Aug 21, 2008 04:30 AM
Twenty-four years after the movie debut, enter Stephen Harper, stage far right. By threatening his own minority, the Prime Minister is neutralizing another nasty situation. Not long after sanctimoniously promising to end the common practice of prime ministers forcing elections for partisan advantage, Harper is escaping his own trap and setting the scene for a snap fall campaign favouring Conservatives.
Politics, like comedy, turns on timing and sooner is now better than later for the ruling party. A Canadian economy that in July shed an astonishing 55,000 jobs and a federal budget spiralling from surplus to deficit are only two urgent signals of worse trouble ahead. Taliban threats against aid workers coupled with Pakistan's political turmoil promise to make the already problematic Afghanistan mission more deadly.
Closer to home, there are sound reasons for Conservatives to want our election over before November when the U.S. picks a new president.
If there's danger in delay, there's opportunity for Harper in testing Conservative appeal before perceptions catch up to realities. This country has yet to feel the full financial impact of what's happening to the south.
Remarkably, there's still little public awareness that Canadian lives are being lost in a quagmire war that's at least as much about the regional struggle between Pakistan and India as it is about countering the Taliban or buffering extremism. And until a winner is chosen, the riveting U.S. presidential race is a source of abstract excitement, not a catalyst for specific leadership comparisons.
All of that will change long before the fixed election date Harper promised during the last campaign and then legislated for October 2009. If he obeys his law, or lets the opposition set the election date, Harper will face an electorate worried about jobs, apprehensive about increasing Asian violence and instability, and knowing that Americans have either opted for Barack Obama and the hope of sweeping change or John McCain and a more collaborative model of the George W. Bush status quo.
So it's tactically wise to rush an election Conservatives are working so hard, and spending so much, to make more about Liberals than the Harper record. The ruling party wants voters to mark their ballots thinking about Stéphane Dion and his green shift, not the gathering economic hurricane, a war that current conditions make impossible to successfully prosecute, or how Harper, by then the last Bush Republican left standing, stacks up against the new president.
What's most surprising about the Prime Minister's gambit is that it wasn't more widely anticipated. Over lunch a year ago, a senior Ottawa insider predicted with absolute certainty that the boss wouldn't allow the opposition to defeat the government. That confidence – confidence that now seems eerily prescient – flowed from close observation of a Prime Minister obsessed with control.
Brooks, a comic genius, found dark humour in spoofing a cinematic cliché. Harper, a shrewd politician, is again taking advantage of opponents too dumb to spot the shtick.
James Travers' column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Commentary in the Toronto Star
by the Ottawa Mens Centre