Monday, February 14, 2005

POLITICS AS USUAL: MISSILES AND PRINCIPLES

One of the most heated debates on the horizon will obviously be on missile defence.

As we've seen in a recent EKOS poll, the idea of Canada's participation in that particular initiative is becoming less and less popular amongst the Canadians.

I have no problem with continental missile defence, as I think Canada should participate in something so critical to our on-going security. However, I think this issue will be a perfect example of whether PM Martin has any principles at all, and that he is willing to stick by them.

Martin has been a long time advocate of missile defence. As Star columnist James Travers points out:

"Back when Martin was toppling Jean Chr├ętien, the malevolently misnamed Son of Star Wars project was so low profile that Ottawa could have negotiated a role without much risk.
After all, Martin had already spent his political capital successfully framing the issue during the Liberal leadership as protection for Canadian sovereignty. En route to his convention coronation, Martin argued: 'If somebody is going to be sending missiles over Canadian airspace, we want to be at the table.'"


That was back when the only people who were crying about missile defence was Smilin' Jack and the NDP. Now that its becoming a bigger issue, and 54% of Canadian are against it (I'm sure the more interesting figure is that those people also see themselves as Liberal supporters), whether Martin will continue to advocate for Canada's participation.

I suspect, and we all know I'm biased, is that Martin will be search for a way out. But I think this speaks volumes about the kind of man Martin is and whether Harper can leverage those weaknesses to his advantage.

I think its safe to say that Harper isn't exactly "wowing" the Canadian electorate. But he has been working hard to establish that he is a guy that will stick to his principles and "do what he said he would do". Missile defence is a great opportunity for him to bolster that image by contrasting his stance (firm support) with Martin's (firm, now shaky support) on an issue that will likely become more prominent as time goes on.

Martin is definitely at risk of being seen as a ditherer by the electorate. I think he wears that label with media and with the CPC, but voters are still focused on important things like the hockey lockout.

If Harper is able to latch that perception onto Martin, it will go a long way towards defeating him. The CPC should use missile defence not as a policy plank, but as a character issue--force him itno making a decision and use his previous support for missile defence to paint him as the dithering leader we all know him to be.

I think Canadians will react accordingly.

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