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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Tactics and strategy

I have no problem with the tactics now being used by the Conservatives and Bloc, adjourning the House whenever they feel like it. Forget a recognized confidence motion - if you don't have the confidence of the House, you can't govern. The opposition has found precisely the right tool to demonstrate that fact.

But what of the optics? This tactic invites a criticism, employed by both the Prime Minister and Mr. Layton, that the Bloc/Tory opposition coalition is somehow frustrating the normal functioning of the House, that Canadians expect the work of government to continue. Perhaps the B/T members are lazy and shiftless, wanting to spend a sunny spring afternoon contemplating the flow of the Rideau, while honest, hard-working Canadians are putting in a regular day's work.

It's a disingenuous criticism. There have probably been few moments when members of the House of Commons have worked harder. Admittedly, they're working toward a budget vote, perhaps doing as much pre-election campaigning as can be managed from Ottawa, but I expect there are very few MPs who didn't have something more pressing to do than waste a day in a non-functioning House of Commons.

And yet, the criticism dovetails with the cynicism voters have about the functioning of government. Unless you're a huge fan of CPAC, likely your image of the work of the House is informed mostly by clips of Question Period playing on the evening news - the part of the process where the most drama, and by far the least productive work, occurs. And even if you watched the House every moment it sat, it would seem like long stretches of boredom once QP is over - and the room is normally half-empty or more. Childish, lazy and shiftless - isn't it obvious?

Both the adjournments, and the Liberal and NDP spin on the adjournments, are excellent tactics - everyone is playing the game hard and smart. But it's all lousy strategy, because they're feeding the cynicism voters feel about politics as a whole. It's not fair, and it's not right - overwhelmingly, the people we dismiss as "politicians" are sacrificing time and money to do work they think is important, and while I often find themselves at odds with their political leanings, I sincerely believe that their convictions are based on a desire to do right by their constituents and Canadians as a whole. Witness David Kilgour, a man I often find myself disagreeing with. He's in a situation right now where his vote may make or break the government, and he's put a price on that vote: more Canadian troops to prevent genocide in Darfur. Tell me that's the bargain of the greedy, slick, lazy "politicians" that live in the electorate's collective head.

I don't blame the opposition for taking the steps they are. I would expect the government to fight just as hard and well. But both sides need to find tactics that don't engender disrespect for the institution, and all the members thereof.

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