Cat and mouse


It is probably not ideal that, having put it about for several days that he has no time to meet Stephen Harper before Sept. 9, Stéphane Dion will meet Stephen Harper on Sept. 1. It makes it harder to contrast Harper’s impetuousness with Dion’s calm decisiveness if there is no calm decisiveness. (You think it’s easy to make scheduling?) But moving the drama, such as it is, forward by a week will simplify planning for everyone, and if nothing else it will put paid to the danger that the Prime Minister might go to Rideau Hall and kick off an election without even bothering to see a Liberal leader who spent the summer believing he controlled the timing of an election.

In abandoning the plain meaning of an election law he wrote for a minority parliament (that’s why it contains the date Oct. 19, 2009) but which, he now claims, is only for majority parliaments, Stephen Harper is ending his (first?) term as prime minister in the most graceless, disingenuous, classless way that could possibly be imagined. Whereas, in changing his mind four times on his way to the fateful day, Dion is not surprising anyone.

Sometimes readers call me a cynic. I reject the label; the tone that creeps into my writing is optimism dashed again and again.


Cat and mouse

  1. It’s true, no-one can fault you for not being optimistic enough about Stephane Dion…

  2. Harper’s first act as PM was to break a promise by appointing party flack Michael Fortier to the senate. I find it oddly fitting that breaking a promise will be his last act as well.

  3. “Feeling good about government is like looking on the bright side of any catastrophe. When you quit looking on the bright side, the catastrophe is still there.”

    Paul I would have thought you were old enough to stop being an optimist when it comes to politicians. PJ O’Rourke was very influential in forming how I think of governments and I think everyone would be better off if they kept him in mind.

  4. Cynicism in voters is all well and good, but cynicism — or at least a foolishly consistent cynicism – as a journalist in this town just makes for boringly predictable, tiresome coverage.

  5. Dion originally said after discussing various dates with the PMO, he offered to meet on August 26, but this was declined. It was unclear whether this was a brushoff or Harper was busy. The media didn’t follow up. So, even with all this media attention, we only get superficial information anyway. You guys should have bugged the phones and reported back as even the scheduling of these meetings is grabbing headlines day in and day out.

    The meetings themselves seem irrelevant.

  6. Oh, I don’t know, I think this makes sense for Dion. Harper’s going to call an election. Period. Duceppe and then Layton both got a chance to come out of 24 Sussex and say “Gee, we’d like to try to get some work done for Canadians, but the PM is insistent on having an election. He’s not interested in compromise, or legislating, he just wants to roll the dice and go before the people before things get worse for him. So, there’s nothing we can do about it”.

    Had Dion insisted on waiting until Sept. 9th to meet, he’d not get his chance to go before the cameras outside of the PM’s residence and say “I agree with the other leaders. This was a totally disingenuous move on the PM’s part, calling us here to supposedly find “common ground”. He’s not looking for “common ground” he just wants you all to think he is, so that he can blame the termination of Parliament on us, when it’s all his idea.”

    As someone else said, I think this basically just amounts to a free pre-election press conference for Dion. If the meeting’s all a shame put up by the PM (which it is, since he’d just call the election if the meeting wasn’t going to happen until the 9th) at least now Dion gets to say so, and the PM doesn’t get to whine and whine about how Dion “won’t even meet with me!”.

    It is funny and interesting to me though how much the Tory “Dion is not a leader” rhetoric has seeped into the public consciousness. Dion SAID that he was going to wait to meet with the PM until September 9th, and then he changed his mind. Harper LEGISLATED that he was going to wait until October 9th, 2009 to hold an election and then HE changed his mind. Dion changes his mind on a meeting date schedule and it’s some kind of indictment of Dion. The PM changes his mind on a promise he had written down, passed by the House and the Senate, and signed by the Governor General, and it’s no big deal.


  7. Completley in agreement about Dion and Harper. These last few weeks have been absurd. And I won’t exclude Jack Layton, with his usual impeccable comedic timing “I intend to apply for his job”.

  8. cancellations, even in a man of mr dion’s import, do occur I suspect…

  9. All parties supported the fixed election bill, so if the Opposition votes (or announces its intention to vote) non-confidence in the Government, forcing an election, does that mean the Oppostion is breaking the law which it helped to pass?

    Of course it is absurd to say this, which is why this early election talk is utter nonsense. Dion was categorical (at least as categorical as he can be) in saying that his intention was to defeat the government long before October 2009, and claimed to the meda that he could pull the trigger when the time was right (“in politics as in fishing, timing is everything”). The Bloc and the NDP gave no indication that they would support the Government, so it was inevitable therefore that the election would be held this fall.

    Harper has called Dion’s bluff. In so doing, he is reminding Dion that it is the PM who calls elections, not the Leader of the Opposition. Dion was foolish to claim that election timing was up to him. He was also foolish to announce Green Shift too early. It has not taken off among Canadians and he has given PM Harper a nice juicy target to hit (it’s a carbon tax that does nothing to reduce carbon). Voters can now vote against Green Shift by voting Conservative.

  10. orval: Does this mean Mr. Harper was foolish to waste the House’s time and money by drafing this meaningless legislation in the first place?

  11. All parties supported the fixed election bill, so if the Opposition votes (or announces its intention to vote) non-confidence in the Government, forcing an election, does that mean the Oppostion is breaking the law which it helped to pass?

    No. This has been another episode to simple answers to simple questions.

  12. “All parties supported the fixed election bill, so if the Opposition votes (or announces its intention to vote) non-confidence in the Government, forcing an election, does that mean the Oppostion is breaking the law which it helped to pass?”

    No, it doesn’t. The bill allows explicitly for non-confidence votes.

  13. And Btw Orval, I thought you Tories freedom fighters were against “thought crimes”. The fact is, the opposition has not acted. It is all talk at this point. So spare us the “the opposition has expressed non-confidence” stuff. They have not done anything but yap.

  14. The earnestness about the “Harper is a hypocrite” chant is touching. It really is. It also has the merit of being true, since Harper seems to pulling a Houdini with his self-imposed handcuffs right before our eyes.

    Outside the (half?) dozen or so commenters here who seem about ready to bring back the death penalty for the limited crime of flouting a flawed feeble federal fixed election law, does anyone really believe this will be the defining issue of the campaign? No, no, I said outside the aforementioned (half) dozen. Thank you; I figure Harper has figured as much.

  15. Thanks Madeyoulook. Paul, if you want to see what real cynicism looks like read Madeyoulooks last entry.

  16. Of course it won’t be a defining “issue”, madeyoulook, but it’ll be a constant theme and thorn throughout the conservative campaign.

    Any promise the conservatives make, the opposition can respond “You mean that like you meant fixed election dates?”

    Not that there aren’t plenty of other examples of Mr. Harper’s hypocrisy that could do the same thing, but this one will be very fresh in the voters mind, with the very process of the election being a constant reminder of it.

  17. New definition of cynicism: the belief that Canadians are smart enough to care more deeply about important issues of federal governance, rather than about who blinked first in calling an end to one of the longest minority Parliaments in the nation’s history.

  18. Oh, and T, I agree with you that Harper has offered a few free arrows to the other parties on this point. And, I suppose, he calculates that now is still the best time to go to the voters.

  19. madeyoulook, what is more important than demanding honesty and integrity in our highest public office?

  20. I thought the Globe and Mail had a hilarious slide show online today.

    Quote after quote after quote from Tory MPs about what an important democratic reform the fixed election dates law was. About how never again would a PM get to decide when an election is called, and that that power was being vested back in the people (through their reps in the House of Commons). About how only a PM like Harper would be willing to “give up” the tool of determining when an election was to be called from his partisan tool box (what a selfless guy that Harper is!). Funniest of all, a quote EXPLICITLY explaining to Canadians that the next election would be held October 19th, 2009, and that the only thing that could now prevent that now, post C-16, was a successful vote of non-confidence by the opposition in the House.

    I fully expect the next big funding cut announced by the Tories to be the elimination of Hansard.


  21. Catherine, you might also ask that question to everyone who voted for the cash-envelopes-across-the-restaurant-table party the last time. Or the keep-the-tax-we-promised-to-scrap party a time before that. Etc.

    People, I am agreeing with you that this looks bad on Harper. If you want to, you can justifiably throw the “hypocrite” insult at him.

    But Harper can ask you to read the legislation. “Sure, we set a date in place as our target if all parties would cooperate. Look at what they’re saying; they have no intention of cooperating. The longer we go into the fall, the more difficult it will be to encourage all Canadians to exercise their right to vote, as the weather can start misbehaving. So I will be advising Her Excellency to avail herself of her discretion, re-affirmed in the very legislation you are shoving in my face, to dissolve Parliament sooner, so we can go to the voters and start fresh with a renewed mandate. I agree with you that it is a shame that we will not make it to the target date in subsection 2. I have decided to take the political hit our adversaries will launch for this, in order to ensure that the weather lets the most Canadians possible participate in the democratic process. And I trust Canadians to reflect on the more important issues, like Mr. Dion’s dangerous plans to…”

  22. madeyoulook….will the specific issue of the fixed election law be the pivot on which the election hinges….of course not….but….just perhaps a helpful (and hopefully accurate) refresher from our friends at environics:

    “There is no question honesty and integrity issues were the key factor in the Conservative victory in January….Everything that Mr. Harper’s government does will be judged through the integrity lens, and skeptical Canadians will be hard to please.”


  23. Seems to me you don’t need to go far back to find how a PM who truly wanted to govern faced his demise: PMPM told the opposition parties that he needed to govern for a few more months to enact some important legislation, while allow for the Gomery report to be heard. He offered a specific deadline in which he’d guarantee an election. The opposition parties, as they are wont to do, disagreed and voted down the gov’t.
    Prime Ministers have the means in which to make a minority gov’t work, but there is no guarantee. Of course, you can promise to end a Prime Minister’s dereliction of duty thru premature election calls, and then prematurely break your promise.
    Seems to me the title of Premature Prime Minister fits nicely around Harper’s head.

  24. Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually has someone to vote FOR. I think the reason everyone is tied in the polls is that nobody is voting for anyone, but rather voting against the rest of the field. Makes the greens look almost as good as undecided.

  25. I think kontrol nails it.

    And damn is it depressing.

  26. LKO – loved the G&M slide show. Sadly, it’s not surprising to see 13 Conservative MPS parroting the PMO’s script.

    What I would like to know is exactly what piece of Legislation is frustrating Harper – to the extent that he thinks the HoC is dysfunctional? In the absence of any real opposition, every bill he put to vote has passed.

    Maybe a better way to phrase it is what would he do with a majority? Ah, but there I go again being all paranoid about a hidden agenda…

  27. Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually has someone to vote FOR.

    Conservatives DO have someone to vote for. They think Harper is pretty awesome. Too bad liberals don’t think the same of Dion or Layton or May..not that I blame them.

  28. There’s no hidden agenda. It’s all in the open.

    Bill C-484: Kicking Abortion’s Ass Bill
    Bill C-10: Subjective Morality Enforcement
    Bill C-61: Corporate Control of Copyright
    Bill C-39: Kill the CWB
    — Fire the CWB director over protests of the board.
    — Appoint anti-CWB director over protests of the board.
    — Threaten CWB workers if they choose to go to the press or even write their own MP with anything critical of the government actions.

    Demoting Linda Keen for doing her job and pointing out how MP, Gary Lunn wasn’t.

    Firing Luc Pomerleau for releasing the conservative plan to increase listeria content in our food.

    Trust me.. it’s not the hidden agenda you need to worry about, it’s the visible one.

  29. Do you think it’s easy making priorities? Well, I guess not because Harper didn’t even have en environmental plan until the polls said people were made at him for that.

    Quebec is a priority alright, the West is a shoe in and the rest of us can go to hell.

    Priorities are hard to keep too….accountability and transparency priorities just couldn’t be kept – they didn’t get it done.

    But hey – Harper’s a good game player – the rest doesn’t matter. I say send him a chess board and let him go home.

  30. Stephane Dion spent the last six months boasting about how he wanted to select the date of the next election, not because of his opposition to government policy, but based on the most advantageous date for his party.

    Of all people, Dion is the last one in position to criticize Stephen Harper for wanting to put an end to the sham of official opposition MPs hiding under their desks because they are afraid to vote.

  31. I distinctly remember hearing Dion saying about a month ago that he was getting the impression that people wanted an election this fall? So why not welcome it now? Why not have the debate on the Green Shift he was calling for?

  32. Sandi makes good points. Latest news is Harper is going to visit southern Ontario with a bailout for the auto industry. Didn’t he say that was bad? What about his about face on Epp’s bill? No wonder the budget for government polling has gone way up under Harper – he needs poll results to help him set priorities.

    I can’t remember, are pre-election periods always this long? The money is flowing fast and free these days and I’m already sick of the CPC ads and the writ hasn’t dropped.

  33. You can always tell which way the wind is blowing politically by which party is whining and crying. It looks on this board that the wind is blowing the Conservatives’ way, as all the bitching and moaning is coming from the Liberal side. Two months ago it was the exact opposite.

    Call the election and see which way the cookie crumbles.

  34. Thanks Thwim

    Catherine said: “..and I’m already sick of the CPC ads and the writ hasn’t dropped.”

    Agree. It seems to me the ads have never really stopped since the last election. Whether it be “oily”, “not a leader”, or the 10 percenter flyers I keep finding in the mail.

    The more I see, the more Flanagan makes sense. PMSH is on a mission.

  35. Flanagan makes sense probably in Harper’s intent. But he functions on the premise that the “character” of the LPC is the same as that of the CPC.

    The real question, assuming Flanagan is right, is why Harper is so desperate to remove Dion as leader of the LPC. Is it because Dion knows the most about Harper having roomed with him when they first came to Ottawa? Or is it because he sees Dion as someone without political baggage who is ending the internal sniping that had fragmented the LPC?

    I would say that, if this is indeed his motivation, his reasoning might be as follows:

    1. Harper maybe senses that Dion is starting unite the LPC, but his position within the party is still weak.

    2. If Harper calls an election and Dion does not gain a minority government in the very least, then the bickering will increase and probably be united towards ousting Dion in November.

    3. If Dion is ousted, then the LPC will fragment, and with that, fade into history like the PCs.

    Presumptuous, to say the least, because it assumes that Harper/Flanagan know the behavioural landscape of the LPC, and more importantly, that it mimicks the wasteland that is the CPC.

    Is this gambit worth $400 million of taxpayers money at a time of economic uncertainty?

    Apparently to Harper.

    Regardless of what his true motivations are, at least we can be certain that it is purely selfish in motive and not in Canadians’ best interest.



  36. I can’t even come up with a derisive enough term to cover Harper and Dion. Between the two of them for just a little while, not so long ago, there was a glimmer of a chance for a session at the house that could have been worthwhile. Two really smart guys, with some decency and the ability to debate actual POLICY. Instead, we get this hot mess of a parliment. Optimism dashed -more like optimism waterboarded. Good government just starred in a snuff film, set in the House of Commons.

  37. Bobbi, well said.

    At the moment I’m working “Kafkaesque fucktardery,” but that doesn’t quite capture it.

  38. Liberal supporters should be thankful their universe is unfolding this way–Harper giving them the early election they surely want, and doing it in such a way that Dion gets more useful anti-Harper talking points. Think of it as Harper being a good sport, and giving Dion a 100 yard head start in the election marathon.

    And what was the likely alternative universe awaiting the Liberal supporters ? Parliament resumes. Harper front-loads all the supply days. Dion tables wishy-washy, long-winded motions, that everybody laughs at. Duceppe and Layton table simple, direct non-confidence motions, that Liberals abstain from.

    Embarassing, pathetic and boring. Harper’s way is much more interesting.

  39. “written for a minority parliament” – it was written during one certainly.

    If Harper is so wrong now about the fixed election being for majorities why did the bill have the clause still allowing the PM to ask the GG to dissolve? I don’t know anyone who thought it would go to Oct. 2009 or that the point of it was anything other than fixed elections in majorities.

  40. “If Harper is so wrong now about the fixed election being for majorities why did the bill have the clause still allowing the PM to ask the GG to dissolve? I don’t know anyone who thought it would go to Oct. 2009 or that the point of it was anything other than fixed elections in majorities.”

    That clause is there because it would be unconstitutional otherwise and be struck down in court.

    Leaving the law entirely aside, PMSH promised that he would not trigger an election until October 2009.

    It’s as simple as that. No amount of contortions will make it anything other than Steve going back on his word.

  41. The anti-Harperites gotta cut Harper a little bit of slack here.

    When he introduced the legislation, he couldn’t have possibly anticipated this bizarre Dion “strategy” of abstaining in the House 40 PLUS times, while obstructing in the Senate and Committees.

    I mean admit it, you Liberal supporters were surely embarassed every time Dion pulled the “MPs hiding in the hallways” stunt. And followed it up with some lame excuse about the timing not being right, Canadians not wanting an election, or some such gobbledygook.

    For this Harper supporter, that specatcle went from hillarious, to incomprehensible, to annoying to downright booooooooring.

    Harper put all us junkies out of our “Dion’s mediocre melodrama” miseries. And for that, Harper deserves some credit. Unless you guys really wanted to watch Harper, Layton and Duceppe kick some more sand in Dion’s face via non-confidence votes in the House.

  42. So what you’re saying is that Harper’s word is worth less than the oppositions’ antics?

    Interesting defence.

  43. And nobody else could have anticipated PMSH making every single thing a confidence motion.

  44. Around and around we go with the talking points.

    Bring on the election.

    Let’s rumble.

  45. Andrew – When did Harper promise that?

  46. Pinko columnist Lawrence Martin over at the Glob and Mail says;

    “His overturning of his pledge on fixed election dates touched off a bigger storm than many in his own party and beyond expected.”

    Interesting… maybe this story will last a few days longer during the upcoming election then the 2 that most people concluded it would.

  47. Comment from Ian: “And nobody else could have anticipated PMSH making every single thing a confidence motion.

    Yeah, especially members of the CPC.

    From the Conservative Party of Canada Policy declaration, March 19, 2005:

    “7. Free Votes

    A Conservative Government will restore democratic accountability in the House of Commons by allowing free votes. A Conservative Government will make all votes free, except for the budget and main estimates.”

  48. I found the “promise” Harper made on fixed election dates – “Unless we’re defeated or prevented from governing…” was how it started. So not only does the bill contain a clause but even Harper’s “promise” mentioned the possibility of going to the GG if the govn’t is being stopped from governing.

    I don’t think it’s a stretch to say there’s been a fairly major prevention from governing for months now with the Senate holding up legislation and the committees being taken over by petty partisanship rather than doing the work of debating legislation. Despite Dion’s ridiculous assertion that Parliament is working, it isn’t and hasn’t been for some time.

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