Earlier this week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced his intention to prorogue Parliament until mid-October. In addition to the Opposition's blathering that "several important bills will die" on the Order Paper, this gives the PM the opportunity to present a new Speech From the Throne and commence a new drive towards the next election--be it in October 2009 or sooner.
This is a very intelligent move on Harper's part. For the last several months of the 1st session under his stewardship, it appeared as though the government had no future plans beyond moving to complete its five-point program announced in the election campagin. Parliament drifted and sputtered towards the summer recess, and the Liberals were able to make some hay out of a government that was presenting no plan on Afghanistan, interprovincial relations, or any other issue that threatened to derail Harper. Much of this hay is of the cheap variety, and not likely to remain vital in an actual campaign, but it did ding--somewhat--Harper's image as being firmly in control of the situation.
With a new Speech From the Throne, Harper will be permitted to introduce a revised and current agenda for the government. It will almost certainly include Afghanistan as a major plank of the government's policy agenda. With Peter Mackay now at the helm at DND and with Maxime Bernier heading up Foreign Affairs, there is a renewed opportunity to make a clear, strong, and articulate case for Canada remaining in Afghanistan beyond the current mission in Kandahar's deadline of February 2009. The Opposition has been able to batter Harper over Afghanistan all summer, insisting upon more debates, serving notice to NATO regarding our intentions, and getting Canadian Forces personnel out of the most dangerous region of Afghanistan and letting our allies share more of the burden instead of remaining comfortably in their bases when night falls. I have severe doubts that Harper will be able to achieve the "consensus" that he seeks from Parliament to extend Canada's participation in Afghanistan's reconstruction and stabilization, but he may be able to eke out a different type of mission there in a more pacified region. What the consequences will be Kandahar and a potential Taliban resurgence there, we'll have to make sure to ask of our parliamentarians who want Canada out of that country.
Beyond Afghanistan, there's a lot of room to maneuver on a number of issues that matter to Canadians. No party has yet been able to claim a legitimate monopoly on the environmental file. Looking at health care in the 21st century has been less central to political discourse than it was throughout the 1990s. Post-secondary education is a political football that can be kicked around to attract younger voters. The economy is in good shape, will there be a push to further bolster Canada's international standing by signing some new free trade pacts? Perhaps a beginning of a campaign to get Canada back on the UN Security Council? Will there be some real initiative and imagination demonstrated regarding new international organizations, the push for gender equality to make up for the horrible public relations fiasco early in Harper's term, and raising Canadians' standard of living?
Of course, presenting a Speech From the Throne also gives the Opposition the opportunity to bring down the government and force an election. I can't see that being in the interests of any of the three parties, the Canadian people, or the government. Dion has shown some bluster and hinted that he may try to pull the plug--why I don't know, since he's even faltering on the only pillar of his "three pillars" strategy. If the government showed signs of a lack of direction, the Liberals, Bloc, and NDP have been even worse. They've been highly critical of whatever offerings the government has made, sure, but they've not offered up a single alternative that has captured the imaginations of Canadians (a truly daunting task!) to shift public opinion in their court.
One thing is for sure: with the return of Parliament return also the talk shows, the pundits, the op-eds, and of course the speculation of an upcoming election. As a political junkie, this is my lifeblood, and I'm very happy to see that the forthcoming session offers considerable opportunity for all parties to make a significant mark.