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July 22, 2010

The next federal election

Reuel S. Amdur

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That distinguished American philosopher Yogi Berra put it well when he said, "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." Nevertheless, I propose to look at some possible future scenarios on the Canadian political scene. What is likely to happen in the next federal election?

Usually, domestic issues dominate campaigns that resonate with the voters.

This time it may be different.  Bob Rae raised the issue of the scheduled troop pullout from Afghanistan by the end of 2011.  He thinks that there is still a role for some Canadian soldiers after that, albeit in more of a mentoring role.

Then Michael Ignatieff chimed in, in agreement.  Well, Stephen Harper, militarist that he is, also happens to be exceptionally wily.  He was firm: December 31, 2011 is the end of the mission. 

As the anti-war crowd would have it, “Support our troops! Bring them home.”  Or, as Harper himself  has expressed it in taunting his friends on benches opposite in the House, “Cut and run.”

Whether Ignatieff is still the leader in the next campaign or whether Rae is by then able to take the reins, the Liberal leader will be trying to sell continuation of a war that is becoming more unpopular, trying to change public opinion after Canadians have been promised the pullout. 

Whoever he is, the Liberal will be trying to walk on water wearing lead boots.  Harper then becomes the pacifist!  If he can’t pull off a majority government with those aces in his hand, then a Tory majority is simply unattainable, at least with Harper as leader. 

Let us suppose that, indeed, Harper the dove does not quite get his majority.  The issue is what happens then. 

Last time around, the combined opposition had the numbers to defeat the Tories by forming a Liberal-NDP coalition with Bloc Québécois support.

However, Harper called a cooling-off with his prorogation, and when it was over Michael Ignatieff proceeded to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Could he, or Rae, now have a second chance? 

The Cameron-Clegg coalition in Britain, after all, gives coalitions somewhat more of a positive twist compared to the unpopularity of the proposed coalition that Ignatieff abandoned. 

Can you picture a Liberal-NDP coalition which would keep Canadian troops in Afghanistan? 

The NDP position is that troops should leave but that development personnel should continue to assist the country. 

Realistic or not as the NDP position may be, it would take a good deal of ambiguity construction to build a Liberal-NDP coalition in the face of their differences on next steps in Afghanistan. 

In the highly unlikely event of a Liberal minority government, the NDP might play the game that they currently play, threatening the bring down the government except when such action might succeed and playing their hand openly to get some kind of concession from the government in return.

Paradoxically, as with Cameron-Clegg as a precedent, might we see a Tory-NDP coalition around next steps in Afghanistan? 

Not likely, because of the weight of domestic policy differences, but not totally unthinkable. 

The most likely scenarios next time around appear to be either a Tory majority or another Tory minority government, thanks to Liberal second thoughts about withdrawing from Afghanistan.

Events could still overtake both the Liberal and NDP positions.  In spite of all the NATO forces in Afghanistan trying to prop up a corrupt and reactionary government, that government might simply collapse, or it might negotiate a settlement with the Taliban and the warlords.  Alternatively, the Taliban might retake the country.  Any such dénouement would make a future Canadian presence dubious.

Even if Karzai manages to remain in place, the pretended reasons for NATO troop presence are full of holes. 

It has been argued that foreign troops are there to insure democracy, while warlords call the shots in much of the country and play a key role in government. 

It has also been said that we are there to protect women’s rights.  While it is true that many girls are going to school, as they could not under the Taliban, girls and women are imprisoned for such serious offenses as disobeying husbands and fathers. 

For example, very young girls who flee arranged marriages to old men are jailed.  As well, the government passed a law forbidding Shiite women from leaving the house without the husband’s permission or refusing sex at his command. 

Finally, the issue arises as to why Canadian troops are in Afghanistan in the first place. 

The United States gave support to al-Qaeda and the Taliban to drive out the Communists.  They were successful.  Then al-Qaeda upped the ante and bit the hand that fed it.  So the United States attacked and suckered Canada and other nations into joining them. 

While Harper is now prepared to “cut and run,” the Liberals are not.

The next election may well take its toll on the Liberal Party.  If Ignatieff is the leader going in, he probably will not be coming out.  And if Harper does not get his majority, he may also be gone before the following election. 

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