Friday, June 30, 2006

Principle notwithstanding

There's been some discussion of Peter Wrightwater's theory that the next federal election could be precipitated by Harper seeking a mandate to use the notwithstanding clause to reinstate security certificate legislation. I'm far from sure that the issues involved are particularly strong ones for the Cons in any event. But the least likely part of the scenario to me is Peter's assumption that the Libs would be willing to let an election happen over the issue if he's correct that it would be a strong one for the Cons.

After all, Harper surely couldn't go to the voters to demand such a mandate if he enjoyed enough support in the existing Parliament for the action. The Libs have some vested interest in defending the security certificate process which they themselves originated. And based on the Afghanistan vote, it's clear both that some of the more hawkish Libs are more than willing to support Harper's claims on national security issues, and that the Libs will hold enough members back to avoid defeating a Harper action when it would hurt the party's interests.

But what about ex-PMPM's talk about never using the notwithstanding clause? That shouldn't be a tough one to get around - whether by chalking it up as a "promise in an unsuccessful election" that is then deemed to be discarded after election day, as a desperate shot in the dark by a former leader who resigned his post for a reason, or simply as a principle which has to give way to national security concerns when the PM cries "terra!" often enough.

None of this is to say that use of the notwithstanding clause would actually be justified in the circumstances. But if the Libs don't want to fight an election over security certificates, it'll be easy for them to send signals that they're willing to play along rather than forcing Harper to go to the voters.

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