Saturday, November 13, 2010

Afghanistan, Nick Clegg, the Red/Blue Coalition & Norman Spector

Norman Spector makes some interesting observations about Conservative-Liberal collusion regarding the war in Afghanistan. He reviews some of the political history behind Canada's war effort and concludes that our Conservative and Liberal leaders have tried and succeeded to keep the decisions they've made regarding the war out of the light of public scrutiny. Not only has secrecy prevailed, but public statements made by our Leaders has amounted to little more than lieing. Now Stephen Harper wants to backtrack on his commitment to bring our troops home in 2011. Spector, and indeed the Globe & Mail, are calling Harper out on this notion that Canadian troops are going to play a "training" role only, safe and secure behind barbed wire fences, leading to a significant reduction in casualties. This despite the fact that Afghan forces have been at war almost constantly since 1979 and likely need little in the way of training from Canadian soldiers.

What's interesting about Spector's blogpost is that he doesn't stay in Afghanistan. He contrasts the current Conservative/Liberal collusion of secrecy with what's recently happened in the U.K. with regards to Nick Clegg's complete 180 degree change of heart on student tuition fees. Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats campaigned on eliminating tuition, and who signed a pledge to do so while trying to get students to vote for his Party, is now saying that tuition fees in the U.K. need to rise by a staggering 9,000 pounds (approx. $14,000) per year! Decisions like Cleggs, to completely reverse ones self, might spell his Party's political demise come the next election. Unlike the ruling Conservative/Liberal coalition in Canada, however, the situation in the U.K. for Liberal Democrats is a precarious one. While Canadians continue to let our politicians off the hook with their secrecy, subterfuge and lying, because this is happening mainly in the two ruling parties, the Lib-Dems in the U.K. can hardly an entrenched party. I suspect that Clegg and the Lib-Dems will be villified at the polls in the next election for their role in austerity measures which they opposed while campaigning. Essentially, by promising one thing and doing another, the Lib-Dems will be toast. Perhaps something could still be salvaged if they eventually step out of their formal coalition with the Cons, or perhaps with a change in leadership.

In Canada, we can only hope that the electorate wants to punish the ruling coaltion. Opinion polls here, however, show it's not likely to happen. That's because in Canada, the media continues to portray third parties as not ready for prime time (much as it did in Britain by ignoring the Lib-Dems, who are now a part of government…having said that, their recent actions, as noted above, may be an argument for not taking that Party seriously any longer).

What the media fails to acknowledge, however, is how the Liberals have continued to prop up the Conservative government in what can only be described as a coaltion situation. While not a formal partnership as exists in Britain, there's no question that without the support of the Liberals in parliament, the Conservatives would not have been able to succeed with their new initiatives. By putting important legislation in budget bills (even when that legislation has no business being in a budget bill) and daring the Liberals to vote them down, the Liberals have responded with their support, and claim that they were forced to do so because Canadians haven't been ready for an election. This charade continues.

It's good to see Spector and the Globe & Mail starting to call out the Red/Blue coalition on Afghanistan. Maybe this will prove to be the start of a bigger trend. Recent polling from earlier in the week show the NDP's numbers starting to rise (this week's EKOS poll has them at over 19%). The NDP have always taken a dramatically different approach to Afghanistan than the Liberals and Conservatives have. I believe that they may be able to use Liberal/Conservative backtracking as a wedge issue to increase their support, as a majority of Canadians now are in opposition to the war, and have been looking forward to bringing our troops home in 2011.

Despite polling which shows voter complacency here in Canada, I really think that Canadians are going to have an adverse reaction to the Red/Blue coalitions collusion on Afghanistan. There is already a pervasive sense out there that politicians who say one thing and do another (like Clegg; and now, like Harper, McKay, Ignatieff and Rae) should be ousted. Can the NDP, Bloc and Green Party capitalize on this growing dissent? That's the question. I believe that the answer is likely to be "yes", and expect to see some changes in the polls over the next few weeks, especially if the mainstream media remains engaged on this issue.

The NDP, however, if they are to enter into any formal coalition agreement with the Liberals, would best keep in mind Nick Clegg and the Lib-Dems. The Green Party, if we are to win any seats in the House in the next election, should carefully consider all options before making any pronouncements, even if it finds itself in a balance of power situation as the Greens recently did in Australia.

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