Monday, November 14, 2005

You've got to know when to hold 'em

Know when to fold 'em....

Paul Martin gave his political opposition a clinic today in federal politics.

Now, I have no love for Martin, but I have to admit, he is one hell of a poker player. He also knows how to read a poll.

Martin rejected opposition plans for a motion on a federal election in January and simply tossed the monkey right onto the backs of Stephen Harper, Jack Layton and their pet poodle from the Bloc Quebecois. With a simple "NO", he put the onus for an election nobody wants right into the laps of Harper's Conservatives and Layton's NDP. (The BQ continue to yap like a terrier standing next to a tolerant St. Bernard). Then Martin and his Minister of Finance handed Canadians another mid-term budget with yet another surplus that is yet again higher than the original budget forecast. And, as in the lead up to every election since the dawn of the Canadian Pacific Railway, he has produced large tax cuts, all of which fly in the face of the deal he had previously made with the NDP. He also found support from the Metis and aboriginal community who are begging not to have an election before the next First Ministers' conference scheduled for the new year.

Martin knows full well that Canadians dread the thought of a mid-winter election and could possibly produce a worse voter turnout than the last election which, at 60 percent participation, was the worst attendance at the ballot-box in Canadian history. He is gambling on two things:
1) That the opposition knows the feelings of Canadians and fear punishment at the polls, thus quelling the political sabre rattling until after the new year;
2) That IF the opposition is foolish enough to table a motion of non-confidence during one of the upcoming Opposition Days, that Canadians will indeed punish those who ruined their festive holiday season with what will be an acrimonious election campaign of at least 36 days.

Martin, who knows that he needs time to build his support in Quebec, says he will call a federal election within 30 days of the 2nd half of the Gomery Inquiry report being issued. Phase 1 dealt with "Who did what"; Phase 2 is recommendations on how to change government to make it more accountable, responsible and responsive. Martin's plan is to campaign on those recommendations with a view to implementing them all; something Stephen Harper wants to cut off before Phase 2 Gomery is issued.

Harper has presented his own plan for government accountability. Essentially, it is likely very similar to that which Mr. Justice Gomery will produce. After all, after detailing the problems with the Sponsorship Scandal, the fixes are relatively straight forward and Canadians won't be in the mood to accept anything except easily followed paper-trails in government use of taxpayers' money. He wants to get to the polls before Gomery II hits the streets and literally scoops him. He's willing to force a Christmas election campaign but he also knows that, if Canadians grow angry (as they likely will), he can claim he had lost confidence in the Liberal government months ago and was only performing his role as leader of HM Loyal Opposition in a perpetual attempt to bring down the government. If the government falls before Christmas you can rest assured that he will blame the NDP for a mid-winter campaign.

Layton, who thought he was in control of Parliament with his 19 NDP seats had his bluff called and is now in the unenviable position of either handing Canadians a Christmas election campaign (and taking the electoral punishment) or being forced into accepting Martin's terms for a likely Spring election. In short, he has been backed into a corner: He can exercise his control and take a possible hit from the electorate, or he can back off and accept the fact that his party has less influence than he believed (and possibly suffer at the hands of his own party).

Of course, if the opposition as a whole believe they can actually work together and form government (when pigs fly) Stephen Harper can go to the Governor General and tell her that he is prepared to do so. If the GG believes it possible she could quite legally appoint PM and cabinet from the opposition. Don't count on this ever happenning. Harper knows that he could never work with the NDP and the BQ is interested only in a Quebec agenda. (Interestingly, this scenario would severely test the Governor General).

In any case, none of us sitting on the fringes know the outcome. This is high stakes Texas Hold 'Em. The antes are in, the small blind and big blind have been posted, everyone has two cards down, the flop and the turn are on the table and we're waiting for the river; the final card.

We'll have to wait and see who's bluffing, but Martin is now showing something of himself we do not often see: guts.


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