Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Speculation: Harper's Pugilistic Stance On Russia/Ukraine

Harper's stance on Ukraine does not make a lot of sense in terms of the general back and forth of diplomacy and foreign affairs.

Canada is in no position to dictate to Russia on matters military - a country of 143,000,000 can raise a much more substantial military than one of 35,000,000.  The tit-for-tat of expelling diplomats is unproductive to say the least.

Granted, Harper has been playing the "little boy in short pants" when it comes to foreign affairs for quite some time, so his childish approach to Russia is not terribly surprising.

In many ways, Putin's aggressive approach to foreign affairs is complementary to Harper's desire to hold on to power at any cost.  Harper thinks that when he plays the "military leader" that his polling numbers improve, and lately they have been in the toilet (deservedly so).

However, I don't think it is merely a matter of polling numbers in Harper's mind.  He will not call an election unless he is pretty much confident that he will win.

We have three basic scenarios for the next election in front of us:

1.  The next election will be in October of 2015 based on the 2006 "Fixed Election Dates" Law (You know, the one Harper ignored in 2008).

The polling numbers at the moment suggest to me very strongly that this will not happen.  Elections Canada will, as required by the law in Bill C-16, establish polling stations and suchlike for the third Monday in October.  That doesn't mean that the Governor General will have dropped the writ sometime in September.  The dissolution of parliament for a general election still remains an act of the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister.  Harper is not going to give that advice if he thinks he is going to lose.

2.  Failing actual compliance with his 2006 law, the Constitution allows for a Parliament to last no longer than five years, which would place the next election at the end of 2016.

  • 4. (1) No House of Commons and no legislative assembly shall continue for longer than five years from the date fixed for the return of the writs at a general election of its members. (81)
    The dissolution of parliament happens more or less automatically at this point.  Traditionally, governments have called the next election sometime near the end of the fourth year of their mandate but the option exists quite legally to stretch that into 2016.

    3.  Section 4 of the Charter contains a very interesting clause that we should pay attention to, though. Section 4(2) provides for an extension of the existing parliament in times of war.
Marginal note:
Continuation in special circumstances 
(2) In time of real or apprehended war, invasion or insurrection, a House of Commons may be continued by Parliament and a legislative assembly may be continued by the legislature beyond five years if such continuation is not opposed by the votes of more than one-third of the members of the House of Commons or the legislative assembly, as the case may be. (82)
If this doesn't have you feeling a little uneasy, consider the the apparent desire of Putin to rekindle the old Cold War flames, and Harper's willingness to play to that same tune.  While other world leaders are carefully playing their cards where Russia is concerned, we find Harper doubling down and being quite aggressively pugilistic.

If Harper and Putin can provoke open conflict between Russia and NATO both parties have much to gain politically.  Putin gets to keep playing his uber-macho "returning Russia to its former glory" routine, and open conflict would give Harper the excuse he would need to defer an election past 2016 even if his polling numbers remain where they have been for most of the last year.

It's a chilling thought that a Canadian Prime Minister could be considering this kind of approach.  But that said, given the obvious attempts in Bill C-23 to rejig our elections apparatus to give the ruling party an advantage, it is one that Canadians should be aware of.

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