The last time Prime Minister Harper pulled the plug on Parliament, he did so because he feared the combined strength of the opposition parties. This time, he is doing so because he has no fear of them.
In announcing this week's decision Mr. Harper probably calculated that the opposition, especially the Liberals, would be unable to muster an effective public attack on his decision to prorogue, despite the fact that it doesn't look all that pretty under scrutiny.
He would have felt secure in the belief that absent a sustained, effective attack by the opposition, most Canadians will let this decision pass.
As Jeffrey Simpson articulated so well recently, the country's politics is imprisoned in a vicious cycle of disengagement. What caused the cycle to start is an imponderable, a chicken and egg question. But it is taking its toll on our political system, and probably something we should all be more concerned about. Many voters have come to pay so little attention to what goes on in Ottawa, they may be hard pressed to know why this decision to prorogue should matter to them. Engaging them and making that case is the role of the Opposition.
Mr. Harper yesterday put the Liberals on notice that they must either accept that his government will act as though it has a majority, or be prepared to drop the government on the next budget. This only hours after Mr. Ignatieff felt obliged in year end interviews to stand down from his strategy of election mongering that had squandered so much of his credibility last year.
Either outcome would probably be satisfactory or better in the mind of the Prime Minister. An election sooner rather than later against Mr. Ignatieff, who is suffering in personal popularity assessments. If not, then the chance to lay down a comprehensive economic and deficit reduction plan that the Liberals would feel obliged to support, and presumably then a clear field on other policy agenda items.
In a different time, this move by the government would have meant that it was on the defensive today, absorbing heavy blows and losing votes.
Instead, its a warning shot to Mr. Ignatieff. He has weeks to articulate the alternative that he wants Canadians to consider, and to make a much more effective case as to why voters should want change. If he does not use these weeks to build strength, his 2010 may not be much better than his 2009.
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