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Editorial cartoon by Anthony Jenkins (The Globe and Mail)
Editorial cartoon by Anthony Jenkins (The Globe and Mail)

Strategists panel

It's gonna get ugly as bell rings on prorogation Add to ...

W hat do you expect to see on the floor of the House of Commons when Parliament resumes after its forced Olympic holiday? Political insiders weigh in.

Leslie Campbell (former chief of staff for Audrey McLaughlin, and senior associate at the National Democratic Institute): Unfortunately, I think we're about to see more of the same petty partisanship, small mindedness and over-the-top histrionics when Parliament resumes. Prorogation and the Olympics gave no definitive political advantage to government or opposition. Polls remain deadlocked within the margin of error and neither Prime Minister Stephen Harper nor Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff seem ready to adopt a statesman-like role.

As is their wont, the New Democrats under Jack Layton is less prone to the gamesmanship and will continue to propose thoughtful policy alternatives. Absent a willingness to tackle true party modernization, though, the NDP glass ceiling of 18 to 20 per cent will be hard to break through.

While the pride generated via the Vancouver Olympics has caused many citizens to feel "more Canadian than ever before," as one late night reveller was recently quoted, the polarization in Canadian politics seems more American than ever.

Partisanship has reached new highs in Washington as evidenced by a rash of announced retirements by politicians considered moderates or centrists within their own parties. The latest of the retirees, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, cited a "pervasive campaign atmosphere," hyper-partisanship and lack of civility as reasons for voluntarily stepping away from the normally coveted post.

But Washington isn't the only place awash in vitriol. Canada certainly has a pervasive campaign atmosphere with campaign-style war-rooms spitting out duelling press releases on the most mundane of issues. This week, attendance or non-attendance at the Olympics became an issue with PMO-generated talking points accusing the NDP of playing politics instead of supporting Canadian athletes in Vancouver. Michael Ignatieff was accused of flip-flopping when he decided to attend the Vancouver extravaganza. What any of this has to do with governing is unclear.

The sparring over the Olympics paled next to the fracas at Montreal's Rights and Democracy organization. The government's proposed appointment of Gerard Latulippe, a former MNA and minister under Robert Bourassa, received exceptional scrutiny because of the overheated politics around the Conservatives' board appointments to the independent agency. Mr. Latulippe, also a former candidate for the Canadian Alliance in Quebec City, has had a long and successful international career as the provincial representative in Brussels and Mexico City, a development worker in Africa, and then a democracy adviser in Morocco, Mauritania, Iraq, Jordan and Haiti.

Ironically, the Bloc and Liberal opposition, while simultaneously decrying the government's continued partisanship, have rejected Mr. Latulippe's appointment on almost purely political grounds. Noting that he "was co-chair for the [Canadian Alliance]in the 2000 election campaign" and a "key advisor and leadership campaign chair for Quebec for Stockwell Day," Mr. Ignatieff concludes in a letter to Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon that, Mr. Latulippe's "stated views and political career path," raise questions about "his capacity to be a principled president for Rights & Democracy."

While I don't share Mr. Latulippe's political orientation, I don't believe that stated political views and career path are reasons to question a person's capacity to act in a principled manner. Are political beliefs a proxy for integrity? For sincerity? For decency? Of course not. Is Mr. Ignatieff proposing that Liberals are, by definition, principled, while Conservatives are not? That's hogwash and should not be a part of our political discourse.

Perhaps my pessimism is misplaced. Mr. Ignatieff seems to have found some footing and has been more effective of late. NDP foreign critic Paul Dewar and his Liberal counterpart Bob Rae have avoided personal attacks while very capably pursuing the Rights and Democracy imbroglio. The Prime Minister must be somewhat chagrined that the prorogation gambit was a bust. Figure skater Joannie Rochette set a standard for grace and fortitude that could infect the whole country. Maybe the parliamentary session will start with new civility - but I doubt it.

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