Sunday, November 30, 2008

Guest post: Avoid the bait, Harper is already cornered

[An article by my friend Beijing York, cross-posted at her blog]

Today’s media events revealed the CPC releasing a transcript of a phone call into the NDP’s caucus meeting teleconference that was held yesterday. The party is trying to spin some kind of scandal out of the fact that Layton revealed that they had had earlier discussions with the Bloc regarding working together in common cause. Who cares! They are both opposition parties dealing with a minority government so this is just normal procedure. This is not proof of “secret, shady meetings to reverse election results” or a plan to launch a “massive power grab” from the ruling Conservative party.

I couldn’t believe the words coming out of Pierre Poilievre’s mouth. They were easy to remember because he just kept repeating the same talking points and they were ridiculous. Unfortunately, the progressive voices on the web are getting fixated on whether listening to, taping and distributing the tape to the media is an illegal action. I think that such a focus is exactly what Harper and his strategists were hoping for.

I don't disagree that it's unethical to tape and leak it to the media even if you were invited to listen in on the proceedings. And if you were not invited, there is definitely cause to pursue an investigation, since wiretapping still remains illegal. But a word of advice: any actions the NDP takes with respect to the legality of obtaining the tape or the ethical bankruptcy in distributing it, should be undertaken quietly and after the Harper government has been toppled. If their actions were criminal, the crime won't go away.

The media will be more than thrilled to have a scandal to focus on and will have a field day over some “wintergate” or “coldgate” event. Such a focus would detract from the current impression that the opposition parties are committed to making government work for Canadians while the Conservatives are not.

Harper is going back to his Rovian book of dirty tactics. But this time I think most Canadians are more likely to see them as signs of desperation. We don’t need to hurl accusations of illegal wiretapping to bring Harper and his Conservatives down. Demonstrating that the opposition parties have no recourse but to lose confidence in Harper’s ability to govern is key.

The opposition parties have successfully convinced the public that their concern is not only with his proposed changes to party election financing and union rights, but with his overall lack of vision or commitment to present an action plan to deal with the economic hardships that Canadians know they are facing. That’s why they didn’t back track when Harper stated that that these new policies would be shelved. Harper is spinning his wheels to find a way to hold on to power and so far, his flaccid attempts to stop the opposition have failed.

Giving the media a chance to focus on an impending lawsuit only serves Harper in my view. I'm sure Harper and his supporters are probably hoping the media and blogosphere gets in a tizzy over the NDP demanding an investigation.

The bottom line is that Harper is better equipped at handling accusations of scandal than those of ineptness. He's been like teflon on every other scandal raised in the past two years because he recognizes that a steady non-reaction is better politics than an over-reaction. Chretien is also gifted with the same reflexes.

An angry Jack Layton is the worst thing that could happen when the idea of a coalition government is picking up momentum. The Winnipeg Free Press (fairly right wing) closed today’s snapshot poll reporting 69% in favour of a coalition government.

Having the media spend the week focused on whether the taping was illegal, unethical or inept (on the part of the NDP) would be a shot in the arm for Harper. It's bait, and the whole news item should be buried as fast as possible.

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