Monday, January 29, 2007

Reality has to have a well known-Liberal-bias

Politics is about who is able to define whom. The Liberals need to define the Conservatives. The Liberals understand this of course.

What they do not seem to understand is that a winning issue is not always a vote getter. SSM was great example. At the polls it was looser. Canadians were spilt on the issue, but the older one is the more likely one is to be opposed and to vote. The Liberals never understood why SSM was a winning issue. They figured it must have something to do with the popularity of the Charter and as their cherry pick line polled extremely well they went with that. They made themselves out to be the Charter’s champion and this led them to propose sealing off the notwithstanding clause. There are echoes of such thinking in some of the party’s public pronouncements still. However, SSM was not a winning issue because the Liberals were able to convince Canadians that they were the Charter’s honor guard.

It was a winning issue because it left the Conservatives defending a morally, legally, and intellectually untenable position. By proposing to seal away the notwithstanding clause, Martin and company simply diverted attention away from the one issue, and I do mean one, that worked for them last election. The debate switched from can anything positive be said about the Conservative SSM position to do really want to seal away the notwithstanding clause for good?

With SSM finally off the table, the Liberals need to find a new issue. They again need to push the Conservatives into defending the undefendable. Reality has to have a well known Liberal bias. There are several possibilities.

Global warming is the first that comes to mind. It would certainly be a god sent if the Conservatives were to deny global warming, which in the public’s mind extends to dishing Kyoto. However, based on the slew of repackaged Liberal policies being reintroduced by the Conservatives, Harper is not likely to play ball. Furthermore, the Liberals can be rest assured, come next election Harper will throw the likes of Stockwell Day and Rob Anders into some broom closet, where they will be kept bound and gagged for the duration of the campaign. Just as bad, signs are pointing to a NDP and Conservative Clean Air Act Part Two. Layton needs “results” and Harper is happy to oblige; he has no choice but to “commit” to Kyoto. Both are having some success chipping away at the Liberal’s hope of being the focus of the environmental vote. It is grossly unfair to saddle Dion with Chr├ętien’s dismal environmental record, but just the same some of the mud is bound to stick. In other words, Dion’s ace in the hole is slowly but surely being neutralized.

Another possibility is Afghanistan. However, to date, the Liberal’s performance on this issue has been at best mixed. As with SSM the Liberals have not understood why the issue gave the Tories so much trouble during the summer and why it has the potential to do so again. The Liberal plan of attack has been to accuse the Conservatives of perverting the original mission and in the process somehow betraying Canada’s historical commitment to peace keeping. One problem with such an approach is this. In order for Canadian public to buy into the notion that the Conservative government’s Afghan policy is a perversion of the previous Liberal government’s Afghan policy, the Canadian public has to have some knowledge of just what the Liberal policy was. And they do not have a clue. The Conservatives own the issue. It is, actually, for this reason, that the peace keeping line of attack has some superficial appeal. Canadians have a nostalgic attachment to Pearsonian peacekeeping that is rivaled only by their fascination with the Avro Arrow. Canadians also understand that the Kandahar mission is not a peace keeping one and that it never can be one. There is, however, no disconnect. While Canadians like to think of themselves as being first and foremost as being a nation of peace keepers, the vast majority reject the notion that Canada should limit itself only to peacekeeping. For the minority who think otherwise, the Liberal has an answer; it was Paul Martin that first sent troops into Kandahar.

The true source of the discontent was this. As casualties mounted, Canadians began to ask questions. The majority concluded that not only did the government’s pronouncements not reflect the reality on the ground but that the Conservatives were being deliberately deceptive. Canadians were particularly bothered by the Conservatives use of Republican Iraq war talking points. To site but one example, after 4 Canadians were killed in May, Peter Mackay trotted out a Conservative version of the Republican "last throes" talking point.: "my understanding is sometimes the increase in the insurgency is the recognition that the Taliban may be on the run and we are now moving perhaps into territories where they are feeling more threatened." Canadians were not impressed. They did not believe that the death of four Canadians was proof that all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Had the Liberals not waxed nostalgic about Pearsonian peacekeeping and had instead given the Canadian public what it most wanted, i.e., forthright talk, they might have been able to make more headway.

The problem with Afghanistan going forward is that the Conservatives are learning that Canadians’ sense of smell is more refined than what they had first thought and that they have to temper their enthusiasm for borrowing Republican catch phrases that have morphed into punch lines. Furthermore, although Stephen Harper might believe that high casualties are a sign that Canada is “back”, not many Canadians agree and Harper and company are beginning to sense this. Harper, though, is stubborn and reluctant to concede too quickly. “Steve” Harper: September 18 “We are taking casualties because we are moving (the Taliban) from their very last bastions of strength and support,''.

A subject emerging out of the horrors of the Pickton trail is what to do with prostitution. Sadly, Canadians are not ready for legalized prostitution, but the subject is not one the federal leaders will be able to ignore, particularly when campaigning in Vancouver. Dion should propose a commission to look into the issue. The more he can draw the Conservatives into a discussion the better. With any luck, Harper will again appoint Art Hanger as his point man on the subject. Many Conservative MPs will be dying to air their moral outrage at the mere hint of legalized prostitution and quite frankly Canadians need to hear what they have to say. The thought of coverage of the Pickton trail and being followed by coverage of Conservatives defending the status quo is almost too good a juxtaposition to be true.

Canada’s drug laws will also be a subject of debate whenever the leaders visit Vancouver. Of particular concern will be Vancouver’s safe injection site, Insite. Virtually everyone backs the program --- everyone that is except the Conservatives. That said, Stephen Harper’s stubborn refusal to concede the obvious, viz., the program’s success, has been in some ways god sent for the site’s backers. Had Harper simply given the site the three year extension it was looking for, word of site’s many successes would not have spread as fast and as far as it did. After all, however advant guard the issue, the site’s many successes are not nearly as exciting a news story as the government denying the scholarly evidence staring them in the face. Stephane Dion is doing exactly what is good for the country and for the Liberals; he is talking about expanding the program. Vancouver Sun: “A federal Liberal government would provide funding for supervised injection sites in more Canadian cities, party leader Stephane Dion said Thursday. "It's a pilot project which seems to be quite a success," Dion told reporters in Coquitlam, referring to the Insite safe injection site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. He said the Liberals would support projects similar to the Vancouver site only if they were proposed by local government. "I would give the funds to continue the experience and work with mayors if they want to replicate this experience that has been successful also abroad." One can only hope that that this encourages more Conservatives to speak out on the subject.

Talk of decriminalizing marijuana still gathers media attention and, by and large, the coverage is positive for the Liberals. However that it positive for the Liberals has more to do with the Conservatives strong prohibitionist leanings and their willingness to serve as an stand in for the American drug warriors than with the Liberal’s “commitment” to decriminalization. The Liberals have talked about decriminalizing marijuana on and off for 34 years and have done nothing. Worse, the Liberals approach to marijuana is superficial and muddled. The party can not decide just where it stands on the issue. The Liberals strangely favor both decriminalization and tougher sentences for trafficking. Needless to say, in trying to justify one the Liberals undercut the rational for the other. The following comments from Jean Chr├ętien, for example, just does not jive with tough talk about protecting Canadian kids from the supposed dangerous of marijuana: "What has happened is so illogical [prosecuting Canadians for marijuana possession] that they are not prosecuted anymore. So let's make the law adjust to the realities. It is still illegal, but they will pay a fine. It is in synch with the times.” If the Liberals are going to capitalize on Harper’s intellectually bankrupt prohibitionist stance, they are going have first straighten out their own house. They have ridden the decriminalization issue as far as it will take them. If they are to perk the media’s interest and to draw the Conservatives out into the open, they are going to have to mention the L word, i.e., legalization.

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