Friday, May 19, 2006

Iggy's in trouble...

I hadn't taken a close look at the numbers for last night's narrow vote in the Canadian Parliament on extending their mission in Afghanistan, so I hadn't realized that only 24 Liberals had voted in favor of the mission. I did know that Ignatieff's group of 11 had played a decisive role, but I hadn't realized that they made up almost half of the supporters. That puts Ignatieff in a bad position.

And now, Stephen Harper is twisting the knife:

After narrowly winning the vote to prolong the risky Afghanistan mission, a triumphant Stephen Harper crossed the floor of the Commons and threaded his way to the back of the Liberal benches to shake hands with Michael Ignatieff.

The prime minister's gesture may well turn out to be the political equivalent of the kiss of death for Ignatieff's bid to lead the Liberal party.

Ostensibly, Harper was simply thanking the rookie Toronto MP and acclaimed scholar for being one of only 24 Liberals to support the Conservative government's motion to extend the Afghanistan military deployment for two years.

But some Liberals suspect more partisan motives. They think Harper wanted to underscore the divisions the Afghanistan issue has created in Liberal ranks, particularly among the 11 leadership contenders.
The decision by Liberal leader Bill Graham to make the vote an open one was a good(if somewhat misunderstood) idea; there are divisions in the Liberal party, and were Graham to require a straight vote, he would have had to direct the party to vote "no" or face a caucus revolt. He clearly didn't want to do that to the mission's unquestioning supporters, despite the utterly bankrupt tactic that Harper's vote represented.

That said, it did put Ignatieff in an awkward position, and Harper (with admitted skill) read that and did what he could do to exact the most damage. Ignatieff got Liebermanned, in a political system that is about as inclined towards bipartisanship as your typical Texas Republican.

The media is painting this as a Harper victory; fine, that's their right, although I don't agree. To a great extent, though, Ignatieff is the reason for that victory. Because of that, and because Harper took such trouble to recognize him for it, Ignatieff is now going to be battling this for the rest of the leadership race.

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