Sunday, April 22, 2007

Electioneering: Afghanistan, Kyoto and Dion's English

Dion is 100 times better than Paul Martin and would make a pretty good PM, but that does not change the fact that unless the Liberals get their act together real soon the Conservatives are going to beat Dion like a circus monkey during the next election.

I have long bemoaned Dion’s poor English. Part of this is born of frustration. The potential is there; Dion is cable of landing some heavy blows. He has a cutting wit and strong grasp of the issues. However his struggles with the language mean that he can not deliver rhetorical blows as quickly or as clearly as Stephen Harper, or for that matter Bob Rae. Whatever its cause, I do not think his English is strong enough for the Liberals to win a minority let alone a majority. The Liberals must make better use of people such as Rae.

My concern goes well beyond Dion’s English though. During the leadership campaign I was beginning to think that Liberals were going to end up running on the same platform they ran on last time and lost, viz., Kyoto, Childcare and Kelowna. Afghanistan and Dion’s environmental focus changed that, but alas not necessarily for the better. The Liberal platform and maneuverings can best be described as a work in progress and at worst as amateurish. It strikes most pundits as being slightly exotic. Dion’s deal with Elizabeth May, for example, has met with near universal incomprehension in the MSM. This is not good news for the Liberals and threatens to swamp whatever potential benefits, and yes there are a few (e.g., the shoring up Dion’s environmental creditability in the face of a weak Liberal environmental record), such an alliance might produce. The Liberals have to do a better job of selling their ideas to the press. The timing of the announcement is certainly proof of just how utterly inept the Liberal media policy is. In a week in which 8 Canadians were killed in Afghanistan, the Liberals, for reasons that defy explanation, decided to announce their deal with the Greens and in so doing took the heat of the Conservatives. Ironically, when the Green announcement did not get the reception they hoped for, they tried to switch back to Afghanistan. Too little too late.

Admittedly, Dion is hamstrung by past Liberal policies and failures real or perceived. Nowhere is this more evident then on Afghanistan and Kyoto. In a perfect world, Dion would be free to blast away at the Conservatives for committing Canada to that fool’s errand that is Kandahar and demand that Canada withdraw from the region. However, it was Martin that committed Canada to that fool’s errand that is Kandahar. So Dion says Canada, having committed ourselves to the mission, should sit there and take our lumps until 2009; anything less would be “dishonourable”. Nobody has thought to expose the shallowness of Dion’s position by asking him this: If the Conservatives were to extend the mission to 2011, say, would removing Canadian troops in 2010, say, also be “dishonourable”? The Liberal party’s position can not be dictated by what the governing Conservatives stupidly commit Canada to as part of their three M foreign policy, viz., moronic, moralistic and macho. Dion can not afford to continue hiding the sins of the father; Liberal Afghan policy must flow from what the party’s assessment of the mission’s merits. The only thing “dishonourable” about that is if Canada were not to give its NATO allies sufficient notice. If the Liberals were to take power this spring, they would have to concede that another deadly summer is our burden to bear, but there is no reason why we must stay there for two such summers. If the Liberals win a later election, they have already put the world on notice. Under a Liberal government Canada will be withdrawing its troops from Kandahar by 2009.

Kyoto is even more troublesome. The other parties successfully framed the issue while arguably the most politically inept Liberal government ever sat by helplessly. This is how the other parties have framed the issue. Under Kyoto, Canada is committed to reducing green house gases to 6% below what they were in 1990. However, since 1990 the Liberals have allowed green house gas emissions to increase by 27% above what they were then. Past Liberal inaction, argue the Conservatives, makes it impossible for Canada to reach its Kyoto targets by 2012. What the Conservatives conveniently leave out is that Kyoto only became law in 2005. The Liberals should make a point of this and use this foundation for a new narrative. Specifically, the Liberals should turn the tables on the Conservatives and argue that Conservatives inaction during its time in office and stalling during Martin’s minority government make it very unlikely that Canada will be able to meet its Kyoto commitments without purchasing foreign emission credits. Dion could then go on to argue that Canada should meet its commitments under Kyoto by purchasing the aforementioned credits well all the while taking steps to insure that it is never in a position of having to purchase credits during what will be a long fight against global warming. Should the Conservatives argue that the Liberals should have done more prior to 2005, the Liberals could again turn the tables against the Conservatives by using the Conservatives own words against them. They can argue that only recently has a consensus emerged about the realities of global warming and Stephen Harper’s own words are proof of that; after all, Stephen Harper is reasonable man and he flatly denied its reality as recently as 2002/2003. Needless to say, it is not likely Conservatives would want to describe the state of debate as being any different. I assume that the Conservatives would rather absolve the Liberals of blame for not acting quicker than admit that they were hopelessly out of touch with latest scientific research recently as a few years ago. Indeed, the more they blame the Liberals for not acting the worse their own position during the same period appears. After all, at least the Liberals acknowledged humankind’s contributions to global warming; key Conservatives, Stephen Harper did not even acknowledge “so called green house gases”. Alas, Dion has allowed the Conservative narrative to remain in place and so set the Liberals up for taking the blame for Canada either failing to live up to its Kyoto commitments or having to buy emission credits.