Tuesday, February 27, 2007

PMs HOUSE ATTACK AIMS TO WIN OVER SIKHS

Most political observers were shaking their heads when Prime Minister Stephen Harper attacked newly minted Liberal Member of Parliament Navdeep Bains. How low could the prime minister go, railed opposition members. The prime minister had viscerally demonstrated to what depths he was willing to sink in search of the almighty vote. Mounting calls for an apology went unheeded as Harper laid the ground for a new debate on the terror bill. Harper succeeded in setting a trap that everyone fell into.
The anti-terror debate was about extending unused provisions of a bill, which could present an abuse of power. Syrian treatment of Maher Arar and the current Chinese incarceration of Canadian Huseyin Celil have raised questions about the treatment of Canadian citizens in a post-9/11 security climate -- and the extension of the anti-terror laws reinforced those concerns.
When the previous Liberal government introduced anti-terror limitations, a five-year sunset clause was included to guarantee a review of dubious legal remedies, including preventative arrests. In extending those legal provisions, Harper could have run the risk of appearing too close to George W. Bush. Instead, the debate is all about the Liberals. By throwing the House into turmoil, the prime minister muddied the waters by casting Liberals in the role of protecting terrorists. His House attack was consistent with an ongoing campaign to portray the Conservatives as a law and order party that will protect Canadians at home and abroad, reinforcing expected Tory themes for the next election.
If, in the process, Harper promotes the image of Opposition Leader Stephane Dion as weak, that too meets Harper's political objectives. Exaggerated reports of Liberal party splits on the terror bill were designed to do just that. Dion was already under attack by negative Tory advertising before the prime minister tried to link him to terrorism.

NEWS STORY
Harper claims he was only repeating the contents of a published news story by Kim Bolan, an award-winning Vancouver Sun journalist, who last year penned the definitive Air India story entitled Loss of Faith: How the Air India Bombers Got Away with Murder. Last week she wrote a story claiming a relative of Bains was on the interviewee list for a potential Air India follow-up. She also linked Bains to a block of 250 Grit leadership votes that went to Dion via Gerard Kennedy. (That vote block was actually split between Sikhs and Muslims.)
Harper immediately picked up on the story, attacking the Liberals as soft on crime and terror. As his negative Dion ads showed, Harper is willing to run the gauntlet in return for future electoral gains. He is banking on the fact that most Canadians consider this odious approach a normal part of the rough-and-tumble of politics. Harper is also working hard to gain Sikh support in the lead up to a tight federal election.
The Sikh community is probably the most politically active minority group in the country. Like any other group, their views are not homogeneous. They run the political spectrum from those who support separation from India to those who don't. In the past decade, the number of Sikhs supporting separation -- which was at the root of the Air India bombings -- has waned dramatically as their attention focuses on Canadian politics. With six Sikh MPs, from a community estimated at 278,000, they had sufficient influence in the last Liberal leadership to help determine the outcome. Sikhs also hold the balance of power in up to a dozen ridings across Canada.
Harper managed to cobble together his first minority with some Sikh support drawn largely from gay marriage opponents. He needs to do everything possible to build on that support since, historically and in current Parliamentary representation, Sikhs are generally Liberal voters. Harper's antics this week were deliberately aimed at consolidating a fragile Sikh coalition. By tying Liberals to a failed Air India inquiry, Harper hopes to get the Sikh majority behind his party. Ironically, current inquiry problems are actually linked to a resistance by some government agencies to release pertinent documents.

POPULARITY DECLINING
Harper's antics could galvanize the entire community against him. Despite the recent polling frenzy, Conservatives are still less popular than when they formed a minority government. They have a long way to go to reach a majority. Consolidation comes before growth. This week's ugly performance in the House was a deliberate, albeit risky, attempt at consolidation.
Shiela Copps
Edmonton Sun

27 comments:

Sapanjot Behar said...

Mr. Harper is losing ground fast and he knows it. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

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