Saturday, October 6, 2007

Dion seeks safe way through Harper's minefield

Dion seems to have disappeared from view over the last few days. There may be no way through Harper's minefield. Dion would be best just to set off the mines and join battle. If he supports the Throne speech when it has no good environmental bill and has stuff in it that he will not support later he will look like a complete hypocrite if he votes later against a bill mentioned in the Throne speech. Harper is not going to put in anything about withdrawing from Afghanistan I will wager. Whoever saves the Conservatives by voting for the Throne speech deserves to be defeated in the following election. I think we may actually end up with a Conservative majority because of the ineptitude and infighting within the Liberal Party. Buying time will cost them support and nothing more.
The Liberal "framing" of the issue is interesting. What Harper is doing is simply putting what he wants in the Throne speech even though some of it will not be palatable to the opposition. Since he knows that the Liberals in particular do not want an election it is a smart way to operate. He will probably get what he wants and make the Liberals look like hypocrites and wimps. I don't call that being power hungry. I would call it clever strategy. If the Liberals want to have the Conservatives carry on to show their strong arm tactics they need not do that. It was done over and over in committees in the last seesion by the Conservatives.

Dion seeks safe way through Harper's minefield
Top Liberal advisers push 'case by case' approach to Tory trap

October 6, 2007

OTTAWA -- Stéphane Dion has been advised by party officials not to defeat the Conservative government's Throne Speech and pick his battles with each bill that is subsequently tabled as the Liberals plot a way out of the election trap set by Stephen Harper.

The strategy, supported by Mr. Dion's newly appointed principal secretary Johanne Sénécal, is aimed at helping to buy the Liberal Leader more time while painting the Prime Minister as an autocrat who cannot tolerate checks on his power.

"The idea would be to move case by case," said an official close to Mr. Dion. "The prevailing view among senior officials is to delay. Literally, we should play them one at a time."

Mr. Harper said earlier this week that his government intends to increase the number of confidence motions in the House of Commons, a tactic that is being interpreted as an effort to corner the Liberals into either supporting his government agenda or provoking an election. Mr. Dion's challenge is to redefine the fall session away from that Conservative framing of the issue.

Strikingly, Mr. Dion remained silent again on the issue of the Throne Speech yesterday despite Liberal MPs publicly asking what the next move from the party should be. Mr. Dion was in his Ottawa office yesterday working on strategy with his officials.

Party officials told The Globe and Mail that the Liberals can forestall government confidence motions by extending debate, amending bills or counting on other opposition parties to support the government on certain bills.

One person familiar with the Liberal thinking said the Liberals could even look for ways to defeat the government on issues that play to their strengths.

One example might be Mr. Harper's pledge to restrict the federal government's right to spend federal government money in areas of provincial jurisdiction. The Liberals believe most voters want the government to maintain that right and that it could be an election issue.

The source said that Ms. Sénécal's appointment has helped bring focus to the debate.

"We've gone from sleepwalking to wide-awake."

Liberals also argued yesterday that Mr. Harper's ultimatum makes the Prime Minister look power hungry. Indeed, some actually said they would keep the Tories in the House of Commons just to demonstrate his strong-arm tactics.

Liberal candidate and past leadership candidate Gerard Kennedy said Mr. Harper was contributing to a false state of election panic.

"I don't think that we should take it as anything else but almost adolescent, in-your-face stuff." He noted that Mr. Harper's fortunes declined last spring after his party opened its election headquarters.

Others wanted to see whether Mr. Harper would follow through with his threat to call a number of confidence votes.

"If, in fact, we don't vote down the Throne Speech then I would say [to Mr. Harper], 'Okay, show the public what you really mean by pushing everybody to the wall,' " said former Liberal leadership candidate Martha Hall Findlay.

"He is trying to govern as if he had a majority, and his attitude was absolutely so clear in that press conference: 'My way or the highway.' "

One Liberal aware of the most recent thinking said "there is no way" that the party wants a fall election.

"You don't go to war ... without all of your munitions," the Liberal said. The party is seen as behind in organizational terms and a poorer than usual financial situation.

The source said that strategists don't want to go to the people at this point and that Mr. Harper's most recent statements don't change the situation.

There are three confidence votes scheduled later this month on the Throne Speech, and another life-or-death vote could be held on the November fiscal update. The government also can quickly start to introduce bills once the House has reconvened, with the opportunity to pronounce second-reading votes on the bills to be issues of confidence.

However, the government can only be defeated if all three opposition parties are united.

If the Liberals want to keep the Parliament alive, they can ask a few MPs to abstain or not show up for votes. The opposition can delay confidence votes on government bills by putting forward long lists of speakers during debates and prevent the government from imposing closure and forcing the bills to a vote.

Election timetable

A federal election could be held in late November or in December if the government is defeated over its Throne Speech later this month. The government faces three confidence votes on the speech: a vote on the speech as a whole; a vote on a Liberal amendment to the speech; and a vote on a Bloc Québécois sub-amendment.

Oct. 16

The Throne Speech will be read by Governor-General Michaëlle Jean in the Senate chambers, likely in the evening.

Oct. 17

The government must schedule six days of debate on the speech, but is free to decide the timing of those days. However, substantial debate on the Throne Speech usually begins the next day.

Oct 18

Typically, the first vote on the speech takes place two days after it is delivered. This means the government could fall as early as this day when MPs vote on a Bloc Québécois sub-amendment to the speech. If the government loses the vote, Prime Minister Stephen Harper could ask the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament and he could set an election date. The Prime Minister is free to announce whether votes on amendments will be confidence votes.

Oct. 22

If the government survives the first vote, a vote on the Liberal Party amendment to the speech would be held on the fourth day of the debate.

Oct. 24

If the government survives both votes, the actual Throne Speech is put to a vote on the sixth day of debate.

Nov. 26

First possible date an election can be held if government falls on Oct. 18. It must take place on the first Monday after 36 days of campaigning.

Dec. 3

First possible date an election could be held if the government falls Oct. 22 or 24

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