It would appear that Dion has begun to lay down a narrative of sorts. One that is aimed at showing the real Stephen Harper to Canadians and where he wants to take this country.
The Conservative party's battle with Elections Canada has spawned a Liberal campaign theme that will ask voters to consider whether they want a government that is willing to destroy long-standing public trust in non-partisan federal institutions.
It may seem counterintuitive to accuse Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the head of government, of purposely undermining the state.
But that is the conclusion the Liberals have come to from the government's determination to get the upper hand in disputes with Elections Canada, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and other independent agencies, even if individual and institutional reputations are ruined in the process.
I don't frankly believe that the dispute with Elections Canada spawned this idea and anyone who has followed Harper would hardly see this observation as counterintuitive, but I am grateful to see this presented in plain language by this reporter for those Canadians who haven't followed him.
I think the narrative is an important one.
Harper has spent a great deal of time hiding what his intentions are and simultaneously creating a simple story to explain complex and devious moves. Sometimes the stories simply omit the truth, sometimes they are blatant lies and often, they tell their story by projecting.
Take the recent dismantling of CAIRS. When questioned by Dion in QP, this is what Harper had to say:
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, we do wider access to information than ever before.
The previous government created a centralized registry in order to control the flow of information. It was deemed expensive and it was deemed to slow down the access to information. That is why this government got rid of it. I am not surprised the hon. member likes a centralized system.
He is and continues to be a centralizer.
His minions continue to say this outside the House.
CAIRS of course was brought in by Mulroney, not the Lib's let alone Martin. Whatever it's original intent, it ended up being useful to researchers, journalists and advocates alike who sought information from this tightfisted government as it relates to information.
That is one small example but the pattern is clear. They make a change, dismiss it as trivial and accuse the opposition of over-blowing things. Dion and his team have a chance now to clarify the seriousness of what is going on. That is if Dion and his team are afforded media attention like this article, that actually states fact to corroborate what the Lib's are saying, throughout the upcoming summer.
Since Harper won a minority government in the winter of 2006, there have been at least 15 firings, resignations, shutdowns and showdowns with federal watchdogs, advisory bodies and government agencies.
Among them are the Elections Canada fight, the firing of the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the top two officials of the Canadian Wheat Board, the shutdown of the Law Commission of Canada, and the resignation of the chair and advisory panel of the Immigration and Refugee Board.
Several senior environmental and scientific positions were eliminated and several officers of parliament - the ethics commissioner, the chief electoral officer and the information commissioner - retired after high profile run-ins with Harper's government.
In addition, Auditor general Sheila Fraser recently exposed a government plan to require her agency and other officers of Parliament to vet their communications through the prime minister's office. The government appears to have realized this is a step too far and backed down.
The narrative must be developed thoughtfully and succinctly and not rely on the scary mantra of the past, (though it was accurate). Most Canadians are unfamiliar with Harper's ideology and to explain it in a sound bite is no easy task. To that end, having credible people from outside the political spectrum singing from the same song sheet will be important.
Historian Dimitry Anastakis of Ontario's Trent University says it's a pattern that should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched Harper's career.
"Harper cannot shake his Reform party roots which have always been so suspicious of Ottawa, so suspicious of anything that comes from the state," Anastakis said in an interview.
While this article speaks to specific institutions, Harper's ideology has and will continue to reach beyond them. Dion has an opportunity to clearly outline the difference between a country led by him and a country changed by Harper. The choice of government goes to an individual's preferred way of life and how a government can assist them in achieving that, or not. Think Kelowna Accord and the childcare program. Think of the Status of Women program, the Court Challenges program and Arts tax credit and the voices that would endorse their need.
Whether or not those specific programs are what the Lib's intend to focus on is not the issue. Realising just how many voices, independent of the political realm, are out there and would no doubt confirm the observations made by Dion, brings optimism to the plan.
Who does Harper have speaking out for him outside of his base? Right-wing think tanks, tax payer associations, big oil, climate change deniers, some media outlets, lol. Not exactly the common man. Ironic isn't it?
This narrative has the potential to be a really good jumping off point for laying out policy if handled properly. I think we have the talent in the party to do this well and when you compare the Liberal benches to the Con's....well, you can't really can you?
That's not to dismiss the back room, gutter politics, gurus on the right, but my sense is that most people are fed up with that nonsense. Their nastiness will be particularly stark under the spotlight of an election.
I'm betting on the truth being the stronger force.