Sunday, July 08, 2007

What Happened To "We Will Do So Alone"?

Stephen Harper consistently tells Canadians that his government policies are based on conviction, with little interest or influence through polling. I remember one interview, wherein Harper was asked about polls that showed the government sagging and Harper said he didn't pay attention to polls. Harper then added, that not all the polls showed the Tories fading, there was one that still showed a wide gap. The fact that Harper was able to rifle off a sympathetic polling result, within the confines of arguing polls don't matter, was quite telling. In other words, Stephen Harper does pay close attention to polls, in fact policy is often times shaped by public sentiment.

Remember this quote, when a slight majority still supported the Afghanistan mission:
"If we need further efforts or a further mandate to go ahead into the future, we will do so alone and we will go to the Canadian people to get that mandate," Harper said in May 2006, following the vote.

Harper posited the Afghanistan mission as a moral necessity, that he was willing to stake his political fortunes on. This type of strong rhetoric remained into 2007, there was never a hint of "consensus", in fact others were chastized and Harper seemed to be positioning himself as the only Afghanistan defender. The pro-war vote was more than enough to justify a hardline position, in fact isolating the rest as doves, left a considerable base of support for the loner Conservative view.

Fast forward to today, and we see the same pattern with Harper that we saw with Iraq. A review of the various Harper quotes, over the years, as it related to the Iraq war, show a distinct co-relation between public opinion and position. A moral war-hawk, to hesitation, to distancing, to outright rejection, all follow the downward curve in support in a way that is striking. I'm not suggesting Harper will ultimately abandon the mission, but his recent "softening" is clearly politically motivated.

The directive from the PMO is circulating, with all the surrogates now singing from the same playbook:
Calgary Southeast MP Jason Kenney said Saturday the Conservative government has not made a decision on whether it wants to extend the mission.

"We need the support of Parliament if we were to seek to extend the mission and the government hasn't decided whether or not it wants to do that yet," Kenney said Saturday.

"This current mission will terminate in February 2009, and whether there's an extension depends on whether there's parliamentary consensus."

But Indian Affairs Minister and Calgary MP Jim Prentice, who hosted his own breakfast, echoed Kenney's comments that opposition parties deserve a say in whether to extend the increasingly deadly mission.

"We respect the House of Commons and the other parties will have a point of view on this," Prentice said.

We respect the House of Commons, okay sure. I guess we can expect the Conservatives to re-introduce the revised Clean Air Act then? Wonderful.

Last year we "go it alone", now we need to join hands with others to justify. It's normal to see some pragmatism within a fluid situation like Afghanistan, and one could praise the lack of rigidity. However, given all the pius, morally superior rhetoric, this new position is decidedly unattractive. In trying to deflect responsibility, Harper has shown all his previous pontifications to be empty words, with a finger in the political wind. If Stephen Harper truly believes in the mission, fundamentally and absolutely, as his past speeches imply, then there is no reason to soften. Take it to the people, like you bragged when the Conservatives were high in the polls and support for the mission was relatively firm. Aren't the Conservatives now undercutting the mission by creating this future uncertainty, emboldening the Taliban? Such is life when opinion trumps supposed principle.


Gayle said...

I think "go it alone" is safely locked away with "accountability".

burlivespipe said...

Polls and focus groups are the true leaders of this driftnet party. Harpor remains its spokesperson, and he'll defend until the next poll any direction that he's accepted.
Then he wanted to take credit for the effort in Afghanistan -- no one can deny that it was initiated by the Liberals and that many Liberals supported the move to extend it to 2009 -- perhaps because of his hawkish, pro-American tendencies, or that he knew if successful he could co-opt some moral high ground.
Today, he doesn't want credit for this mission and any decision forward. Instead, he has concocted a genuflective 'consensus' that fits as uncomfortable on his stewed face as that leather cowboy suit did on his michelin-man body.
What kind of consensus is possible in this parliament?
But even more disturbing is that in his actions at home he gives all the signs of someone who rejects and is quite disdainful of those who disagree with him, no matter what stripe. Look at how he's stirred the pot with premiers, CONservative, Liberal and NdP alike. He really is not willing to respect anyone who dares cross one of his decisions.
So while he talks of 'consensus' the meat of his ambition is still on the side of the war.
He'll broker no peace unless it will benefit him.
And that disdain smacks down on the Canadian public that chooses not to endorse his vision. Got AIDs, need a women's shelter, help with learning to read? Feel your rights have been challenged or subverted? In Harpor's world, you are SOL.
Time to show him the door before CanWest creates some mighty 'Decider' spin that he can hang a mandate on...

Karen said...

As usual, Harper is playing games. Concensus? What a ridiculous term, he knows there is none NOW. There is no need to wait to see, he already has the answer.

He's treading water at the moment, deciding which shore has more votes, nothing more.

Ironically, in doing so, he is the only Leader without a firm stance on this mission. Does that get reported?

Scotian said...

What is really disgusting about this for me is that until Harper was elected as PM the Afghanistan mission was non-partisanly supported and dealt with by the government. Harper went out of his way to partisanize/politicize it with his strong ownership of it in 2006. I also noticed that once Harper did so the polls supporting the mission started dropping at a faster rate than they had before. So now that he has destroyed any chance of bi/multi-partisan support for this mission, now that it has become politically damaging to support said mission, now he wants consensus and is not the hard charging morality before all else Afghanistan cannot be lost by Canadians PM? Sick. He does the damage to the mission for the chance of political gains, and then when it fails he wants to blame anyone else other than he and his for this. Absolutely typical Harper, it is always someone else's fault, just as we have seen from GWB/Dick Cheney in the USA. But of course any such comparisons have no basis in fact and are nothing but empty political smears...(if anyone needs to be told this is sharply sarcastic then you really needed this help)

Steve V said...

I think Harper honestly believes in the mission, as a matter of principle. Having said that, his initial hawkish stance, and the mindboggling attempt to make his own, was based on an assumption that it wouldn't cost him politically, that casualties would be so high.

I don't think there is any question that the mission has become far more dangerous since Harper took office. I take the new stance to mean the military has informed Harper that things will not improve in the next year, despite some of the rosy spin people like Hillier tell us publicly.

Steve V said...


You raise an interesting point about mission support. We all just assume that this is a natural erosion, but it is reasonable to say Harper's inability to articulate to the Canadian people, coupled with the incompetence on certain matters, have contributed to the drop in support. Harper's divisive rhetoric doesn't resonate, nor does the Bushisms used as defence.

ottlib said...

When you say that a person must be a Taliban sympathizer if they do not support the mission it is going to have the exact opposite effect as intended.

Canadians are not stupid. Certainly they may not pay close attention but I think that it is instinctive that all Canadians support the troops and despise the Taliban.

To suggest otherwise reflects more on the accuser than on the folks you are accusing.

That, combined with the mounting casualties is why support for the mission is falling and taking Conservative support with it. Incidently, if Mr. Harper would have toned down the rhetoric then Conservative support would not take such a hit.

The irony is Stephen Harper just had to look at the dynamic as it unfolded for Mr. Bush to see the results of his strategy. It still boggles my mind that he instituted and continued to run a strategy that was obviously a dismal failure, in the US, before he won the last election.

I guess it must be that Stephen Harper political genius again.

ps. A coincidence I am certain but the word verification for this comment spelled "jihad".

Steve V said...


That's funny, because my verification was "backtrack" ;)

Tomm said...


I think PMSH is wiser than he was 15 months ago.

Scotian is likely right in saying that he had an opportunity to build a consensus bridge for this mission but instead used the Liberal support to wedge the Liberal Party. Perhaps it was fun for awhile, but it leaves him without support for any extension. He has backed himself into a corner and only his getting a majority by 2009 or substantial changes to the optics of this would allow Commons support.