Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Harper Out to Crush Liberal Party

Tom Flanagan reveals a key piece in Harper's election puzzle

Stephen Harper insists that his intent to call an election is not for partisan gain.

How could it be? The Conservatives and Liberals remain statistically tied in the polls, and another minority government -- be it Liberal or Conservative -- remains a near certainty.

Harper has also indulged himself in some intellectually dishonest excuse making for his relentless push to call an election before 2008 finally writes itself into the history books, but his true intent remains something of an enigma.

The alleged need for a renewed mandate does indeed make a lot of sense. Then again, so do the clues offered today by University of Calgary political scientist (and former Harper adviser) Tom Flanagan.

Namely, that Harper is out to score another TKO over his Liberal rivals.

“I don't think Harper has to be thinking about a majority at all,” Flanagan told the Globe and Mail. "Strategically, this is sort of a prolonged war of attrition.”

Flanagan historically divides Harper's ongoing battle with the Liberals into three acts: act one took place in 2004, when Harper rendered Paul Martin's inherited majority government into a minority. In 2006, Harper won a minority government in act two. Now, in 2008, Harper thinks he's ready for act three.

Of course, the third act is the one that really matters. Few people remember acts one and two. But everyone remembers act three.

As such, Harper has only one option: victory.

“You can fight a war with some objective less than total victory,” Flanagan said.

Of course, a victory in an upcoming federal election will almost certainly represent significantly less than total victory. It certainly won't destroy the Liberal party, but it will give the numerous Liberals who want to dump Stephane Dion an excellent opportunity to do so.

Such a victory "would be enough to throw the Liberals into turmoil and give Harper ... a virtually free hand in Parliament for quite a while and really handicap his main opponent.”

Much of this holds true. After all, the Conservative government was at its most effective when the Liberal party was leaderless in the commons. Even though replacing Dion will almost certainly pave the way for a stronger leader -- likely Michael Ignatieff or Bob Rae -- the Conservatives would have a much easier time in the Commons.

Not that this is a reasonable excuse to trample his own fixed election date legislation.

But a desire to utterly crush the Liberal party seems to underly many of Harper's move. Consider the promised lawsuit against the Liberal party for the excesses of the Sponsorship Scandal. If the Liberal party were held responsible for all the funds stolen under Adscam, it would certainly be a significant setback for the cash-strapped party.

It would possibly even cripple the party in the long-term.

In fact, Harper has an often-disturbing proclivity for wanting his political opponents utterly destroyed.

Flanagan's musings about Harper's motivation should give many Canadians cause to think twice about Stephen Harper's leadership of the Conservative party -- and whether or not they're still comfortable with him leading the country.

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