The Blackberry Roundtable with Kady Oâ€™Malley and Scott Reid has some interesting thoughts on the Conservative Party push polling the Irwin Cotlerâ€™s riding with the suggestion he had resigned.
AP: When Montreal Liberal MP Irwin Cotler heard that someone was making phone calls to his constituents suggesting that Cotler had resigned and that there would soon be a byelection in the riding, the Conservatives didnâ€™t deny that it was their doing. Instead they sent Peter Van Loan to chum the waters: First he noted that since rumours were always swirling about Cotlerâ€™s possible resignation, it was incumbent upon the Tories to bring the matter up with his constituents. Besides, he added, itâ€™s a matter of free speech, which even Sir John A. Macdonald understood â€œto be part of normal discourse.â€ n politics as in sports, the best defence is a relentless offence, but surely sportsmanship is still a guiding moral code in both. Is this normal, or has Canadian politics become the MMA of public life?
SR: Letâ€™s start by saying the obvious: This is unprecedented. That matters because every time someone lowers the watermark for acceptable political behaviour, the reflex response is â€œwell, everyoneâ€™s doing it.â€ Actually thatâ€™s not so. Ladies and gentlemen, please pause a moment as we reach a new low. Not to worry if you missed it. Weâ€™ll be arriving upon another before long. So everyone isnâ€™t doing it. But â€” and this should really alarm us â€” if we donâ€™t blow the whistle, scream â€œstopâ€ or otherwise halt the descent into pure partisan amorality, everyone will be doing it. Because political parties are rewarded for one thing and one thing only: winning. So if something isnâ€™t declared off-limits, the lesson everyone else learns is to imitate. Itâ€™s a brand of Darwinistic Political Ethics â€” the crown falls to he who shows the least shame. The Conservative response on this is risible. They claim theyâ€™re merely ID-ing their vote. Right. By systematically spreading a falsehood about a sitting MP. Meanwhile, Irwin Cotler is submitting amendments to the crime bill that the government is humiliated into acknowledging it should embrace. Except that â€” presumably too distracted from terrorizing its political opponents three and a half years before the next election â€” they shut down the committee process and now are forced to submit his changes in the Senate. The contrast between Irwin and his opponents could not be more clear. This whole thing is a freaking disgrace.
KOâ€™M: Like all the best/worst slo-mo political car crashes, watching this story unfold over the last few weeks has been equal parts fascinating and horrifying. With the exception of the ministers and MPs sent up to defend their partyâ€™s tactics in the Commons, I truly believe youâ€™d be hard-pressed to find any MPs, in any party, who arenâ€™t at least a little bit uncomfortable with this tactic, despite the fact that it really is, for all intents and purposes, the natural next step in the permanent campaign. After all, with the majority having removed the conveniently constant threat of an Unnecessary and Expensive Electionâ„¢, the Conservative party needs something to keep itself occupied. This, at least, is something â€” so why not do this? Well, other than that it may very well hobble their efforts to actually win the very-much-still-occupied seat in question, as this is the sort of tactic that goes over like gangbusters in the war room, only to plummet like a titanium zeppelin among normal human beings, including, very possibly, the good folk of Mount Royal.
SR: Well if there are government MPs who feel uncomfortable theyâ€™re doing a helluva job of concealing their objections. John Williamson and Peter Van Loan have mounted arguments in defence of this practice that are so weak they defy satire. This may be the first time in his life that itâ€™s actually difficult to make fun of PVL.
KOâ€™M: This is, it seems, another example of how the government â€” or, in this case, the governing party â€” just canâ€™t seem to get its head around the notion that it has a majority. It can relax, kick back, maybe drop the constant plotting and scheming and enjoy the break, although the very notion of doing so would seem to be incomprehensible to the permanent campaigners â€” a good number of whom, it seems, are still hanging around The Centre.
SR: Pundits keep making this point: Harper has his majority. He can afford to lay down his sword and be a bit gracious. But they miss a fundamental and simple insight. He doesnâ€™t want to.
AP: If we really are in a race to the bottom, politically, how do we stop it? When youâ€™re in an arms race, no amount of moralizing about the evils of WMDs is going to stop the up-gunning of the combatants. So we need some sort of arms-limitation treaty to force everyone to turn their nukes into noodles. Are there institutional constraints or legal fixes we can implement to improve the situation?
KOâ€™M: Sure: Parliament could address this particular tactic by making it an offence to make false or misleading claims about byelections, or, more generally, amend the Elections Act to impose spending limits outside the writ. Iâ€™ll just be over here holding my breath.
SR: Get real people! You donâ€™t stop it. Surely the lesson of modern life is that standards get progressively lowered, not raised. Weâ€™ll see some changes when Harper is eventually replaced because ill-motivated character will always be an argument against his tenure. Consequently, a new government will have to show some symbolic differences. There may also be a change in political philosophies when people inevitably defeat the Rovian school. But in the main, the cultural degradation will remain. Call me a pessimist. Cuz Iâ€™m a pessimist.