Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Conservatives Have Made Themselves Look Stupid

Committee obstruction manual nothing short of boneheaded

The Conservative party sustained a serious black eye this week, with the leak of a handbook distributed to Conservative committee chairpersons showing them how to manipulate and obstruct the activities of those committees.

The leak comes in the midst of a firestorm regarding the disintigration of the committee on Official Languages, and sustained pressure applied on the government over the Afghan detainees issue.

And while the opposition parties have engaged in their own share of obstructionism -- especially in the Liberal-dominated Senate -- this incident only proves that the Conservatives have not been above petty partisanship.

Naturally, the opposition jumped all over the document. Liberal house leader Ralph Goodale cited it as evidence that "the government's deliberate plan is to cause a dysfunctional, chaotic parliament."

And while the Liberals have done more than enough themselves to cause the notably chippy environment on Parliament Hill, the fact is that the Conservatives have been caught red-handed doing something that every minority government in Canada does -- although most of them are smart enough not to write it down.

Frankly, the Conservatives seem to have forgotten what they were elected to do -- namely, to govern. It's the government's responsibility -- especially in a minority parliament -- to make the best effort it possibly can to govern, and let the opposition parties try to obstruct the political process.

Even many Conservatives are admitting that the Tory government is "running on fumes". It has finally met its first five priorities, as laid out in January 2006: passing the Accountability Act, cutting the GST, introducing new crime legislation, the child care tax credit, and the health care wait times guarantee.

Now, it needs new ideas. To make matters worse for them, the Tories have found their stock of political and moral capital being slowly drained by a number of unforeseen events -- the leak of this "obstruction handbook" is only the latest of them.

With poll numbers beginning to slide, the Conservatives desperately need to recapture the trust of Canadians. They've already done this twice before, and can do it again, but the shenanigans need to stop.

Among the party's most grievous needs? A lesson in political crisis management, less partisanship regarding the war in Afghanistan, and a credible policy alternative to the court challenges program.

Fortunately, the Conservatives have caught a break with this one, as this story has only broken as parliament has entered its summer break. By the time MPs return to Ottawa, this little scandal will have faded in memory enough for the Tories to get on with governing.

But before they'll be able to do that, they'll need to get their own house in order, and that will take some hard work.

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