Thursday, February 09, 2006

Day Four – You may not be interested in partisans, but partisans are interested in you*

Again, Andrew Coyne has an excellent roundup of the latest, here.

Hands down the juiciest item is the Toronto Star’s Page A1 story, alleging that the Martin regime was supposedly on the verge of a deal with the U.S. on softwood lumber, but that Emerson nixed it:

David Emerson defected to the Conservatives this week carrying a multi-billion dollar softwood lumber deal that Liberals, for political reasons, didn’t finalize before the federal election.

Former colleagues as well as officials and diplomats privy to the secret, backchannel talks insist Emerson was instrumental in delaying a breakthrough in the decades-old dispute that cost thousands of Canadian jobs. They say the former Liberal industry minister worried that a pre-election announcement would damage Liberal prospects in key British Columbia ridings.

In a telephone interview last night, Emerson confirmed he raised concerns about the proposal after discussions with the B.C. government and softwood industry. But he said it’s a “false story” to suggest his resistance was politically motivated and insisted the deal on the table before the election wasn’t good enough for Canada then and isn’t now.

Liberals and non-partisan sources tell a different story. They say the B.C. government and its powerful forestry industry only lost interest in the plan after meetings with Emerson. His objections, along with concerns in Paul Martin’s office that a pre-election deal would stop the then-prime minister from using George W. Bush as a campaign punching bag, convinced Liberals to delay formal negotiations at least until after the January election.

Meanwhile, the man himself is so upset by the hullabaloo that, as he told he Vancouver Sun, he may have to break his solemn vow to stand for election as a Conservative in the next general election:

A distraught-sounding David Emerson, now questioning his decision to enter politics in the first place, said Wednesday that Vancouver- Kingsway voters may never get the chance to pass judgment on his decision to bolt Monday from the Liberals to Stephen Harper’s Conservative cabinet.

Harper’s embattled new trade minister said he is “flabbergasted” by the Liberal attacks this week, and said he underestimated the public and media backlash triggered by his defection.

“I thought that that was a very logical move to make, to serve the riding and to serve the province and the city,” he told reporters in an evening conference call.

“The kind of reaction I’ve been getting -- well, it’s ... I find it surprising.”

He said if constituents aren’t happy he will “accept the consequences electorally.”

While he said he will “probably” run again in the riding as a Tory, he offered no guarantee.

“I may be so disillusioned that I won’t stand anywhere. I have to be honest. If I knew politics would be as it has been, I wouldn’t have run to begin with,” he said. “But I’m into it and I’ll finish the job.”

He acknowledged he thought this week about quitting politics before he had a pep talk with Harper, but said that hasn’t been unusual since he was recruited by Paul Martin in 2004.

“Well, I talked to the prime minister . . . and he was very, very supportive. He certainly wasn’t the scary Mr. Harper,” said Emerson, who during the election campaign called Harper “heartless” and intolerant of minorities. “He’s been very kind and the Conservative cabinet ministers have been very, very kind. And I’m committed to staying the course.”

Still, Emerson’s rationale for the move has not been shaken:

His political allies say the trick to understanding Emerson’s sudden switch of political colours, from Liberal industry minister to Conservative minister of international trade (in charge of Olympics), might be to view him in terms of his last careers: He’s the corporate executive and prudent public servant.

In that world, staying on an organization’s board, even if the CEO who hired you happens to get fired by the shareholders, you can still find honourable, personally rewarding service and perhaps even improve the corporation’s long-term aims by cutting a new deal.

“Doing something that is imperfect, and doing nothing and dreaming that it could have been perfect. Which is better?” Emerson asks.

Emerson argues that partisanship is a waning force, and in a phrase that could have come straight from a Maurice Strong speech, asserts that “We’re into a “global moment.”
“I think the [partisan] lines are blurring,” he says, when asked about party politics and picking a side as a politician. “We’re into a global moment, economically, socially, environmentally.”

Emerson doesn’t look down on those who are traditionally partisan, but he doesn’t think such partisanship is a virtue.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Liberalism is blurring, which seriously got in the way of David Emerson’s opportunity to have a David Emerson moment.

Whatever the credibility of Emerson’s claims of non-partisanship, unfortunately for him, the party he just left is decidedly not of that persuasion. They will now proceed to come after him hammer and tong, in their uniquely vicious yet hypocritical way. And they have absolutely nothing to lose in the short run (which is the only run that ever occurs to them) by doing so. I suspect that Mr. Emerson is about to be served some big doses of castor-oil flavoured partisanship from his former colleagues.

The most amusing so far comes from Liberal party president Mike Eizinga who, as I recall, owes his position to some heavy handed, last-minute Martini shaking that catapulted him over the head of the rather poncy but admittedly smart and sincere Akash Maharaj:

The president of the Liberal party is joining the chorus of demands for Emerson, the former Liberal industry minister, to resign his parliamentary seat in the wake of his decision to switch parties shortly after being re-elected as a Liberal.

"Absolutely, Mr. Emerson should quit," said Mike Eizenga, adding that the honourable thing to do would be for him to go back to his riding and run as a Tory in a by-election.

Emerson says "I don't understand why they would go to such bizarre lengths as to raise that kind of issue when in fact I had done so much and raised so much for the Liberal Party.” Because Liberals don’t care what you did for them yesterday, only what you can do for them tomorrow.

* As per Leon Trotsky’s saying “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” (And Liberals know how to handle an ice pick.)


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