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Conservative antics let Trudeau off the hook for India debacle and show why Andrew Scheer is not fit to govern

Regular readers of this blog will know its author is no fan of Stephen Harper, who quit politics, if not politicking, after his well-deserved election loss in October 2015.

Still, to give the man his due, the Conservative Party of Canada under his leadership would never have indulged in an undignified gong show in Parliament like the recently ended "filibuster" -- which was not technically a filibuster, but something more akin to a protracted public temper tantrum by a group of overgrown children bent on proving they are not capable of running a student council at a community college, let alone governing a country.

It was, in other words, Scheer idiocy.

The former prime minister -- by contrast to the party’s current leader, the lamentable Andrew Scheer -- would have had too much dignity and too good a strategic mind to engage in such pathetically childish shenanigans.

The backstory to this foolishness was Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's trip to India in February, which didn't go exactly as planned thanks to objections in some quarters to his and his family's eccentric apparel and the fact a man once found guilty of attempted murder in what can fairly be described as an act of terrorism on Canadian soil managed to wrangle an invitation to an official reception.

This turned out to be a significant embarrassment for the Liberal government and a good issue for the Conservative Opposition, which has been led by the obviously not very capable Scheer, 38, who previously was an undistinguished social conservative backbencher from Saskatchewan and for four years the somewhat biased Speaker of the House of Commons. Like Joe Clark in 1976, Andrew Who? had not been expected to win the CPC leadership contest in September 2016.

The Liberals had apparently expected the Trudeau Family's India junket to be a triumph that would help them woo back wavering Indo-Canadian voters from Jagmeet Singh's NDP. When the visit went south, the Liberals were put on their back foot and Trudeau, who has been consistently popular since becoming PM, suffered a serious drop in public approval.

Scheer and the Conservatives, understandably, wish to exploit this. They were doubtless emboldened by a couple of polls suggesting the PM's hitherto consistent approval ratings were showing signs of the sort of cracks that can cause an airliner to disintegrate in mid-air and fall from the sky in pieces.

Alas for the Conservatives, as predicted in this space, the issue that had so engaged the public for a few days was beginning to slip away as our short attention spans were engaged by the latest depredations of U.S. President Donald Trump and similar online clickbait.

That was, apparently, when Scheer's strategic brain trust hit upon the scheme to revive the prime minister's embarrassment by demanding a chance to grill his national security advisor before a public meeting of Parliament's Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, which has Liberal, Conservative and NDP members. When the government predictably said no, the Conservatives decided to tie up Parliament in the 20-hour "filibuster."

Now a filibuster as normally defined is a Parliamentary technique by which a bill a party or a parliamentarian objects to is delayed through protracted debate. As such, it has both dignity and legislative legitimacy. Surely we all remember Jimmy Stewart's performance in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?

There being no bill to delay on principle, however, the Conservatives opted instead to introduce more than 250 amendments to the budget with the goal of creating what was rather-too-neutrally described by The Globe and Mail as "a procedural standoff.” The situation would more accurately be termed infantile antics intended to halt the business of Parliament.

Who knows, maybe the Conservatives forgot they weren't Republicans in Washington and imagined they could close down the government like President Donald Trump, their obvious inspiration?

Seriously, though, even a group of pot-addled teenagers could have come up with a better scheme to keep a Canadian government’s feet to the fire!

I'd like to be able to tell you that cooler heads in the Conservative Caucus eventually prevailed. They could, under the rules of Parliament, have continued this nonsense until Saturday. But the latest evidence suggests the Opposition gave up Friday after only 20 hours -- bleary eyed and exhausted -- because the party brain trust has had another brainstorm.

Only God and Mr. Scheer (who in certain social conservative quarters are presumed to be in constant communication with one another) presumably know what kind of foolishness they will come up with this week. It likely won't have anything to do with fact some Conservative MPs seem to have had their own embarrassing dealings with the same fellow.

As the traditional party of voter suppression -- which could never be elected if Canadians turned out to vote in the numbers that, say, Russians do -- there is a strategic case to be made for Conservatives trying to make Parliament look foolish. If Liberal and NDP voters can be persuaded politicians are all imbeciles, perhaps fewer of them might turn up on election day. That way, Scheer's nutty but committed social conservative base might have some hope of carrying the day.

But surely last week’s idiotic non-filibuster filibuster has had the effect of making the governing party look like exasperated grownups and the Conservative Opposition like little children who have eaten too much sugar when Mommy wasn't looking. Presumably the Liberals will make this point.

If Conservative Parliamentarians think otherwise, it is likely because they are too close to the trees, metaphorically speaking, to see the forest. (So many of them being from Alberta and Saskatchewan, of course, it is possible some had never seen an actual forest before they got to Ottawa.)

By behaving like children, the Conservatives will likely discredit their own case in a good argument that was working for them.

Not incidentally, though, the resulting attention to Indian politics of which most Canadians were blissfully ignorant, and claims about Singh's supposed past sympathy with Sikh separatists in that country, may have contributed to weakening the NDP as a potential progressive vote splitter that could help the Conservatives wrest power from the Liberals.

Above all, they have proved Scheer is no Stephen Harper, who still enjoys some residual support among the Canadian electorate, and indeed that he is not much of leader at all.

They have proved, in other words, they are not fit to govern.

Unless the Liberals drop the ball again, we can expect Trudeau to return to his now-normal level of support in the next round of public opinion polls.

Thus endeth the lesson.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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