PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER has had a remarkably easy ride over the past two minority governments. He's been incompetent on the economy and undermined the population's faith in their H1N1 plans. He's been mean-spirited and taken every opportunity to attack the arts, Muslims, the unemployed, et al. He's lied, broken promises, had a government that has gone against the sentiment of the vast majority of Canadians on the war in Afghanistan and climate change. He had Maxime Bernier the incompetent dolt who leaves classified government documents at his girlfriend's house and Rona Ambrose as Environment Minister, though she had no knowledge or qualifications for the job.
How does he survive? It's not fundamentally anything to do with his ability to keep his people under control. This is a useful myth. If anything, the Stalinist-like paranoia of this government should itself be an easy target for the opposition parties and the media. Nor is it about his particularly skillful ability to spin the government's message in a way that connects with people. He's just not personable. No, it's fundamentally the result of a politically weak opposition in parliament.
I'll admit that I'm not one of those who thinks that the NDP should lash up with the Liberals to unite "progressives". I think for the NDP, trying to differentiate themselves, this would be a disaster. And it would be counter-productive to the needs of the vast majority of the population. The Liberals are a party of business, like the Tories, though they are, in their language, more pragmatic, consensus-builders, etc. than the latter. But we shouldn't forget that it was the Liberals that sent our troops to Afghanistan. And it was the Liberals, under Chretien and Martin who slashed social spending to eliminate a deficit created in no small part by cuts to taxes for corporations and the wealthy under Tory Brian Mulroney. And, of course, the leader of the Liberals is notorious for having supported torture by the US government to gain information from "suspected terrorists."
However, this perfect storm of timidity and political consensus - disguised behind occasional bouts of oppositional fervour over silly technical side-issues (like Bernier forgetting his briefcase) - couldn't last forever. Sooner or later, they would be hoisted on their own petard just as with enough manure and rain, something eventually must sprout.
The prisoner scandal appears to be that thing. Even with lickspittle, Tory toad columnists Rosie DiManno and Christie Blatchford working overtime to justify every inhumanity the Tories and their military enforcers implement, the opposition has finally found something that they can nail the Tories on. And the Tories attempt to smear a man of obvious ability, commitment and honour, has blown up in their faces. They are now fighting a rearguard action to try and prevent a public inquiry on the prisoner torture issue. They have clearly lost the initiative and everything they now do simply looks like cover-up and back-pedaling.
This breach in the Tory fortress and sense of purpose and momentum by the opposition - with the Liberals having to hide Ignatieff to be able to take advantage of this opportunity - could help to reinvigorate not only the anti-war movement, but also other broadly anti-Tory forces across the country. This moment won't last forever - that's for certain. And the opposition has demonstrated an uncanny ability to discover ways of missing any opportunity that comes their way. The social movements, the union movement in particular, need to be taking this opportunity to put the boot in to the Tories - over EI, social spending, Afghanistan, Omar Khadr, climate change and more.
If we miss this chance, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves for several more years of Tory government, including the possibility of a majority next time around. And that is a possibility just too depressing to consider.