Out of the Playground, Into the Real World

By Jason Menard

It certainly has been hard to be a proud Canadian over the past few weeks, hasn’t it? With our political leaders sniping, name-calling, and generally behaving like kids in a schoolyard, maybe it’s appropriate that the Queen has arrived to settle down her wayward children.

With Thursday’s vote, we saw the Liberal minority stave off its own extinction with the help of a high-profile defection and a lower-profile – but, ultimately, just as important – independent vote. Belinda Stronach may have grabbed the headlines earlier in the week, but it was Chuck Cadman who had the biggest spotlight shined on him during the actual vote.

But now, we turn our attention back to the principles – and the minute hand slowly ticks down on Mr. Cadman’s 15 minutes in the spotlight. The problem is, as usually happens in these types of skirmishes, is that few look good coming out of it.

Stephen Harper and the Conservative Coalition now look like nothing more than opportunistic schoolyard bullies. Flexing their muscles, using intimidation, and generally behaving rather badly to get what they want. But, like bullies, when the tide turns – and with Stronach’s defection, the Conservatives lost a lot of muscle – they tucked their tail between their legs and slinked off quietly, without much fuss.

If this is truly a fight against corruption and the belief truly was that the Liberals are evil, then you fight the good fight, no matter what the odds. You continue the rhetoric, you use every available means at your disposal (including enticing some fence-sitting MPs – paging Mr. O’Brien – to jump ship). But now it’s clear that this wasn’t a battle based on political principle, but political gain – an opportunistic grab for power that leaves a bad taste in some mouths.

The NDP’s Jack Layton continues to look like the cat who ate the canary, secure in the knowledge that – as he’s been trying to convince us for a while now – that the NDP are a legitimate power in Parliament. The previous Conservative/Bloc majority left the NDPs somewhat powerless, but now that the numbers are more even, his party has even more opportunity to flex its muscle.

The BQ deftly managed to stay out of the fray – Gilles Duceppe playing puppet master while Steven Harper took all the hits in the public. By remaining aloof, the Bloc gets to claim moral superiority, which it can use in a future election. Ironically, a group that’s allegedly tampered with election results in the past now gets to run on a platform built on accountability.

And where do the Liberals go from here? Well, the Liberals have to shore up their East Coast support, hold on to its power in Ontario (and probably pick up a few extra seats here and there), and work like mad to make some inroads in the West. And they have to forget about Quebec.

Sad to say, it’s done in Quebec for an election or two. The Liberals were granted a slight reprieve when the eminently likeable Paul Martin took power from the despised Jean Chrétien. But any goodwill has been washed away in this sponsorship scandal. Quebec’s stable of soft separatists are always looking for a reason to jump ship, and the findings from the Gomery inquiry are exactly the springboard they have been looking for. Add to that the miserable job Jean Charest has been doing propping up the Provincial Liberal name, and there’s little doubt that the BQ will pick up many, if not all, seats in Quebec.

Martin and his party have survived the flurry of the opening rounds. They’ve taken the Conservatives’ best shots and are still upright – however wobbly their legs may be. Yet the political rope-a-dope strategy needs to move into the next phase. The Liberals have absorbed the punches and, instead of waiting for its opponents to catch their breath, they need to come out swinging.

The Gomery inquiry needs to result in some rolling heads. Martin needs to show the electorate that the sins of the past will not be tolerated now or in the future. He needs to regain the trust of those Canadians who may be inclined to forgive and forget. The Liberals need to make a concerted effort to move forward with an aggressive and generous policy that creates a positive impression on the electorate. The new budget is a great start, but implementing it effectively is the key to long time success.

Like a veteran boxer, The Liberals have been through a number of these ring wars, so smart money says not to count them out. The second round’s just starting.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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