Second Thots

Sometimes one has to step back, take pause, and have some "second thots"

Friday, April 27, 2007


To force an election on Kyoto or not?

So it looks like it's now up to the opposition to determine if we're going to have an election on the environment or not.

As far as I can tell, I don't see how Liberal leader Stephane Dion can proceed without trying to force an election on this issue. He has staked his entire leadership credibility on the environment. In fact, I don't see how he can proceed without actually having an election on the environment.

As bizarre as it is for someone with such a horrible record on the environment to put all his eggs in one environmental basket, I believe that his pact with Green leader Elizabeth May was designed to shield himself against such criticisms during an election. Hey, if your record is that bad, and it's what you want to run on anyway, having an environmental stooge like May on your side is icing on the cake, isn't it?

So, I believe that Dion has no choice but to force an election on the environment. But where does that leave the two other opposition parties: the NDP and the Bloc?

As Hebert points out in the article I linked to above, it's hard to see how the Bloc maintains any credibility by siding with the government on the environment. Part of the Bloc's strategy thus far has been to try and isolate Harper as a right-wing ideologue out of step with Quebec values. A pillar of that strategy has been to wrap itself around the flag of Kyoto. Any retreat from that stance would be an irreconcilable admission that they've been wrong all along. Like Stephane Dion, Bloc leader Duceppe is married to Kyoto, too. He has forced himself into this position. It's very hard to see how he sneaks his way out.

That leaves the NDP. Readers of this blog know what I think they'll do. As much as they have wrapped themselves in the Kyoto flag as well, they have also continuously shown a willingness to compromise in order to "get things done." Even after the Tories unveiled their new approach this week, leader Jack Layton suggested that the Clean Air Act is open to being amended yet again.

With the Liberals and the Bloc now forced into pressing Kyoto, it's up to Layton to decide whether or not we have an election on preserving the treaty. I believe that no one stands to lose more in such an election than Jack Layton. Not only will he be squeezed out by all the other parties, but he'll be blamed for allowing the Tories to get this far with their plan. It was Layton who saved the Clean Air Act. It was Layton who allowed the Tories to bide their time in order to deliver a more sophisticated way of ignoring Kyoto. Will left-leaning voters reward Layton for this in a spring election on Kyoto? Doubtful.

As difficult as it is to see the Tories and NDP working together on global warming, doing so would leave all the other parties twisting in the wind on the one file upon which they have staked so much of their credibility. There would be no election, things would be getting done, and the biggest issue for Dion, May, and even Duceppe will have been taken care of. Only by actually getting something done does Layton differentiate himself from the Liberals, Greens, and even the Bloc, while also arguing that it's the NDP that have gotten things done in minority Parliaments for the last three years. Game, set, and match.

If you still doubt all this, think about the plan the Tories just came out with this week. In essence, it suffers from the same weaknesses of the original Clean Air Act, only less so. It's somewhat vague. It's targets are still long-term. There are some gaps to fill. Well, that's where Jack comes in. He fills in those gaps, brings the regulations more in line with Kyoto without actually doing so, and everyone is happy. We'll have no election, and something all Canadians can recognize as meaningful will have been accomplished on the environment, including paying some homage to Kyoto.

The obvious hurdle to all this is the fact that the Tories and NDP might still be too far apart for a deal. However, they have both recently shown a willingness to compromise. It is in both their interests to compromise. And the framework for compromise has been established with both the Tory plan this week and the Clean Air Act that has made its way through Parliament already.

It's either an election on the environment, one in which Dion and May play on their home ice. Or, it's getting things done on the environment without an election, in which home ice advantage will almost certainly belong to Harper and Layton once we actually reach the playoffs — I mean the election.

As always, stay tuned, and pass the popcorn. Should be fascinating.

UPDATE (10:04 am): After having thought about it some more, I think that the path towards any Tory-NDP deal on the environment will still run through the Clean Air Act.

The Tory regulations announced today do not need Parliamentary approval. They will stand. What can change are the measures in the Clean Air Act that the Tory government cannot currently live with. Amendments will be negotiated with the NDP, ones that will preserve aspects of the bill that the Tories first introduced, and the opposition parties later attached, but will not be as ruinous to the economy as Harper and Baird have suggested.

An amended Clean Air Act will be Jack Layton's price for supporting the government on any confidence measures over the environment.

If this happens, the sweetest irony might be that a new Clean Air Act will include measures that the Liberals and Bloc were responsible for introducing as well.

I know this all sounds crazy. Maybe I'm crazy. We'll see.

UPDATE (1:10 pm): Oh, and if you want specifics as to where Layton might plug some of the holes in the current Tory plan, read Don Martin's latest. He provides a pretty good summary, although he does it without suggesting that it's the NDP that might come to the rescue.

Have you notice how viciously Layton is attacking the government on the assumed, alleged treatment of Taliban prisoners? He is accusing the government of "fabricating facts", and his palpable anger is spilling over into public view in Question Period, where he is pressing for the immediate withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan.

Since Layton knows the Kyoto issue is not his issue, he needs to find another constituency, and that is the Canadian peaceniks/capitulators of which there are many. It sounds like Layton has abandoned the Kyoto issue for the Taliban issue for the next election.

I suspect that Layton will pull the plug on the Harper government very soon, and he will depend on the "peace" issue to carry the NDP fortunes rather than Kyoto -- which he will leave to Dion muddle through. Duceppe will have his "sovereignty" mission in Quebec as usual.

So the next election will be on:

Kyoto = Dion Liberals
Peace = Layton NDP
Quebec = Duceppe BQ

?????? = Harper Conservatives


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