By Jason Menard
It’s almost time for the bell to ring, announcing the first round of this Parliamentary battle, and the only question that remains is whether the opposition will come out swinging or if they’re prepared to feel out the competition for a while and wait for the right time to deliver the knockout blow.
As the Conservatives and the opposition Liberals prepare to go toe-to-toe in the ring over issues like childcare and taxation it will be interesting to Canadians to see whether the Grits, still licking their wounds from the spanking they received in the recent federal election, are willing to throw down the gloves and get ugly in defense of their principles.
For the Liberals, they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Allow such show-stoppers as the scrapping of the Liberal daycare plan in favour of the $100 per month per kid plan favoured by the Tories or the slashing of the GST and rollback of previous Liberal personal tax cuts, and the Liberals run the risk of being perceived as compromising their ideals. And for a party that’s reeling from the sponsorship scandal and a public that questions its integrity, this is one perception that must be shed.
Unfortunately for Canadians, the only way that can be done is for the Liberals to stand their ground, come hell or high water – or at least yet another election call.
Already, Opposition House Leader Ralph Goodale has started to hedge the Party’s bets, casting the burden of responsibility to its co-opposition members, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc. By stating that these two parties could conceivably prop up the Tories, even if the Liberal vote against these key measures, he’s effectively deflected the question of standing for one’s ideals two the smaller members of the opposition.
This will be a Parliament of perception and posturing. The NDP is on the verge of slipping from the image of being the King Maker to becoming the royal whore – hopping into bed with whomever’s in power to further their own agenda of power. If anything, the NDP should be philosophically more opposed to the Conservative agenda, especially when it comes to issues like social programs, yet they’ve been the most conciliatory speakers when it comes to consensus building in the House of Commons. The NDP runs the risk of alienating its very own traditional supporters and losing them to a newly emboldened Liberal Party – especially if Jack Layton supports a less-than-favourable Omnibus bill in order to maintain political continuity.
On the other side, Gilles Duceppe has to be a little worried about support in his own back yard. While talking the good talk about the idea of his party sweeping through la belle province, he has to be a little rocked by the fact that it was Stephen Harper who walked the walk and eroded his base of support by scoring huge gains in Quebec. Does he risk returning to the polls and testing his supporters’ patience for yet another election?
In the end, does this all embolden Stephen Harper even more? After a few missteps in the early part of his tenure, the ducks are all in a row for him to push through an aggressive first foray into this political battle. Does he gamble that the leaderless Liberals don’t have the stomach for jumping into a snap election? Does he hope that the question marks surrounding the other opposition parties mean that their preference will be to wait for a better time to act?
Harper has to decide what the more prudent strategy will be. Does he enter the House of Commons in a consensus-building manner and hope to negotiate what he wants, or does he seize the opportunity to make dramatic changes and enact a substantial – and controversial – component of his party’s political platform, trusting that the time isn’t right for his opponents to make a move. It’s a bitter pill that he’ll be forcing the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc to swallow – Harper just has to judge whether they have the stomach for it.
In the world of boxing, the boxer always has the edge on the puncher – but in the Canadian political ring, Harper has to opportunity to be both. He can come out swinging, landing the heavy blows, and out-strategize his opponents right from the opening bell. But the only way that works is if the opposition isn’t willing to step up and go toe-to-toe with the Conservatives.
The opening bell is about to ring. This is sure to be one fight to watch.
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