I think those who expected the government to answer the Speaker’s ruling on the detainee documents with a Nixonian jihad must now start recalibrating. Can I appeal to fellow chattering-class types to start getting used to the way apparent reversals for the Conservatives turn very, very quickly into opportunities to divide and confuse the Opposition?
The ministry—whether you happen to think the Speaker chastised it with whips this week or felt it to be more of a scorpion-y kinda thing—doesn’t have to come up with a disclosure solution that satisfies every single parliamentarian on the Hill. To obtain majority support, the government only has to come up with something that the Liberals, en bloc, can agree to. The Conservatives’ bargaining chip is this: they can approach Michael Ignatieff and say “OK, we can get together on this and help you look like a responsible statesman; or, you can insist on the right of Gilles Duceppe and Libby Davies to be personally involved in the most intricate details of our military affairs, and we can go to the country and have an election on that basis.” Anyone who denies that this is a very strong poker hand hasn’t read the cards correctly. (I guess I understand the potential confusion: it might be easy to confuse the rights of Parliament with the personal political entitlement of Ms. Davies if you happen to think that she would, in fact, make a first-rate defence minister.)
Ignatieff is inevitably going to be criticized for “weakness” when the eventual modus vivendi, one likely to be comfortable for the Conservatives and marginally tolerable for the Liberals, is arrived at. When it comes to disputes over parliamentary procedure, I’m afraid Mr. Ignatieff is no more or less weak than his party’s standing in the House of Commons.