Interestingly enough, the Winnipeg Free Press has like-minded thinking on the post I wrote last night on this little old blog.
I submit this article for your viewing pleasure and thank the Winnipeg Free Press in advance for their participation in the dialogue.
Desperate Tories reach out to their far right
Winnipeg Free Press
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Byline: Frances Russell
CONVENTIONAL wisdom is that the Liberals are terrified of an election, the New Democrats and the Bloc Québécois would be happy with one, but it's the Conservatives who are really panting to go to the polls.
Unconventional wisdom might say the Conservatives are almost as afraid of an election as the Liberals. Ask yourself this: If Stéphane Dion's Liberals are really on the mat, why spend millions of dollars on another set of attack ads that are so crude and amateurish as to be embarrassing?
But the most telling evidence of Conservative fear is their abrupt decision last Thursday to revisit the death penalty by declaring they will no longer seek clemency for Canadians sentenced to death in other democratic countries.
The only conclusion? They're worried about their base vote, a worry Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed.
"The reality in this particular case (Alberta-born Ronald Allen Smith, a confessed and convicted murderer facing death by lethal injection in Montana) is that were we to intervene it would very quickly become a question of whether we are prepared to patriate a double murderer to Canada," Harper said.
"In light of this government's strong initiatives on tackling violent crime, I think that would send a wrong signal to the Canadian population."
Which segment of the Canadian population worries the prime minister?
Certainly not the 80 per cent of Canadians who now oppose the death penalty according to the government's own poll taken this summer.
The overwhelming majority of Canadians are appalled at the swelling list of the wrongfully convicted who could be dead now but for Canada's abolition of the death penalty in 1976 -- Steven Truscott, David Milgaard, Donald Marshall Jr., Romeo Phillion, Thomas Sophonow, Guy Paul Morin, James Driskell, William Mullins-Johnson and possibly many more to come, including Kyle Unger and Wilbert Coffin, hanged in the 1950s.
The population Harper is pandering to is his base of right-wing social conservatives, a base that reaches up into his cabinet. Several senior Conservative ministers support the death penalty, including Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
The death penalty gambit is even more perplexing when two more factors are considered. Harper says he trusts the U.S. legal system because it is a democracy. As Canada's own history proves, being a democracy is no protection against wrongful convictions.
The justice system is imperfect because it is human. The human element means that not even DNA and other forensic evidence is dependable. It can be wrongly interpreted or deliberately distorted, as was the case with the former Ontario medical examiner whose errors of interpretation railroaded Mullins-Johnson.
Democracy doesn't prevent the miscarriage of justice, and error is the ultimate argument against capital punishment.
Nor is it enough to say, as in Smith's case, he confessed. His lawyer says he confessed to get out of intolerable prison conditions.
Harper's faith in U.S. justice will come as a shock to the American Civil Liberties Union. It has devoted decades to documenting how poverty, racism and underpaid and incompetent public defenders have sent hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innocent people to their awful deaths by hanging, firing squad, electric chair, gas and now, the needle.
Documented instances that this latest "humane" form of execution can take up to half an hour to kill forced even the Republican-dominated U.S. Supreme Court to hear a challenge to it on the grounds it violates the U.S. Bill of Rights' protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
Just when the U.S., one of the last democracies still to impose the death penalty, is rethinking it, why is Canada re-engaging?
It might be that Harper's Conservatives are running Liberal attack ads -- and revisiting the death penalty by proxy -- because their poll numbers are stagnant, if not slipping.
They know that, historically, governments lose, not gain, support during election campaigns.
And they're already below the 36.3 per cent that won them 124 seats in 2006.
Since mid-October, there have been eight polls: two by Harris-Decima Research, one by Angus Reid Strategies, one by Environics Research, one by The Strategic Counsel and three by IpsosReid.
All but Ipsos-Reid have almost identical numbers showing Conservatives and Liberals in a margin of error tie: 32 per cent to 34 per cent to 28 per cent to 29 per cent. Only IpsosReid has the Conservatives at or near the majority territory of 39 per cent to 40 per cent.
IpsosReid was the outlier in the 2006 election. Its pre-election poll projected Conservative support at 38 per cent, yielding a clear majority of 157 seats.
Sad, really, for Harper's Conservatives. They have all this cash -- in party coffers and in tax cuts. But it isn't buying them a majority -- yet.
© 2007 The Winnipeg Free Press. All rights reserved.