Monday, October 23, 2006

They didn't see this coming?

The federal Liberals are all upset that Harper called two by-elections in the middle of their leadership convention. And, there is the fact that the city of London, Ont. is holding a mayoral election on 13 Nov.

The Liberals, and federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May have called the move by Harper "unfair and cynical".

The by-elections will be held Nov. 27 in the Ontario riding of London North Centre and the Montreal-area riding of Repentigny. The first became vacant when Liberal MP Joe Fontana resigned to run for mayor of London. The second has been vacant since the death of Bloc Quebecois MP Benoit Sauvageau.

The Liberals immediately accused Harper of political opportunism, a charge the Tories deny.
What did the Liberals expect?

Harper doesn't observe constitutional convention unless it suits him, and being that he has a political strategy formulated from the US Republican playbook, there isn't much chance that he would observe Canadian political tradition.

Constitutional convention is, unfortunately, unenforceable. Harper didn't have to call by-elections at all. His timing, despite anything Sandra Buckler says, is fully intended to throw the Liberals off-balance and provide the Conservative candidates in those two ridings with a shot at winning where they would not have stood a snowball's chance in hell of even placing a close second.

But, the Liberals should have seen this coming.

To have expected Harper to do the constitutionally conventional thing and wait for by-elections until after the Liberal leadership convention was concluded is, at the very least, mildly naive. Harper plays dirty and the Liberals should have been prepared for that. Add the fact that the Liberal leadership campaign has been labouriously long and nearly beyond the endurance of most Canadians. Had the Liberals just got on with it, there would be a leader in place by now.

While we're on the topic of constitutional convention, there is another thing the Liberals must wear in this decision. It was one of their own who concentrated so much power in the office of the Prime Minister. Prior to Pierre Trudeau a prime minister was a relative equal among the ministry and such a blatant violation of constitutional convention would have resulted in a summons of the prime minister to Rideau Hall. If the Governor General had been selected for constitutional savy and parliamentary consciousness instead of public recognition as a TV personality she might well have exercised her Reserve Powers and refused to draw up a writ for by-elections until there was a more appropriate electoral window.

As an aside, just so we're all clear, there really is no such office as the Prime Minister. Steve Harper is a member of parliament and the leader of the Reform Alliance Republican Conservative Party. The office of the Prime Minister, which employs the likes of Sandra Buckler, does not actually exist - except by constitutional convention.

I know... it's an interesting notion.

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