Breaking News: Stephen Harper is an Asshole
Ladies and gents, I have a stunning revelation for you: Stephen Harper is an asshole.
He has decided to shove custom and courtesy to the side, replacing it with cynicism and opportunism.
There exists in Canada a tradition of letting new leaders run unopposed in by-elections. No one wants to give their political enemy an upper hand, but it is recognized that in a parliamentary democracy like Canada's, it is imperative that party leaders - especially the leader of the opposition and the prime minister - hold seats in the House of Commons. It was a courtesy the Liberals extended to Joe Clark and Stockwell Day in 2000, and Stephen Harper himself in 2002. How has Steve decided to show his gratitude for that gracious act?
Well for starters, he's scheduled two by-elections - the only ones that will happen in the near future - for just days before the Liberals elect a leader. Obviously, it would be best for that new leader to hold a seat in the House of Commons. If Stephane Dion or Michael Ignatieff wins, this will not be a problem. However, if the next leader of the Liberal party is either Bob Rae or Gerard Kennedy, they will have to ask a sitting MP to step down in order to make room for them, and even then Harper could put off calling the by-election for months if he wanted to (and you better believe that's exactly what he's got planned).
Not only that, but Harper is planning on running candidates in both of the by-elections, despite the fact that Gerard Kennedy or Bob Rae could run in the London one (the Quebec by-election is a lost cause for any party except for the Bloc, as it is in a safe Bloc seat) and thus already hold a seat in the Commons. Meanwhile, Green Party leader Elizabeth May is planning on running in London as well.
There are arguments for not allowing May to run unopposed. After all, she is not the leader of a party with representation in the House, thus, she should not necessarily be afforded that courtesy. However, Harper is blatantly abusing his power to call by-elections for crass political gain. Putting political affiliation aside, it is impossible to disagree that this smacks of poor sportsmanship and the worst kind of cynicism. Harper is deliberately flouting Canadian custom for no other reason than his pathological hatred of all things Liberal.
It's utterly shameful, and it does not bode well for the future of this practice - the Liberals are going to be quite reluctant now to let any new Conservative party leader run unopposed, and are going to be much more inclined to schedule by-elections at the most inconvenient times for the Conservatives - say, a day of their next leadership convention (if the Liberals are in power when that happens). The Ontario Liberals have already poisoned the atmosphere of provincial politics by not allowing John Tory to run unopposed in his by-election, and now the Conservatives are poisoning the federal political atmosphere, too. In a time when we need a bit more courtesy and collegiality, Stephen Harper is using dirty tricks to try and kick the Liberals with a cheap-shot you-know-where. I can't think of an incident of a prime minister acting in a more classless way.