March 25, 2008

On Isolating Ontario: Conservatives Borrowing from Chinese Playbook?

Lord Kitchener's Own has been doing a fantastic job of tracking and analyzing the current squabble between Ontario and the federal Conservatives.
The short: The Conservatives are trying to provoke Ontarians into an uprising against our provincial Liberal government in an attempt to distract us from reality. That reality being Flaherty eyeing the Ontario PC leadership job (and ultimately the Premier's office - though I doubt he could pull that off anytime soon) and that Ontario is getting the dual treatment of the short end of the stick, stuck up our wazoo by the federal government when it comes to representation and financial transfers. However, the plan is likely to backfire as Ontarians are only going to be further enlightened on how good the country has it because of Ontario.

I would add that the Conservatives should realize that by provoking Ontario they are doing anything but helping their own cause. While underrepresented with Parliament, Ontario's seats are essentially needed if the Conservatives ever want their elusive majority. So beyond personal glory (i.e. Flaherty) and continuing to rip-off Ontario, what purpose would 'poking the bear' have? To answer this, one may only have to look at China's verbal assault on Tibet.

Chris Edey's latest post argues that China continues to blame Tibetans and the Dalai Lama, and plays the role of victim, not because it's true, trying to gain sympathies from the West or convince Tibetans. Rather, it's about building support with the Chinese population and it's about nationalism. China doesn't care what the West or Tibetans think. They know that the international community won't do anything, so China isn't worried about international opinion. What they are worried about is their own self-preservation, which comes from within. And therein lies their m.o. They blame the Tibetans and Dalai Lama to play on the historic prejudices that exist in China to have support of the people for whatever actions they take, any justification they make to isolate Tibet (as well as Taiwan and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) and to buffer against any dissenting, international opinions that may make their way within China's borders.

So how does the China-Tibet conflict equate with the current rift between the federal government and Ontario? Well, most of it doesn't with the exception of the reasoning behind the words being used. Whereas China is trying to curry greater favour with everyone, except Tibetans, within their borders by being negative about Tibet, the federal Conservatives are also trying to isolate Ontario with the rest of Canada. There are likely at least three reasons for this:
First, to win a majority government at the federal level, generally, the support of Ontario is needed. Given that support for parties is often divided across the nation, having Ontario on your side can often tilt the scale in your favour. Lacking Ontario's support would essentially mean that you need significant support everywhere else and one way is to play Ontario against the rest of the country, which seems to be the case.
Second, in the event that Ontario, for the second time in Canadian history, qualifies as a 'have-not' province, don't be surprised if the equalization rules are changed (as they were in 1982) to exclude Ontario. This will need to be justified somehow and having favourable opinion outside of Ontario (through the negative attacks on Ontario) will buffer the Conservatives against the unfavourable opinions coming from within.
Third, there is also the general isolation of Ontario within Canada. Since Ontario has been playing the 'patsy' for years, in terms of representation, financial transfers, equalization, etc., during this economic slowdown, Ontario just might ask for something in return or begin lashing out on its own. The Conservatives need Ontario isolated to avoid Ontario influencing other provinces. Think of the 'Not a Leader' campaign the Conservatives ran against Dion and you'll get the picture here.

Fortunately for Ontario (and the rest of Canada, really) this plan will be much more difficult for the Conservatives than it is for China. In Canada we have a free media that will point out the reality. Ontario isn't Tibet in the sense that we are a small and effectively, controlled state within an authoritarian country. For Ontario it's quite the opposite. Ontario is the most populous province and generally the most powerful. And while the Conservatives may want to isolate Ontario, in the end Ontario has all the money that the Conservatives want. Furthermore, the Conservatives aren't an all powerful party. And even in the event they succeed at isolating Ontario, they won't necessarily get the votes elsewhere because they aren't the only party with substantial support and have burned other bridges elsewhere.

Update: Lord Kitchener's Own strikes again!

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