Walking that line isn't easy for any politician; for Martin, leader of a party that can't quite decide if it's centre-left or centre-right, it's brutally difficult. I personally think he'd be better off going with the rank-and-file, as hewing right is neither good policy nor good politics, but it's a difficult choice to make.
That said, I must also say:
Paul Wells, this has become silly.
"I would never for a moment suggest that Stephen Harper would prefer, for partisan political reasons, to see a separatist victory."One of those "Gotcha!" moments that I said weakened his analysis.
—Paul Martin, Wednesday morning
"All that motivates [Duceppe] in Ottawa is to work for separation — and it's obvious….Why else would he team up with Stephen Harper? Think about it. Stephen Harper and Gilles Duceppe."
—Paul Martin, Wednesday evening
Let's see where that comes from, though, shall we? From the Globe and Mail (Wells, sadly, didn't link):
Mr. Martin also questioned yesterday why Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe co-operated on some issues with Mr. Harper, who holds views different from Quebeckers on such things as the war in Iraq, ballistic missile defence and daycare. Mr. Martin said all that motivates Mr. Duceppe in Ottawa is to work for separation.
"It's obvious. Why else would he team up with Stephen Harper? Think about it. Stephen Harper and Gilles Duceppe. Stephen Harper who wanted to send our soldiers to Iraq against Quebeckers' values. Stephen Harper who was for missile defence against Quebec's values."
It is clear, from context, that Martin's attack was aimed at Duceppe, not Harper, and I don't recall anybody saying that Duceppe wasn't fair game. It's a very legitimate attack on the social democratic Bloc Quebecois- they really wouldn't have much to do with the Conservatives, were the Conservatives not holding out the possibility of further dissolution of federal powers to the provinces.
Why did you misrepresent what Martin said, Mr. Wells?
It is, yes, implied that Harper would be willing to work with seperatists, but even that claim is worlds different than Harper's incredible claim that the Liberal party wants the Parti Quebecois to win Quebec so they'd have a strawman to beat up. The former is simply an indictment of one's choice of alliance partners; the latter is tantamount to saying that you'd be willing to risk the country's dissolution for partisan ends. For all that the sponsorship issue revealed about the Liberals' ethics, they never went THAT far, and it is an incredible claim to make that they would.
(For readers who may not understand what this is all about: the Bloc Quebecois is the Quebec seperatists' federal wing, whereas the Parti Quebecois is the Quebec seperatists' provincial wing. All the former can do is gum up the works in the Canadian parliament, but the latter has the theoretical power to break up the country. The difference in their power shows the relative severity of Harper's accusation.)
It's a pity. Paul Wells, when he wants to be, is an intelligent, insightful commentator on Canadian politics. It is becoming increasingly apparent, however, that he doesn't want to be. For whatever reason, he wants Stephen Harper to be Prime Minister of Canada, despite not betraying the slightest conservative inclination.
Perhaps he is, like Warren Kinsella, willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater out of loyalty to former PM Jean Chretien.
Whatever the reason, it's yet another chapter in the decline of Macleans, and a sad testament to the disorganization of the Canadian left.
(More entries about American and international politics soon.)