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Where PMs Fear to Tread

May 31st, 2006

Confession time. I have a hard time writing about politics these days. If you have been paying close attention, you will have noted less politics, more Britney in recent weeks. The reason? Three things. First, federal politics hasn’t really been a hot-bed of activity lately, although Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have made a series of policy announcements, and have disappointed a number of Liberal/NDP/Lefties by announcing they would uphold a series of election promises.

Secondly, I consider federal politics to be my area. Since I was a teenager I was interested in Canadian federal politics. I consider myself, rightly or wrongly, an astute observer of the federal political scene and I often have, I believe, a different take on things than most observers. I get federal politics, and I get what politicians are trying to do. The same cannot be said Provincially, locally or internationally. I don’t believe I have anything original to offer on US politics, Dalton’s foibles or who should be the next mayor of Cambridge. If it’s not happening federally, chances are good I’m not going to comment.

Third, I have a hard time, now that he’s in charge, reading Stephen Harper. Bottom line, this guy is much smarter than I, and he is like a chess player, always thinking three or more moves ahead. As such, I have a hard time making calls on what he’s thinking, pronouncing loudly “Stephen Harper really means …”, because I have no confidence in my ability to read him. With the onset of summer, I have less interest in trying. Thus, politics gets back burnered.

However, the news that Stephen Harper is planning on introducing term limits for Senators is something I get. First the news:

The Stephen Harper government moved yesterday to limit Senate terms to eight years…

Introducing separate bills in the House of Commons and the Senate, the government called them moves toward a more accountable government.

Question is, is this what I referred to in the election as Pandora’s constitutional box. Remember my Pandora Martin jokes? So why this?

Because it has been Reform/Alliance/CRAParty policy for years, and it has been a Stephen Harper policy for years. Remember election night: “To the people of the West, let me say one thing and let me be clear: the West is now in.” This is what he meant. Triple ‘E’ senate (Effective, Equal and Elected) is on the governments sights and this is step one. Note that the government thinks it can get this passed onto law without the approval of the provinces. But clearly, any further movement in that direction would require opening the Pandora’s constitutional box.

Opening the constitution is, ultimately, a Quebec question. And Quebec comes quickly into play. Walking into Quebec and saying, the constitution needs fixed, means once again trying to fix what ails Quebec, treading where Trudeau and Mulroney failed. And to do so is no easy feat. First, it will require a majority government – expect the next election to be fought on these grounds. The opposition will want to make it about Afghanistan, possibly Child Care (depending on who the new Liberal leader is), and the environment. Jack Layton will want it to be the Kyoto election, but Stephen Harper can stick handle around those issues by making it a constitutional debate.

Next up, John Tory will need to win Ontario. Alberta will certainly sign on to a triple E senate, Quebec signs on if it gets it’s special status designation, but getting McGuinty to sign will be near impossible. John Tory, on the other hand…

So this move accomplishes some major objectives, it begins the process of moving towards a long time Western Conservative policy goal and it sets the stage for the next election, the one in which the opposition will want to fight last elections fights, battling for a child care program and an environmental program that’s already been discarded. The Back to the Future election, where the Liberals will promise to do what they did last time.

Pretty smooth chess playing Mr. Harper.


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