Bob Rae was asked yesterday how far the opposition was willing to go to obtain documents related to the Afghan detainee affair and, paraphrasing Pierre Trudeau, responded, “Just watch us.”
Jack Harris was asked about the possibility that the government might declare any vote on the matter to be a confidence vote. His response: “Well, you know, the government and the Prime Minister can declare any motion a confidence motion. They may decide that this is a confidence motion. If so, so be it.”
Doesn't sound like a timid opposition, and I think people knew FULL well what yesterday's proceedings could ultimately mean. In other words, none of this is rash, entirely calculated.
I'm sorry, but as much as I try, I can't find ANY upside for the government to force an election over these demands. The issues surrounding the opposition demands are fundamental and those themes would dominate a campaign. Would the Conservatives really want an election about accountability, transparency, democratic will, secrecy, "stonewalling"? I understand the government has their retorts, but any fair minded observer must note little to no support for their arguments within the media filter. In other words, we would have an almost guaranteed defensive posture, the opposition attacking, the government justifying. This discussion would also raise the issue of CHANGE, pure poison for any incumbent. From the Liberal perspective, I can't think of a better focus than one surrounding how this government operates, how they avoid responsibility, can't "play well with others", a buffet of negative narratives.
Conventional wisdom assumes the next election will be primarily a fight centering around the economy. On this file, Harper has a distinct advantage, that is the ground they would choose to fight on. About the last thing in the world the Conservatives want is an election derailed towards a referendum on their conduct. At best dicey, problematic when compared with preferred storylines.
Conservatives can talk tough all they want, but their recent posture doesn't suggest a party itching for election. I don't see any swagger in the least. Of course, the Liberals aren't exactly in optimal shape, but given the options, I could see a serious rethink on the "long view" strategy, if we see the probability of the type of campaign I outlined.
If this issue leads to a confidence motion (I still don't think it will), I don't buy the fear mongering that the opposition will wear any election. Harper has the ultimate choice, and the opposition has provided sensible options that protect his supposed concerns. Should the Conservatives refuse, then ultimately they are raising the matter of confidence, they are arbitarily making a decision to force an election. At best, "blame" is a wash, at worst, we head off on the trail with Harper defending his refusal.
As it relates to the polls, again their is little immediate upside from the Conservative perspective. Harper's popularity has eroded for months, a majority seems the most unlikely of scenarios, possible but hardly probable. More likely a reduced mandate, more a chance of outright loss of power than ultimate. This is not the optimal moment for the government, if anything it is rife with risk.
As Harris said, if the Conservatives are hell bent on forcing an election over this issue, "so be it". I'm just not terribly frightened by the big blue machine, especially with relatively advantageous narratives certain to drive any campaign.