David Akin has a really neat post summarizing the (yes, I must admit it) brilliant tactical play on the part of the prime minister to throw the Spence hot potato into Shawn Atleo’s half-tied hands. Do read the whole thing. David’s conclusion:
I believe the AFN chiefs — not only Atleo but also his executive committee — have their own political problem on their hands. If Canada negotiates with First Nations leaders, which are the First Nations leaders that can claim to be the legitimate leaders of their peoples? Is it a leader who wins a majority of votes from a handful of chiefs? From one chief who wins a majority of votes from one in his or her community? Or from those with more Twitter followers than their opponents?
Harper has his majority government and the full power of the Canadian state on his side at least until 2015.
By agreeing to meet with FN leaders, at the discretion of the AFN, Stephen Harper accomplished a few things.
- He silenced the growing number of Canadians who – out of compassion if nothing else – wished he would do something to make Theresa Spence stop her partial hunger strike. It appears she will continue to eat nothing but fish broth and tea for a while anyway, but this only makes her look needlessly stubborn. Point: Harper.
- He avoided giving in to Spence’s increasingly unpleasant blackmail and extortion attempts. Point: Harper.
- Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan will be at the meeting next week, and my guess is, he’ll do A LOT of the talking. If Spence attends the meeting (it’s at the AFN’s discretion), she’ll have to deal with Duncan. Point: Harper. Bonus point for standing up for his minister. Extra bonus point for poking Spence in the eye.
- By leaking news of next week’s meeting at roughly 10:50 Friday morning, the prime minister made the NDP look real silly. Charlie Angus had a well-attended press conference at 11:00 that day, see, that was supposed to include a number of chiefs including Shawn Atleo, to update on the situation and call, once again, for the prime minister to meet with FN chiefs. Angus was reduced to ask that the meeting be a good one. And Atleo was not at his conference – Angus said that was his mistake, that he had inadvertently but mistakenly included Atleo in his lineup. Riiiiiiight. Point: Harper. Bonus point for poking Angus in the eye.
Now the ball is in Shawn Atleo’s court. He’s the one who has to pick which chiefs will attend next week’s meeting, and what their agenda should be. That’s not a job I would want to have. If Atleo is successful in corralling his chiefs into some kind of coherent common front, then the meeting should be fairly successful and both Atleo and Harper will look good. If Atleo fails then Harper isn’t the one who’ll look foolish. Point: Harper.
I’m not a big fan of Stephen Harper, but I like this about him: He’s not easily bothered by media pressure and he usually finds a way to get his way. That was one brilliant tactical manoeuvre.