Saturday, October 13, 2007

Shrewd, But Not a Death Knell

In Don Martin's well written article this morning, he refers to Harper's latest move as being not only shrewd, but:

... by filling the chair slot with John Manley, the deputy prime minister who supervised the Afghanistan mission launch under the Chretien Liberals, well, that elevates the announcement into the strategic realm of evil genius.

In reading the article, you can practically hear Martin giggling with delight at how our crafty PM outsmarted the Lib's. Indeed, he makes some good points, but I do not think his conclusions are quite as airtight as he makes out.

For instance:

Yes, yes, there are other members, including, perish the thought, former television personality Pam Wallin.

But this will likely be called The Manley Report when it's released in five months and that puts its recommendations under a Liberal flag that current Liberal leader Stephane Dion will find difficult, if not impossible, to refute.

Aside from the fact that both Harper and Manley insisted that this was above partisan politics, having Manley at the head of the committee does not make it a Liberal Report and I suspect the 3 prominent Con's would take exception to that. Good spin though. Furthermore, since when does a committee, made up of non-parliamentarians dictate policy to a particular Party?

And that means it cannot be casually shrugged off by the Official Opposition as Conservatives goosestepping in policy lockstep with U.S. President George W. Bush.

He has a point, but I seem to recall Manley giving advice to Paul Martin about the U.S. and Bush. He correctly stated the importance of the relationship, but then said that Martin should join the BMD system. Manley may be a Liberal, but he doesn't exactly represent it's current policy and indeed is quite well known to be on the right of the spectrum.

With this single masterstroke, Afghanistan has ceased to be a point of confrontation in the Commons this fall, it has been eliminated as an explosive issue in any fall election and it will ultimately provide a road-map for Harper's face-saving Afghanistan exit strategy with built-in independent, non-partisan credibility.

This assertion imo, is ridiculous. The Afghanistan mission continues and through unforeseen events, it will generate debate in the Commons. To suggest that it's off the table, a) assumes that a group of non-elected committee members hold more sway over this country's foreign affairs than parliamentarians. Accountability anyone?, and b) after trying to convince us that the committee and the report they will produce is Liberal, he suggests that Harper can hide behind independence and non-partisanship. Which is it?

He knows Afghanistan, having been there twice--five years ago and five months ago. His contacts run deep in humanitarian causes and people like author Rory Stewart, who walked across a Taliban-ravaged Afghanistan in 2002, told me he considers Mr. Manley a highly respected friend.

While I respect Rory Stewart and the fact that he considers Manley a friend, but I'm not sure that going to Afghanistan twice in 5 years gives him deep insight into the country, it's history, the tribal nature of various regions, etc. My hope is that he does seek out many experts on the region as most of them seem to suggest that the mission is not structured properly.
I sill maintain that had Harper truly wanted an objective panel to advise, it would have been comprised of people like Stewart, Sarah Chayes, Gwynne Dyer, etc.

That doesn't mean the Prime Minister didn't do his homework to ensure Mr. Manley's views were compatible with his own before extending the panel chair invitation.

This of course is the glaring weakness of the plan. It doesn't take much cramming to know exactly where Manley is coming from and how closely his views resemble Harper's. In fact, I suspect most Canadians will have a very good idea of Manley's views on the subject of Afghanistan and other policies currently held by the Lib's. Not that he's not entitled to disagree with the Party, but the more light he puts between himself and the Lib's, the less credible the term, non-partisan, becomes.

While Martin's article is compelling and a great read, it strikes me as an attempt to direct the narrative or, at the very least, filled with some wishful thinking.
Update: Steve has his own take.


Softtalk said...

"Furthermore, since when does a committee, made up of non-parliamentarians dictate policy to a particular Party?"
Ummm...Roy Romino's "Blue Ribbon Health Care Panel"? Oh wait, that was a Liberal plan so it must have been completely non-partisan.

knb said...

Gee, has Romanow's entire report been adopted?

Softtalk, it didn't dictate policy it was recommending policy, as will this report.

You've missed the point completely. Martin is asseting that Dion cannot refute any of it and will have to accept it as policy, which is nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Dodge around all you want. Mr. Harper made another shrewd political move. Until Liberals realise that he is not the devil incarnate they will lose support. He knows what he is doing, and it has been successful. Personally I am quite happy to see Liberals attack Mr. Harper for all the wrong reasons. It just exposes their lack of a clear and coherent strategy to oppose him.

George Bush has followed Mr. Harper's lead and meet with the Dalai Lama. Does that mean that he is now marching in lock-step behind Steve? Or are Liberals going to try and spin it that it was George's idea first? Nothing could be farther from the truth. So I assume that will be Liberal strategy.

Or will they both be demonised for meeting with the Dalai Lama because it upsets communist China? Liberalism, party always trumps principles!

Continuing to under-estimate Mr. Harper is hurting the Liberals. Please don't stop!!!

Anonymous said...

Continuing to under-estimate Mr. Harper is hurting the Liberals. Please don't stop!!!

I certainly don't underestimate Harper (btw it's one word) but I keep one overestimating the intelligence of his followers...

So far, I'm surprised by the level of stupidity in this country.

knb said...

Or will they both be demonised for meeting with the Dalai Lama because it upsets communist China?

You do remember that Martin met with him first don't you?

I have never underestimated Harper, to the contrary in fact.

If that's your take on this post, so be it.

Sean Cummings said...

This is what we do in Canada: we form committees of convenience (or inquiries)to act as a buffer when an explosive issue threatens the government of the day. We've seen it before with Gomery and the Somalia inquiry, Romanow and a host of others. It's the Canadian way.


It's not like any government is willing to take a principled stand on something and fight an election over it. (With the exception of Mulroney who fought an election on free trade.)

This is our THANG for cryin' out loud.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Harper is such a bully.


This is unfair!

knb said...

Perhaps there should be an age requirement to comment on blogs?

Kindergarten attendees often put forth profound observations, not so however in the case of anon con trolls.

Anonymous said...

Do you think it is easy to be Stephane Dion?

Waahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh I have been celebrated as a eerrrro.

My wife helps me with colours. I see only grey.

knb said...

Good grief, they are multiplying.

ottlib said...


Whenever the Conservatives experience an uptick in their fortunes the trolls always come out to gloat.

Don't worry, when the begin coming back to earth in the next week or two the trolls will disappear again.

knb said...

ottlib, thank you for some sanity.

Anonymous said...

This is so unfair!! Now even is using the picture of me shrugging and looking pathetic!

Do you think it is easy to look like a leader?!

Mr. Manley is the most influential opposition leader in a generation. I sm supposed to be the yeerro!!

sassy said...

Great post KNB. I was also over at Steve's - with the exception of the odd troll here and there, really intersting comments on both as well. It will be facinating to see here this plays itself.

Trolls: people who do not distinguish between positive attention (praise, approval) and negative attention (criticism, disapproval), but simply perceive attention = good. That is sad.

Someone should design and "PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS" button for blog sidebars.

knb said...

Thanks sassy...I couldn't agree more.

wilson said...

Good post knb.

knb said...

Thanks wilson. Are you feeling ok? ;)

Ryan said...

I don't think anyone here underestimates Harper. He knows what he wants to do, and has the will to do it.

We just don't want him to.

knb said...

Indeed Ryan. To be frank, I think the opposite is true, re' underestimating Harper.

That we are so clear on where he wants to go with this country, but just as clear on how he is trying to hide it, (or perhaps a better phrase would be ease it in), is evidence that we do not underestimate him.