Thursday, September 10, 2009


It has been just slightly more than 26 years since I relocated to the nation's capital. I suspect this makes me as good as any observer of Ottawa's political scene leading into one of the most ever fractious Parliaments when the Members resume sitting on Monday next, September 14th.

At the risk of emulating the over-exposed "Staples" back to school television commercial - "They're Back!" - Though in 2009 it isn't likely to usher-in a "Most Wonderful Time Of The Year."

To set the scene: Pierre E. Trudeau, who served 4 mandates, was Prime-Minister when I moved from CBC News, Montreal to the Corporation's Head Office in August of 1983. Though this year's September highlights were to have been the Prime-Minister's "tete a tete" visit with American President Obama in Washington, on Wednesday next week (The 16th); and the subsequent Summit of G-20 Leaders in Philadelphia in a couple of weeks: The Liberals so far have effectively hijacked the early fall Parliamentary agenda: Threatening to overthrow the minority Harper Tories at a moment's notice and plunging Canada into its 4th national election since the turn of this millennium.

Author, columnist and bon vivant; the 77 year-old Allan Fotheringham; held court for more than 27 years as "McLean Magazine's" last page columnist until 2001. Doctor Foth, as he is known best, has more than once described his years in Ottawa as: "Ennui on the Rideau"-: Fall of 2009 risks being anything but!

To dispense with the obvious. At the end of the day (as it were), when the dust settles finally, although they hold in their hands the balance of power for now, very little will have changed in the status of the third party's leader, Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Quebecois; nor for the leader of the fourth party; Jack Layton of the New Democrats.

The confrontation of "wills" set into motion two weeks ago in Sudbury by the Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has, on the other hand, career altering potential for both the Liberal leader and for the Prime-Minister, Stephen Harper. If Canada is plunged yet again this fall into another Federal Election it is unlikely that Mr. Harper can sustain his iron grip hold on the Conservative Party unless he can deliver (at this point at least an unlikely) Majority Government at the polls. A fall 2009 Federal Election would be Mr. Harper's 4th national election as Party leader. He failed once against Paul Martin, and in two successive elections since hasn't reached beyond minority status. Since Confederation no other national party leader has survived any leadership mandate under such circumstances - The knives and the back stabbing were in place long before this potential outcome for Harper's predecessors - John Diefenbaker, Robert Stanfield, Joe Clark and yes...even for Lester B. Pearson. John Turner, and Stephane Dion of the Liberals.

As for Mr. Ignatieff of the Liberals: The ultimatum the opposition leader has delivered to the ruling Conservatives at least on one hand was clearly designed to differentiate his leadership from the frequently unjustifiable ditherings of his predecessor Stephane Dion. Dion was not only savaged in unrelenting attack advertising by the Conservatives, but his last ditch coalition of the willing to overthrow the Conservatives in December of 2008 was somehow derailed, in her wisdom, by the Governor-General. Ultimately costing Mr. Dion the leadership role he'd occupied for a couple of really miserable years. As noted with the fore mentioned Mr(s) Pearson, Turner and Dion, the Liberals - Frequently dubbed the natural governing party - Have a century long tradition of intolerance over failed attempts to regain power once it's been lost. Mr. Ignatieff has already roiled those dice: The outcome is in the hands of the electorate if he moves the confrontation to the next level and defeats the Harper Government on a House vote this fall.

With school started, the summer tourists have now left the national capital and by Monday's resumption of the Parliamentary debate the "Chip and Poutine" wagons will once more descend from the Gatineau Hills (My favourite: LOU PATATES) to occupy stalls nearest the House of Commons; only to vanish once again as the daily Question Period ends...and as always by 3:30 PM the wannabee lower level nabobs and mandarins of the public service begin to head away from the downtown core to the security of their Kanata, Orleans or Manotick half-acre mini estate homes.

The script for the drama which may be about to unfold in the national capital over the next several days has played-out before. The media will enlarge, underline and emphasize each nuance and interpretation. Were he still around even Doctor Foth might be tempted to reconsider his "Ennui On The Rideau" descriptive. At the end of it all though, events will unfold as they should...and life as we know it will remain unchanged and unmoved. Twenty-six years of living in Ottawa teaches that!

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