Home CommentaryOpinions The King is Helpless

The King is Helpless

by Archives October 16, 2007

The point of chess is to slowly lure one’s opponent into a trap that he will inevitably spring shut onto himself. The king piece is never actually beaten or “taken,” but is instead laid down as the losing player realizes that he can no longer protect it – and resigns. It is a humiliating end to atest of cunning. In fact, the Persian phrase checkmate does not mean “the king is dead,” as has been widely believed, but rather, “the king is helpless.” In other words, the king has not died gloriously in battle; he has been rendered impotent by his adversary’s manoeuvres.
Stephen Harper has put his final chesspiece into position, and its name is John Manley. On Oct. 13 Harper named the former Liberal Finance Minister and deputy Prime Minister to head a committee whose purpose is to study Canada’s proper course of action in the coming years in Afghanistan. Its conclusions will only be made public in January 2008, well after the elections are over, if any elections are forthcoming. This has the double effect of taking Afghanistan out of the equation as a campaign issue, since Harper can conveniently refuse to comment the war until the committee’s work is done, and of once again making the Liberals look divided. It is a Grand Master’s move.
Harper is no stranger to political ruses. One of his first actions as PM was to keep Peter Milliken, a Liberal, as Speaker of the House. With that decision, Harper had taken a vote away from the Liberals, and had rearranged the Parliamentary math so that he no longer needed to rely on the Bloc’s votes to pass legislation. It was an unusual move, but one that has kept his party comfortably in power.
Harper has also made the media his pawn, by carefully selecting which questions he is asked by journalists, and by insisting that he alone deal with the cameras. His ministers are not allowed to speak to journalists during the traditional daily “scrum” when Parliament goes into recess; instead, the journalists are met by Harper himself. There is less opportunity for inexperienced loose ministerial mouths to cause embarrassment for the government – but there is also less transparency.
A Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll gave the Conservatives 35 per cent and the Liberals 28 percent support on Oct. 9. This is a decisive shift for the Liberals, who earned 30 per cent of the vote in the 2006 elections. While a two point difference in support might seem small, in Canada’s electoral system it can make a huge difference.
Percentage points don’t necessarily translate into seats; and while the Conservatives’ base is fairly concentrated, the Liberals’ is scattershot all over the country.
This means that Conservative votes are easier to turn into seats than the Liberals’. It’s a perverse distortion that the system creates, one of the effects of which being that the Bloc consistently gets less of the national vote than the NDP, yet always has many more seats.
Stéphane Dion said on 10 Oct. that “Canadians” don’t want an election, and refused to rule out the possibility of asking his MP’s to abstain from voting in order to save the government. He has no choice. An election could mean a disaster for his party. Checkmate.
The king is helpless.

Related Articles

Leave a Comment