Most of you will already have read, before you read this, that Stéphane Dion is refusing to speak to Stephen Harper, including by phone, until after the Sept. 8 by-elections. Kory Teneycke at the PMO is telling our Globe friends, more or less, that this is the very proof of an obstreperous opposition that Harper needed. I believe things will move very quickly now. The crisis Harper manufactured, to get himself out of a “fixed”-election-date law he campaigned on, wrote and passed but never believed in, is upon him, even more quickly than he had hoped. This afternoon the temperature in the press gallery was somewhere around Sept 10 or 14 for a writ drop. Tonight CTV is reporting it could be Sept 2. You need to remember that I’m the guy who wrote on one of our comment boards only 10 days ago that Harper would never ignore his own election law, so what do I know. But tonight I believe the prime minister may move even more quickly than that. He does not like to be crossed. I am no longer sure he can conceive of an interest more elevated than making everyone understand he does not like to be crossed. A week ago I’d have said: since he has planned this week’s Tuesday-to-Thursday Arctic trip for months, nothing can happen at Rideau Hall before he returns to Ottawa on Friday. Now I’ll just say, We’ll see soon enough.
The comment boards here will soon fill up with Harper partisans lauding the big guy’s cleverness in trapping Dion, and Harperphobes lauding Dion’s prowess in trapping Harper. I know neither camp will let a contrary opinion slow them down. My own hunch is that there isn’t one voter in 50 whose vote will change because the debate dove into the tall grass of who-triggered-the-dissolution.
But there are habits of mind here too. The prime minister is watching parliamentary committees degrade the Conservative brand by asking perfectly valid questions, and the only answer he can contrive is to clog the committees with absurdist performance art. He passed a “fixed”-election-date law with a loophole of exquisite tailoring, and he is passing through that loophole as planned. The confidence vote he could use to launch his campaign is not four weeks away, but he is done waiting. So he came up with a fancy plan to seize control, and it’s not working because They are Trying to Screw Him Again, and by God, he will Show Them All. He is ending his first government in the same way he ended his 2004 and 2006 campaigns: hunkered down, sprinting for the exit.
It has worked so many times the safe bet is that it will work a couple more times. This campaign, whenever it begins, won’t only be a referendum on Harper, after all. But one day, near or distant, his familiar manner will stop working. When it does, it will be because the habits of mind on display this week finally tell.