It’s not often that I go out to a place like Hy’s, but it was for a friend’s last day working on the Hill – quite by coincidence that this was the day of all days – and one of my other friends was organising it, and insisted that I come along. In attendance were staffers from all of the four parties – most of them from the NDP, mind you – plus a number of Hill journalists. A couple of different MPs drifted in and out as the evening progressed – this is Hy’s after all – but there was a strange sensation in the air. It was kind of like defeat.
There was a lot of shock, and a lot of outrage to go around as well. How could Her Excellency have made such a stunningly bad call like she did today? Some expressed their dismay in her lack of political experience, and how she was perhaps a little too much of a lightweight for this job. Didn’t she realise that her call today meant she inevitably allowed her role to get political? But the more one looks at the situation, the more one realises that she was damned if she did, and damned if she didn’t.
One constitutional law expert was on Politics, saying that she made the right decision because it keeps her out of politics, and it meant that she was taking the advice of the Prime Minister as she is supposed to. But at the same time that is almost too facile a reading of the situation. By bending to Harper’s will on this, it meant that any future Prime Minister looking to avoid a confidence vote could simply prorogue Parliament and hope to cool things down. This can’t be good, no matter how you slice it. This is compounded by the fact that the Prime Minister had promised a confidence vote after delaying it by a week, and then used this manoeuvre to avoid it. She has just aided and abetted his political gamesmanship, and has been tainted as a result.
That said, it cannot be denied that Harper should never have put her in such a no-win situation, and yet he did.
Much of the outrage in the crowd was directed toward the Liberals, and Dion especially. While his video may have had better substance last night, the amateurish quality of it was a shocking lapse, as were their technical faults of delivering the English and French copies on the same DVD to the television station due to distribute it, forcing them to hastily dub a second copy.
“Could they not have had an inkling of organisation?” one person spat. Indeed, where was their videographer? Someone else repeated tales heard about the taping of it, where apparently one staffer held the camera while another held a laptop filling in as a teleprompter.
“Say what you will about the NDP,” one person remarked. “At least they’ve got a communications team in place. They should have been handling that for the coalition.”
Someone else remarked that much of the blame should be laid at the feet of the coalition partners for tipping their hands too soon. Why did they announce their coalition plans when they did, spooking Harper into acting such as he did, rather than keeping it quiet until after the votes? We might have seen the coalition in power today had they kept quiet.
And to top it all off, amidst talk of ratings for CBC news that haven’t been this high since 9/11, and people around the country being “enraged and yet engaged” about the issue, there comes two different polls – one from EKOS which says that amidst the turmoil, the Conservatives’ approval ratings have shot skyward, 44% versus the Liberals’ 24%. Iposos apparently had the spread at 46% to 23%.
It seems to me that looking from those numbers, the public hasn’t been paying attention to the right things – things like a government that has handed down an inadequate response to the economic crisis that is gripping the country, and how the Parliamentary Budget Officer said that the figures contained within it were largely implausible at best. Or things like the fact that Harper used the guise of an economic crisis to play partisan and ideological games. Or the fact that he and his finance minister repeatedly misled the public during the election campaign. And most especially, that the past few days, the Prime Minister has been sparking a new national unity crisis.
No, they don’t seem to have considered any of these things.
The shockwaves are only now just being felt. Whether or not the coalition can stay together is a very large question, especially when there are new knives out for Dion after this latest screw-up. And what of the fact that the Conservatives now have seven weeks to essential run a campaign-style air war, but one without the same kinds of spending limits? That can’t be good for this country either, either because of their disingenuous messages on the nature of Parliamentary democracy, or because it’s stirring up a national unity crisis that could easily blow up in everyone’s faces.
It’s going to be a long seven weeks.