Friday, October 12, 2007

Big cheese stands alone

While amateur local pundits are eager to place Premier Williams front and center of the national stage, the shape of the political landscape for their hero points to growing isolation and continuing national irrelevance into the indefinite future.

When you clear through the noise of the regular fall Ottawa ritual of the rutting political parties bellowing and taking runs at each other, one thing becomes clear: there will be no election this year. Over the next month or so, each opposition party will make separate and independent runs at the government and the government will pretend that the runs actually mean something and will make their appropriate noises. Then everybody will go home satisfied that they have been seen to be doing something.

The Conservatives are still locked in minority territory, the opposition parties are still unprepared for an election, there are no burning issues to run on and nobody wants to call an election to be conducted over the pre-Christmas season. Layton already made that mistake once and even he has learned it's not wise to do that twice.

The real game will start with the spring budget.

And the more time goes by, the fewer national allies Williams has to count on. MacDonald of Nova Scotia has looked after the interests of his own province and made a separate peace with the feds. In truth, he was never a reliable ally at the best of times because there was so little money at stake for him. And now with a single bland assurance, Harper and McKay have neutralized that problem.

Harper and MacDonald's success in burying the hatchet lies in the fact that talks continued between the governments through the conduit of Peter MacKay. He was critical to making the deal happen.

Williams has no such conduit. He has emasculated Loyola Hearn and our Ottawa plenipotentiary is nowhere to be seen.

There's no doubt that the deal was in the works for a while and the announcement was held off until after the NL provincial election. For one thing it takes up to weeks to coordinate a federal-provincial announcement of this magnitude. For another, Harper knew full well that Williams would use the deal as the excuse to launch yet another provincial jihad against Ottawa.

That's the problem with being so predictable - it gives the initiative to others.

Whether the deal is good or not for Nova Scotia is irrelevant. MacDonald is now out of the game and the Williams' parting shots at him as "weak" will make him disinclined to be sympathetic in the future.

Meanwhile, Premier Calvert of Saskatchewan has called an election and his outlook is not bright. He is a familiar and tired leader heading a familiar and tired party that has been in power for 16 years and has been 15-20% behind in the polls for too long. There is always a chance that he might pull it out but that's not where the smart money is going.

As for the other provincial premiers, the Williams hobbyhorse of broken federal promises that nobody ever expected to see kept anyways combined with absolutely no interest in Equalization as an issue in any premier's suite of any note across the country ensures a big ho-hum response to his same old song.

The key to long term success in federal-provincial relations is in making friends and influencing people through a combination of tenacity, flexibility and the ability to make allies through the sharing of common interests. Predictable, incessant, inflexible, noisy combativeness excites the local nationalist extremists back home; nobody else cares anymore.

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