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In the Khadr settlement, the Conservatives find their fight

The Liberals are being made to defend the government’s choice, and they would plainly rather not. Score one for Andrew Scheer.


 
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, June 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, June 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals had already decided to treat the new Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, a little differently from the way a previous Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, had treated a string of Liberal leaders.

The Harper Conservatives had released ads to “define” Stéphane Dion, Michael Ignatieff and Trudeau within weeks after each man became leader. Dion was Not a Leader, Ignatieff was Just Visiting, Trudeau was Just In Over His Head. It worked two out of three tries.

Trudeau had campaigned on promises, not always fulfilled, to do politics differently, and this time he decided to follow through. Heading into the summer vacation with ads dubbing Scheer as Too Conservative, or whatever, would hurt perceptions of the Liberals as much as of their target, so the Liberals held off.

But that’s not the same as saying the Liberals had no offensive strategy against Scheer.

READ MORE: The shady business of paying Omar Khadr

Instead of running ads, they would define Scheer more slowly, over time, with a series of forced choices in Parliament, through government motions, much as opposition parties usually seek to define governments (you’ll note that “define” in Ottawa politics is almost always pejorative by implication) through clever use of their occasional opportunity to define a day’s parliamentary debate through so-called “supply motions.”

The goal would be to perch Scheer’s Conservatives on the horns of a dilemma. If they voted with the government on this or that motion, they would be revealed as copycats with no original thoughts; if they diverged, they’d be “extremists.” The first example of this strategy was a motion at the beginning of June, after Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris Accord on climate change, declaring Parliament’s support for the very same Paris Accord.

Scheer had been noticeably tightlipped about Trump’s exit; some Conservative supporters were pretty happy that Trump was giving the bum’s rush to climate science they view as hokum, while others had, well, supported Michael Chong and his carbon taxes for the Conservative leadership. In the end, he told his caucus to vote for the Liberal motion, which was enough to get Scheer called a “backstabber” by Ezra Levant, whose Rebel Media more or less defines the far right end of the political mainstream in Canada. Levant even launched a website to dump on Scheer. For the Liberals, a pretty good day at the office.

The problem for the Liberals is that two can play at this game.

RELATED: The friendship of Lindhout, Khadr and Harper

On Saturday, at the Conservatives’ annual Stampede Barbecue in Calgary, Scheer said he’ll use the first supply date the Conservatives get in the autumn to make MPs vote on the government’s settlement with Omar Khadr. “We’re going to force every Liberal in the House to take a stand,” Scheer said. “It will be simple: Do you support paying a self-confessed terrorist over $10 million or do you stand with the common sense of millions of Canadians? Justin Trudeau will have to stand and defend it.”

This followed a truly remarkable evening on Friday during which Stephen Harper posted on Facebook that the government’s settlement with Khadr was “simply wrong;” his son Ben Harper tweeted a donation to yet another Ezra Levant website collecting money for the children of the soldier whose death is at the heart of the Khadr affair; and Laureen Harper followed suit.

Obviously a lot of Conservatives are genuinely angered by the Khadr settlement. It’s causing a few to act out of character. Stephen Harper’s policy from his 2015 election defeat until now has been not to comment on any action of the Trudeau government. In the Khadr case, he felt accused—the Liberals’ line is that the Harper government screwed up the handling of Khadr’s case and exposed taxpayers to damage settlement—and he hit back hard.

Now the Liberals will be made to defend the government’s choice. They can, in fact, look forward to launching the fall session of Parliament that way. They would plainly rather not: details of the settlement were explained by Ralph Goodale and Jody Wilson-Raybould on the Friday after Canada Day, the sort of thing one does when one is hoping summer will distract most Canadians from government business.

The merits of the settlement have been debated here and elsewhere, and I doubt I’d change minds by arguing it either way. I do note a conspicuous passion deficit on the Liberal side. Goodale was asked why nobody at the news conference had said they are sorry to Khadr. His answer was a seminar on the use of the passive verb construction. “The apology was issued in written form, and it was prepared in accordance with the agreement between the parties, and we have put that on the public record,” he said. That’s certainly an answer that was given.

I doubt many Canadians will have the Khadr settlement in mind when they vote to elect their next federal government, more than two years hence. But precisely because there are more than two years until the next election, perceptions will be influenced on a hundred issues before then. On the Khadr issue, Trudeau will face a united Conservative party, and a broader conservative movement, whose leader is damned sure the deal the Liberals cut is wrong. How he responds will be an important early chapter in the campaign for 2019.


 

In the Khadr settlement, the Conservatives find their fight

  1. Andrew Scheer has defined himself on the issue of Khadr, no one needed to do it for him. This is a very much a continuation of the Harper approach and lest anyone not get the message, Harper himself has weighed in as well as his wife and son and lawyer and former spokesman etc

    Conservative Party operatives have said they are hoping for a “populist uprising” on this issue and they will do all possible to inflame feelings and vilify Khadr of course further vilify Trudeau which is all they seem to do these days.

    It is interesting to see the Harper/Scheer gang lamenting the plight of the Speer children when they were so cavalier to the plight of Canadian vets and their families when they slashed services and closed offices and left funds earmarked for vets unspent when they were in power.

    The Conservatives think they have their issue but there is a good chance that
    they and some reporters have underestimated the Canadian public and that inflaming and politicizing this issue may backfire on them.

  2. Two years out from the election? Yeah, that’s bright. LOL

  3. The $10.5 million figure is the reported value of the settlement. AFAIK, confidentiality terms of the settlement apparently prevent the government from telling us peons the actual, official amount. I cannot see any way to rationalize keeping the actual value a secret, and if the Conservatives have any sense they’ll attack the government on that front – e.g. “Trudeau promised Canadians transparency, instead we get secret deals” and “Is the settlement $10 million or $100 million? Trudeau’s secret deal keeps taxpayers in the dark”.

  4. The conservatives are not going to be elected in the next election, period, no matter how hard they go right. It’s only the rank and file right of the conservative party that are angry at this issue(Kahdr), not the progressive part of it, you just have to read Scott Gilmore’s column in Macleans today, and he is a part of the progressive wing of the party, that would leave about 22% of the party angry(Harper faction)and Ezra. It’s nothing but the right wing faction of the party, and the MSM is milking the story, especially CBC allowing hate to be spewed on the taxpayers national broadcasting center. CBC has been relentless, they seem to have lost their way when it comes to news, helping the conservatives to build their base.

    • If you think Gilmore is any kind of a conservative-you’ve suffered from a concussion.
      And, by the way,71% of Canadians don’t think this issue should have been settled out of court. He says he did it to save money (-:). With his $10 billion debt now at $30 billion with no balanced budget foreseen, when has he EVER shown any sense of fiscal management? I’d give the surfer dude a couple of more blunders added to his long list and he’ll be gone. The sooner the better before the economic ditch he’s digging is too deep to fill.

      • Gillmore is not a conservative, your right(pardon the pun), he is a Progressive Conservative, the party that Steve Harper hoodwinked Pete Mckay into, a right wing nut case party..Wouldn’t matter if Trudeau blew a 100 million, it would never come near what Harper blew to keep him in government, Canadians don’t want Troglodytes running this country, and you will see in 2019.

      • Bother way, try that poll in about a month from now..This is a slow summer for news with all the good weather and people on holidays, the season our political talking heads, bloggers and pundits need to earn their money for the news organizations, so a good flogging of Mr. Khadr in the news cycle throughout the summer(slow news season)helps keep their viewership up and helps sell more donations for the right wing nut parties, its nothing short of exploitation, and to know the ‘Charter Of Rights’ protect these bigots and racists. Its not about Khadr as it is, more about color and race.

  5. I think the Khadr payout will make for some decent election ad content. I also think it might currently erode Trudeau’s standing with the public.

    I still can’t figure out what they tried to pull. They’re angry that the settlement details were leaked, but the apology had to be made publicly, which would have raised questions about how much of the original $20 million lawsuit was paid.

    • The question of the actual amount paid is still up in the air since there has been no *official* announcement re that aspect of the settlement.

  6. Come on! We’ve just blown millions on a rubber duck.

  7. “Dion was Not a Leader, Ignatieff was Just Visiting, Trudeau was Just In Over His Head. It worked two out of three tries.”
    The Conservatives got it right 3 out of 3 and Trudeau is showing that they were right.

  8. I also posted this over at the “inkblot” article, but this one is where I should have put this comment:

    The fascinating article here is the two-year-old one from Amanda Lindhout about her friendship with Khadr and Rinelle Harper. The comments on the article were *mostly* people calling Khadr a horrible terrorist. But the article itself noted that in 2015, Khadr was often recognized in Edmonton (Alberta, our most-conservative province) and people would come up to him with words of support.
    It seems like he’s much more unpopular with people not in his presence, throwing insults from their armchairs, than he is with real people in the real world.

    I’m really in favour of this being an election issue. I think the Conservatives are in for a surprise about how little support Khadr-persecution really has. The National Observer has an eye-opening article about how shaky the case against Khadr would have been if it had been adjudicated in a REAL court with real courtroom rules of evidence:
    http://www.nationalobserver.com/2017/07/07/opinion/what-if-omar-khadr-isnt-guilty

    …I think if this case gets thrashed around in the media for a year or so, the facts in that article are going to be much more widely known, and far from opposing the settlement, people will start getting angry that Khadr was not given more defense when it would have mattered to him. The utter cowardice of the Canadian government saying nothing when the US was violating it’s *own* dearest principles really is staggering.

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