3 min

A grave tactical error

The Liberals thought they were being clever with their opposition day motion on the whole G8 maternal and child health issue. They said it was about trying to get “clarity” on the issue after the Conservative reversals, but really – it was more like a too-cute-by-half attempt to get them to stake out a position on the safe abortions portion of the debate – without actually saying the “a word,” mind you – so that it could be a wedge to drive female voters away from the Conservatives, while also not alienating their own pro-life members.

It didn’t turn out so well. Early in the day, the Conservatives decided that the motion was “anti-American” because it called for the repudiation of the “gag laws” of the George W. Bush era, where mentioning sex education, or contraception, or anything like that, would result in funding being pulled.

When Question Period rolled around, Michael Ignatieff led off with questions about whether Harper would support the motion – and Harper only called it opportunistic.

Todd Russell asked after First Nations University, and Chuck Stahl implied that there were still problems with the institution, and accused the Liberals of just signing blank cheques.  Gilles Duceppe once again asked about HST compensation in Quebec, and Jack Layton asked about the CRTC decision regarding fee for carriage (the “TV tax”). Harper said that he was waiting for the federal court’s decision on jurisdiction. Liberal Pablo Rodriguez would later ask about this issue – especially how it relates to the CBC – in an animated fashion, and the Minister’s only non-answer was to offer a quote about how the CEO of CBC liked him.

Backbencher Judy Foote asked after the Afghan detainee issue – would Justice Iacobucci’s advice be covered under client-solicitor privilege, and who determines what is a “needed document?” Predictably, she got talking points. Paul Dewar asked about that Conservative-friendly company getting the Haiti contract, and Rona Ambrose assured him that they would be audited like any other company that received government funds. And toward the end of QP, the Bloc’s Johanne Deschamps returned to the topic of maternal and child health – and Bev Oda declared that under the Liberals, maternal morality only fell by one percent. Erm, right – but it was simply obfuscation.

The debates on the Liberal motion resumed throughout the afternoon, until the vote was finally called. The Liberals lost – even with Bloc and NDP support, they lost by a vote of 138 to 144. Three known pro-life Liberals voted against it (not unexpectedly) despite it being a whipped vote, and two abstained. There were also a number of absences. The party then said that it wasn’t about winning or losing – they simply wanted to raise the issue. Which is all well and good, but the narrative is now that they’ve lost this vote.

The NDP were already trying to call them out in the afternoon, and now the Conservatives will be out for blood – Ignatieff will apparently be a “weak leader” again. Plus, they’ve given a lovely package to their social conservative base while the PMO communications people send out mocking emails to reporters. (Cute guys. Really mature).

But this does seem to be a tactical manoeuvre gone awry. The Liberals’ attempts to get cute with the language of the motion ended up making things all the more complicated for them, and by losing, they’ve given their rivals the chance to redefine the narrative – not the brightest move.

Sartorially speaking, I really liked Kirsty Duncan’s high-necked fitted leather jacket with the elaborate fastens. And Peter Braid’s lavender shirt and purple tie were also fetching. The style citation goes out to Earl Dreeshen for the awful bile-yellow shirt, brown suit and grey tie. Not a good combination. The Megan Leslie outfit watch reports a light grey jacket with three-quarter sleeves over a nicely cut white top, with dark grey trousers and black heels, and even had an appropriately sized and fun-coloured stone necklace. It was a virtual win, in fact.

Shortly before Question Period, I noticed Scott Brison having a short confab with the Prime Minister. When I asked him about this later on, he told me that, “every now and then, you need to be constructive.” And then added “We’re not close.”

Oh, look – the Fraser Institute says that government stimulus did nothing to help the economy recover. And when you consider that most of the “shovel ready” stimulus projects won’t actually get underway until this year, their case is probably closer to the truth than John Baird or Jim Flaherty would admit.

As the Liberals prepare for their Canada 150 Conference this weekend, trying to strip it of overt partisanship by keeping its MPs and Senators away, they’re similarly trying to play down expectations of the outcome. No big magical policy statements, they’re saying. Also, they’re planning five more policy meetings across the country in May and June – Moncton, Quebec City, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver. That doesn’t mean the conference isn’t now being mocked daily by Conservatives. (Incidentally, look at what the people were saying about the 1991 Aylmer conference.)

Up today – the bill on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement goes up for debate.
Bookmark and Share