Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Reason to stay

A number of commentators - see e.g. Susan Riley - have taken the view lately that Canada's MPs should be eager to put an early end to the spring sitting of Parliament. I'll post later on some of the policy implications of an end to the current session...but for now, let's take a moment to consider what an early adjournment would do to the strategy that's recently worked well for the opposition parties.

Throughout the past few months, the Cons have dropped from near-majority territory in the polls to a dead heat with the Libs, while all opposition parties have gained in support in the process. And the reason isn't hard to see: while the Cons were able to take a lead early on in 2007 thanks to free spending and an initially-focused message, they simply haven't been able to stand up to the scrutiny coming from the opposition parties in Question Period and Commons committees. It's those formal structures which have guaranteed the opposition both access to the media spotlight, and an opportunity to force the Cons to either comment on damaging issues or look ridiculous in refusing to do so.

Once Parliament adjourns, however, the picture figures to change dramatically. The Cons will retain the full apparatus of government to try to boost their public standing - and without the counterweight that comes from a House of Commons where the Cons are both outnumbered, and overmatched on substance. While the opposition may still receive some media attention, it won't be able to ensure that a story which needs highlighting will receive any extended coverage. And that will allow the Cons to simply brush off any new damaging information that comes out during the summer.

Of course, that problem can't be avoided during the summer recess as planned. But the longer a span the Cons are able to win away from opposition pressure, the more distance they'll be able to put between themselves and the rough current session - and the more work the opposition will have to do just to get back to the current status quo this fall.

In that context, it's no surprise that the Cons are trying to paint the current Parliament as unworkable in order to flee at the first available opportunity. And perhaps some commentators can't be blamed for themselves wanting to encourage their subject matter to take off for the summer.

But for the opposition parties, however tempting it may be to get home for the summer, the House of Commons has been by far the most effective means of exposing the Cons for what they are. And it would be a gross strategic error to voluntarily cede the forum which offers the best chance of further eroding support for Harper's government.

No comments:

Post a Comment