation, a fact even Flanagan admits. If a few Quebec Mulroney loyalists are pissed at Harper, and might not "try" for the Conservatives in an election, works like a charm for me.

Ted Betts said...

What will resonate is that, when asked a question he would rather not answer, Harper lashed out with a slimy character assisination on Ignatieff's "moral compass", as though Mr. Broken Promise And Abandoned Principle should be lecturing anyone on ethics or moral character.

By highlighting "moral compass" as the issue of the day, Harper has already lost. You couldn't find a more directionless, politics before principle "leader".

Given the chance, the real Harper will lash out with petty partisan personal attacks, instead of statesmanship and leadership.

Steve V said...

"Given the chance, the real Harper will lash out with petty partisan personal attacks, instead of statesmanship and leadership."

That's our trump card. All Harper is doing, reinforcing his own negative narrative.

WesternGrit said...

Isn't Iggy brilliant (I've said it before - in 05 - and I'll say it again, and again).

On the Conservative MPs and Cabinet Ministers calling Mulroney, you can easily assume it is those who NEED Mulroney (like Harper did) to take a run at the leadership, then - eventually - votes in Eastern Canada, from Western Ontario to Atlantic Canada.

The Mound of Sound said...

Iggy has had a bit of sport at Harper's expense, playing agent provocateur to agitate Tory disunity. Like Harper wouldn't seize on an opportunity like that?

Mulroney may be ancient news but Ignatieff has managed to show that Harper is hyper-sensitive about it. It makes people suspicious of Harper's motives. As Martha Stewart would say, "it's a good thing."

You may find the whole business irrelevant but plainly neither Harper nor Ignatieff does and I think their view is a bit more reliable.

RuralSandi said...

Harper - moral compass, uh huh. He's used and betrayed everyone that's helped him up his political ladder. He was a Liberal, then tried to demean Trudeau. He was a Conservative and tried to demean Mulroney. He became a Reformer and and Alliance and used and betrayed Preston Manning. He befriended Charest and then went schmoozing ADQ's Dumont and when that didn't work he's back trying to schmooze Charest. He demeaned McGuinty and is now trying to schmooze him.

Moral compass Mr. Harper? When you get a moral compass, then you can be judge and jury. Harper, I know people with a moral compass and you are no example of a moral compass.

Be gone with you - enough.

Steve V said...

"You may find the whole business irrelevant but plainly neither Harper nor Ignatieff does and I think their view is a bit more reliable."

Mound, it's irrelevant to Liberal fortunes. You'll note, I said it was smart to poke the fire straight away. And, yes, Harper would have done the same thing.

Steve V said...

More from the curious media looking for dirt:

Anonymous said...

On the issue of lifetime membership, I think Harper was right on that one. If Iggy wants to foment a civil war between MacKay and Harper, then more power to him.