Harper's earthquake threat a tried and true pre-election ploy
Posted by Allan Woods, Ottawa Bureau
For some, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's attempt Tuesday to use the catastrophic earthquake and nuclear crisis in Japan -- particularly the resulting threats to the global economy -- as a reason for the opposition to stop their election threats struck the wrong chord.
"What it shows is a person who is prepared to clutch and grab at anything, even a tragedy of this magnitude, and use it for his own crass political purposes," Liberal House Leader David McGuinty told Postmedia news in reaction.
But it's neither the first time nor will it likely be the last time that a government forecasts the armageddon that will follow from its defeat in the House of Commons.
Ahead of the fall 2008 campaign, Harper took the initiative and called his own election, arguing that the bitter divide between the government and opposition parties had left Parliament at an impasse.
The 2006 campaign that brought Harper's Conservatives to power was the last time a government was outright defeated by the opposition.
Then as now, Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin said the defeat of his minority government would jeopardize the so-called Kelowna Accord, an agreement between the federal, provincial and territorial governments, as well as aboriginal leaders, to improve the lot of Canada's native population.
Also in jeopardy, a pleading Martin said, were federal commitments to create a national childcare program, legislation to cut down on gun crime in Toronto and an international summit in Montreal on the environment dealing with the next phase of the Kyoto Accord to cut greenhose gas emissions (a campaigning Liberal leader eventually staged his own election stunt when he publicly rebuked the United States for doing too little to protect the environment).
Of course, many of those intiatives were actually shelved when Harper's Tories won the eight-week election in January 2006. Rightly or wrongly, every party has its own priorities.
But for those who may have taken the Prime Minister's comments at face value would be wise to heed the past warning of former Harper cabinet minister back in November 2005, just a few weeks before the campaign that brought the Conservatives to power.
"This is just more of their fear-mongering, that old, faithful, reliable tactic that they use every election campaign," said Monte Solberg, then the opposition finance critic.
He went on to warn that the Liberals were likely to delay until such time as they could present a fiscal update to the House of Commons and pack it with election-type promises.
"I wouldn't be one bit surprised if they try to campaign hard with the public treasury."
In many ways it is a similar situation to today's pre-election period. On Tuesday the Tories invoked arcane parliamentary tactics that will give them enough time to present their budget next Tuesday. In the meantime, the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers and rarely-heard-from backbench Tory MPs flood the country with spending commitments.