Now that Stephane Dion has indicated that he won’t force an election before the fall, it might be a good time to look at the overall strategies of the four federal party leaders as Parliament winds down into the last days of the spring sitting before summer break.
Stephen Harper’s strategy is as it has been since Dion became leader of the Liberal party but has become much more evident with the Conservative leader’s latest chess moves. The Prime Minister aims to demoralize Liberals both partisan and reluctant. By making Stephane Dion eat the Harper secret agenda and ask for seconds rather than go to an election, the PM is showing Liberals that their leader is more interested in survival than in standing for principled positions. Just a few of the major capitulations by poor Stephane to mean Stephen have been the Liberal leader’s support of the extension of the Afghan mission to 2011, the wholesale Liberal surrender on the Conservative immigration bill and now, as we may still see, the reluctant and red-faced approval bill C-10 (it might as well be called the McVety bill to the Liberal base, but to Stephane Dion, it’s five minutes of oxygen). Stephen Harper wants to allow Jack Layton to rhetorically ask which party will stand up to the Conservative agenda.
Gilles Duceppe for some reason has indicated that he wants to go to an election. Perhaps he just wants to finally retire from politics. Duceppe stands to gain from having the House sit for some time longer as the Prime Minister’s branding of the Quebecois as a nation has not only taken fertile soil but has put down roots for Harper in the province inhabited by the nation. The damage is already done for the Bloc on this issue and Duceppe’s hope should be to tap into potential future RCMP and/or Elections Canada embarrassments for both the Conservatives (in-and-out) and the Liberals (on Adscam and Dion’s debt). This will allow Duceppe to point to the only other viable options in Quebec and say that those federalists are all the same. For a party that has no purpose left in Ottawa but to ensure the continued growth of their federal pensions, scandal seems like a better option for BQ sustainability than defense of Quebec’s non-interest in sovereignty.
Stephane Dion’s strategy has and will continue to be survival. The Liberal leader finds it more critical to parry the daggers at his back rather than thrust towards Stephen Harper across the House divide. The beleaguered Liberal leader would rather pass Stephen Harper’s agenda than face his own party. Therefore, the strategy that Dion will continue to employ is his threatening of the government and his insistence that everyone stands at the precipice of election. However, the threat is really meant for his own party as they cannot dispose of Dion so close to a potential campaign that Harper stands to win big if the Liberal party is left without, well, a leader. If Dion were to say that he will only cause the government to collapse after one year, senior party officials and those with ambitions on leadership would see such a window as a perfect opportunity to safely dispose of Dion. When Dion threatens election, he is only holding off those Liberals that are balancing the dispatch of Dion and the worser option of a (significantly more) disastrous election causing a potential Harper majority, with a faulty campaign led by the man that says it could happen any day (it really is Dion’s last refuge).
Jack Layton is probably rubbing his hands gleefully at thought of being the party of principle of the left that can be seen to oppose Harper. Ironically, this is being done as Layton effectively works with the Prime Minister to destroy any semblance of Liberal identity as liking the colour red and Gerard Kennedy’s taste in eyewear may not be enough to sustain party support under Dion’s leadership. The likes of Buzz Hargrove and Maude Barlow will carry less weight if they encourage NDP supporters to Stop Harper by voting Liberal. Indeed, the voting record shows that even when Dion is in the position to stop the Prime Minister’s agenda, he would rather make his stand defending Stornoway from the growing number of Liberal invaders. Jack Layton’s strategy is to play Harper’s game but he cannot do so too visibly without alienating his own base. However, there is a lot of room here for Layton to maneuver as only the Greens, despite their actual status as a Liberal proxy under May, stand to gain from any anger that the socialist base may have for Layton for strategizing to split the centre with Harper.