Saturday, January 03, 2009

Historical parallels

Far too many retrospectives on 2008 have tried to paint the Cons' Afghanistan manipulations as a shining example of political cooperation to be emulated at budget time, rather than one of the most glaring cases of Harper arm-twisting and deception. So let's take some time to review exactly how it was that the Libs were pushed into giving Harper the extension he wanted - and how the result has turned out poorly for both the Libs and for Canadians in general.

Remember that in 2007, the opposition parties' position on Afghanistan was broadly in agreement to the effect that the combat mission shouldn't be extended past 2009. At the time, there was no actual vote in Parliament against an extension, as the parties couldn't agree on wording to take into account whether Canada's combat role should continue even until the existing end date. But the default position was that all three opposition parties would carry out the will of the general public by voting against any further extension.

That is, until Harper commissioned a clearly biased panel - featuring a single high-profile Lib to try to present the conclusions as "bipartisan" - to deliver an "expert" report on the mission. While it was obvious from the beginning that the report was aimed at doing little more than avoiding the actual will of Parliament, the Libs chose to keep their powder dry as to the legitimacy of the panel and to avoid making any strong noises against any extension.

Which meant that once the panel reported back with the inevitable conclusion in favour of an extension, the Libs claimed to have little choice but to go along with its conclusions.

Of course, the Libs claimed relative victory in the form of a 2011 end date and a few non-binding conditions which the Cons began ignoring within days. But one of the most potent issues against the Harper government was effectively taken off the table for the immediate future.

So where has that managed to get the Libs? Today, public opinion is still strongly against the elite-driven deal which the Libs got themselves roped into.

But while the public doesn't even want Canada to maintain its current Afghanistan mission for the length of time the Libs agreed to, the Cons are laying the groundwork to back out of the agreed mission end date of 2011. And as long as they're still in power to make the call, there's little reason to think they won't once again ignore what Canadians want.

In sum, the result of the supposed "compromise" is that the Cons got everything they wanted: not only were they able to maneuver the Libs into granting the extension, but they also managed to parlay their manipulations into an undeserved reputation for working across the aisle. And the Libs and their supporters are likely to wind up with absolutely nothing.

Having reviewed just what happened on the Afghanistan extension, let's turn to the obvious parallels to the current economic crisis. Once again, the Harper government is desperate to get somebody else to share the blame for its policies - and this time also fearful for its political survival.

As a result, the Cons have once again convened a panel hastily assembled to provide cover for the Cons' plans, and made noises about cooperation while refusing to even hint at relinquishing any control over the end result. And it's surely no surprise that once again, there's plenty of elite pressure on the Libs to give the Cons what they want and call it a compromise.

But fortunately, the budget vote will also present an obvious opportunity for the Libs to ensure that the Cons can't back out of the 2011 Afghanistan deadline, or otherwise continue to work contrary to Canadians' interests. And since all that will require is their follow-through on an actual cooperative agreement with other parties who don't carry the Cons' stench of bad-faith dealing, the choice should be clear as to what kind of cooperation is really best for both the Libs and the country at large.

No comments:

Post a Comment