Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cabin Fever in Canadian politics

You can see the sun set later each day and you itch to go out. Cabin fever—being shut up in a small place for too long—generates restlessness, irritability, forgetfulness and distrust of others. It makes logical thinking difficult and can drive you out into the killing cold. Cabin fever is consuming Ottawa.
There isn’t a hint that the capital’s political leaders and their followers are equipping themselves to break the layers of ice that trap partisan and national ambitions in Canada. Yet, everyday they inch us closer to a $300 million election—to shake hands, to hustle and to walk the streets of anywhere but Ottawa.
Yet political activists are inching themselves in all sorts of directions most of the time. The clues, indeed, may not be clues that anything will happen.
For instance, it’s conventional wisdom that Conservatives are running negative advertisements to get the edge going into a spring election. The latest clue was an “Urgent” fund-raising letter to raise money they don’t need to pay for more advertising. Click on: 
A string of recent polls that place Harper in a strong lead are, allegedly, further evidence that there will be an election.
All three clues, however, make equally compelling sense of Harper’s public preference to not have an election this spring. The only way to keep a minority government going is to maintain high enough polling numbers to discourage the opposition. As former US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld said elsewhere in a different contest: “Weakness is provocative.” With a 10% to 15% polling lead on the Liberal opposition, logically, Harper has secured political peace.
Excellent planning and thorough pre-campaign preparation doesn’t necessarily lead to an election. Plans are designed to sit on shelves as well as inform action. A dumb election, like a dumb war, still requires a dumb decision.
For Conservative watchers, there was one interesting clue in the fundraising letter: “Ignatieff would weaken our borders. . .”  Are the Conservatives thinking about selling the perimeter negotiations with Obama as part of a larger campaign on immigration, refugees and law and order, rather than primarily a measure to enhance access to the US?
For Liberals to ponder: What if Ignatieff’s sinking leadership numbers have little to do with the Conservative’s stale attack commercials? Is it possible that after being tested as a Canadian political star for 6 years and Liberal leader for 2 he can’t win and that his leadership, not framing the ballot issue, should be on their agenda?
Is the cabin fever in Ottawa only going to perpetuate the status quo?

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