Harper and Dion take to the airwaves

By Harold Jansen on Dec 3, 2008

In case you missed it, both Harper and Dion took to national television to make their cases directly to the people. Neither really had much new to say. Here are my impressions of both speeches.

Harper

  1. He didn't have anything new to say, certainly nothing that would justify a national broadcast. He restated the same case he's been making for the last few days.
  2. Either Harper doesn't understand the constitution or he's deliberately muddying the waters. The statement "Constant in every case, however, is the principle that Canada’s Government has always been chosen by the people" is just wrong. Let me repeat it again (I'm thinking of getting a t-shirt made with this on it): the GG chooses the Prime Minister. The people choose Parliament. We don't directly choose the government. We didn't choose Jean Chretien and the Liberals; we didn't choose Paul Martin; and we didn't choose Stephen Harper. I've been appalled through all of this at the level of constitutional and Parliamentary ignorance demonstrated by Canadians. It doesn't help when their Prime Minister isn't being clear.
  3. CBC was reporting that in English he's denouncing "separatists" and in French he's denouncing "sovereigntists." Slight nuances in the meaning of those two words. And yes there is a word for "separatist" in French, so it's not just a translation thing.
  4. "Canada’s Government will use every legal means at our disposal to protect our democracy." Democracy is just fine, Mr. Harper. It's the Conservative government that's in trouble. This is the clearest signal in the speech that Harper intends to ask Michaelle Jean to prorogue Parliament, but it's by no means certain. I think it's a bad idea because it puts the governor general in a no-win situation.

Dion:

  1. This is arguably the biggest speech Dion has ever had to deliver and the Liberals can't get the tape to the networks on time. I wonder how many people wandered off after 20 minutes of talking heads trying to kill time. I went and started making supper and I get paid to pay attention to this stuff. Your party can't get a simple tape to the networks and you want to run the government?
  2. Dion gets points for understanding the constitution and being right on that front. It's easy when the law is on your side. If Dion had messed this up, though, he'd face a revolt from his fellow political scientists.
  3. "Your" House of Commons: good rhetorical touch.
  4. I didn't hear Dion directly address the issues of the BQ's support for the coalition. It's the elephant in the room. I know it's a tough sell, but if the Liberals and NDP don't address it, they're completely ceding the argument to the Conservatives. It's the critical issue in public opinion.

Does this change much? Probably not. If you're mad about the propsect of an NDP-Liberal coalition, you liked Harper and didn't like Dion. If you want Harper out, he gave you more reasons to dislike him and you were probably cheering on Dion. In other words, it was preaching to the choir. Besides, although in the medium term, the public opinion battle is relevant, in the short term, it doesn't matter. The decision is really that of the governor general and she should be guided almost exclusively by what's happening in the House of Commons and constitutional principles and precedent. The Conservatives are on weak ground there, which is why they are resorting to the court of public opinion. It's about all they have left.

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