Harper may have to break own law for early election

CanWest News Service
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The prime minister's greatest regret is an old bone casually tossed to the Reform right to prove Stephen Harper was still on their ideological wavelength.
A fixed election date seemed so meaningless when it was carved into legislation during the Conservatives' first months in power.
Harper undoubtedly measured his minority government's lifespan in single-digit months and, at several points, it seemed a writ drop was mere days away.
But, having tried every self-extermination tactic available to a minority government, including stomping hard on the sacred Liberal ground of immigration changes, Harper now faces the possibility he'll have to break his own law in order to get an early election.
Harper might, his whip Jay Hill now allows, drag Canadians to the polls before the legislated October 2009 date if Parliament's committees continue to lurch into total paralysis.
Rereading the legislation does not reveal loopholes allowing the government to put in a fix against its own fixed election date. There's nothing that grants self-designated dysfunctionality an exemption from the law.
Besides, it's a tad rich, given it's the Conservative MPs who are obstructing committee business using tactics from the party's secret guidebook. Environment committee chair Bob Mills didn't just follow the guidebook at Wednesday's meeting, he read a big chunk of it verbatim.
That committee quickly degenerated into a full-fledged publicity stunt with students toting sleeping bags and publicity-hungry, bonnet-sporting, off-key-singing Raging Grannies seizing the spotlight.
They're all knicker-knotted about Conservative MP foot-dragging, now at 17 hours and rising, to obstruct a New Democrat motion demanding Canada meet its Kyoto obligations. Why they need the delay is beyond me because the PMO will ignore this motion's directive in any event.
But, such is the state of parliamentary logic that a government which deliberately thwarted committee business is threatening an election because committee business is being thwarted. My head hurts.
The more likely outcome of this mess is that the government will have to live with the sad fact that there is nothing it can propose that won't be dodged by Liberals trying to avoid an election.
"I will choose my time keeping in my mind the necessity to give to Canadians in an optimal situation, the possibility to have a progressive Liberal government that will replace this bad bill by a good law and that will replace this bad government by a good government," stammered Liberal Leader Stephane Dion on Wednesday. Um, well, you figure that out.
The resigned acceptance of a delayed election is everywhere, manifested in random sights like Winnipeg MP Bill Blaikie, now approaching 29 years of continuous and commendable service, shuffling up Parliament Hill this week. "I just wish I hadn't announced my retirement a year ago," he mused.
Chairmen of two of the sabotaged committees -Alberta MPs Art Hanger and Bob Mills - also flagged their retirement plans long ago and want out.
And it's an open secret at least one cabinet minister - International Trade Minister David Emerson - won't seek re-election and is itching to return to making millions in the private sector.
Even the prime minister has signalled he's given up by reluctantly calling a conference this fall to seek fresh inspiration for a government with short-term minority ideas apparently forced to live a full majority term.
There's a bit of urgency behind the Conservatives' election desire, beyond the trembling economic picture in Ontario.
The lease on the Conservatives' fully armed war room in Ottawa is up in June after being on standby for almost two years. It can and will be renewed, but it's still a costly mothballing and illustrates the fact this party's state of eager readiness is passing its best-before date.
The party's fundraising machine has been revving so high for so long that even MPs are complaining their prized donors are being bombarded with too many fundraising calls amid excessive arm-twisting for prime election sign locations.
There's something improper when a government's justification for breaking its own election law may require it to induce a parliamentary paralysis.
Still, when the Raging Grannies start singing the blues, it's the sign of a Parliament facing its swan song.

Don Martin writes for the CanWest News Service

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