Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Layton's Dangerous Game

Remember when Harper and Layton had those meetings prior to the opening of Parliament. With each passing day, the substance of those "talks" become apparent. The NDP and the Conservatives have formed a loose alliance forged out of mutual self-interest- hobble the Liberal Party and divide the spoils.

It is hard to find a Layton soundbite that doesn't reference the Liberal Party. Layton continually compares the new government with the last, inferring that Canada is clearly in better hands. For his part, Harper seems determined to paint the Liberals as obstructionist, unlike their opposition counterparts:
Asked if he was afraid the opposition parties wouldn't support his plan, Harper said, "there's been a lot of beating of chests, particularly by the Liberal Party."

There seemed to be two distinct schools of criticism emerging, he said.

"The NDP and the Bloc are saying the program doesn't go far enough or doesn't pay enough, and they're suggesting some ways to make sure families get the benefit they should. And we're interested in looking at those changes.

"But the Liberal Party is opposing to the idea of paying parents at all."

Translation, all parties are willing to work together except for those evil Liberals. Harper can play this game with relative impunity, but the NDP is engaging in a dangerous tactic. Ideologically, it doesn't take much thought to conclude these two parties have little in common, much less so than either does with the Liberal Party. Layton is quick to speak to issues of purity, wherein he puts the interests of Canadians ahead of any agenda. With this wink/nod dance with the Conservatives, Layton may just make himself largely irrelevant, coupled with the appearance of an opportunist.

There doesn't seem to be any question that the Liberal Party leadership contenders have a tilt to the left. Substantatively, this reality may translate into more palatable stances for the soft-NDP voter. While Layton dances with the Conservatives, he exposes himself further to the claim that we must unite the left. The Liberals can position themselves as the only true alternative to the Conservatives, while the NDP plays footsie. I think Layton's strategy is short-sighted and may backfire as Canadians see the hypocrisy of bashing the Liberals, while tamely defying the Conservatives. Layton may win some symbolic concessions to maintain a sense of relevance, but this could be overshadowed if the Liberals react effectively. What looks like an opportunity now may prove to be Layton's undoing.


Anonymous said...

Jack's too slick for his own good.

FurGaia said...

Still, I have a feeling that he is starting to get jittery. The fact that he came out a few days ago and out of the blue blurted that Libs are not a left-wing party leads me to believe that internal polls (or fund-raising results perhaps?) may have indicated some movement there. My first reaction was: "Where did that come from? Who is he talking to?"

I suspect that many Dippers are deeply embarrassed by all that smooching going on between him and Harper.

Steve V said...


Maybe Layton's reaction is a combination of things. The split with the CAW created a tension that never existed before. The Liberals are openly talking of uniting the left, with several candidates that have potential appeal. Layton is also relatively impotent in this parliament, with little practical power. I understand why Layton may see bashing the Liberals as his only hope, but it may be a double-edged sword because, as you say, it is embarrassing to see him cozy up to the Conservatives. Layton should be ballistic about the Tories cuts to environmental programs, instead its empty resistance.

dalestreet said...

Though it may be unpalatable to some to see discussions between Layton and Harper, the reality of the current situation is that the Liberal Party is adrift and has declared their intention to "stand in opposition" to the government (i.e. pretend that the Harpercrites have a majority). As a result, the Liberals have left both the NDP and the Bloc with very limited options, either bring down the government quickly (which will engender resentment in our election-weary citizenry and most likely result in a Conservative majority) or attempt to wring as many concessions out of the government as possible (and keep them afloat until the Liberals choose another corporate poster-boy). The big questions for the NDP is who will the Liberals' choice be, and will (s)he be as successful as every post-Trudeau Liberal Leader in duping Canadians into thinking that their empty promises and crocodile tears mean they have a social conscience. Over the past 20 or so years, what has differentiated Conservative governments from their Liberal counterparts has been the speed at which they can compromise Canadian values and sell off Canadian sovereignty.

Steve V said...


The Liberals combative tone is entirely justified given the slim minority and their role as official opposition. I don't think anybody really believes the Liberals would takedown the government in the short term- logistics and voter opinion would suggest otherwise.

Harper threatened to bring down the last government straight away, there was no spirit of compromise. Layton's can afford to be defiant, because in reality his support is irrelevant. If he sides with the Liberals, Layton still lacks the numbers to bring down the government. It is common knowledge that the Bloc is no mood to go back to voters, so this gives Layton some latitude which he fails to utilize. Layton seems more interested in doing the compare and contrast with the former government, than he does in holding the Conservatives on a short leash.

kevvyd said...

Thanks for this post, Steve. The game that Layton is playing has got me nervous too. I don't see there being any net benefit to the country if the conservatives get a majority next time around, but if the NDP and CPC do split the Liberal vote, that is very likely what we'll get. Especially if the Bloc continues to weaken in Quebec.

I have thought that the NDP could make great gains in the electorate by coming out strongly and loudly on their own important issues rather than letting the CPC sing their "song of the five".

Instead we just have Jack clapping along on the sidelines.

Steve V said...


I agree, Layton has a better chance if he sticks to his principles, instead of appearing conciliatory. The Democrats in the U.S tried the compromise angle and it just made them look weak, while the Republicans appeared steadfast. As I said before, Layton should be seething mad at the Conservatives for cutting environmental programs. The fact Layton is largely silent, has the dual effect of making him look irrelevant, while the Conservatives can shape the debate to make it appear that they actually have an environmental agenda.

Scotian said...

Good post Steve. I have been having serious issues with Layton since late last year when he clearly let himself be played by Harper/Duceppe in being the point person triggering the last election. He claimed his concerns with health care were so serious that the lack of sufficient response from the Liberals was enough to bring down the government, yet with the CPC government he suddenly is far more comfortable and cooperative with? I mean really, while the Liberals may represent a greater political threat for the NDP in terms of seats the CPC represents the greater threat on social justice issues and social welfare issues, which seeing as these are supposedly core principles for the NDP (as witnessed by whipping the vote for SSM) yet he is more comfortable working with the CPC?

I think Layton has decided that he is more interested in trying to become the new alternative to the political right over the Liberals, and he is willing to embrace whatever he has to do to make this happen. The problem is though the NDP traditionally has been a party more concerned with the advancement of their agenda than holding the reigns of power, and for Layton to do this he must be willing to give cover to the Harper led CPC. I have no problems with the idea that the NDP might want to go from a party of principles first to a party seeking office first, except there hasn't been any discussion/debate about this fundamental change of direction within the NDP as far as I have been able to discern.

It is a very dangerous thing to be a leader that alters such a fundamental aspect of his party without first getting internal support for this decision. I also have to wonder how many NDP voters are starting to wonder whether their leader is selling out their principles on them, and doing so to aid the party they KNOW is most hostile to their fundamental principles so as to have a chance at destroying the center left Liberal party so the NDP can finally become the governing alternative of the center and left in Canada as opposed to those Liberals.

From the moment he was elected leader there was something about Layton that bothered me. In the last Session though he gradually was gaining some respect from me, right up to the end of last summer. From that point onwards though he blew the respect and demonstrated that the chance to increase NDP seats was more important to him than advancing NDP agendas/platforms with his teaming up with the CPC/BQ opposition that had been repeatedly trying to defeat the Libs. I think he is playing with fire, both for his party and quite honestly with the country as well, and his actions have made it impossible for me to vote for his party while he leads it. I do not thank him for further limiting my voting options, not at all.

Steve V said...


"The problem is though the NDP traditionally has been a party more concerned with the advancement of their agenda than holding the reigns of power"

Yes, Layton is essentially betraying a core tenet and in so doing, selling his soul for the pursuit of power. The NDP has always made the claim that they have a philosophy and they will hold to it. This approach, while not translating into real power, has allowed the NDP to maintain a solid level of support. Layton squanders the "purist" angle to chase after voters. I think it is short-sighted, and the tactic also wears thin after awhile.

Scotian said...

"Yes, Layton is essentially betraying a core tenet and in so doing, selling his soul for the pursuit of power. The NDP has always made the claim that they have a philosophy and they will hold to it. This approach, while not translating into real power, has allowed the NDP to maintain a solid level of support. Layton squanders the "purist" angle to chase after voters. I think it is short-sighted, and the tactic also wears thin after awhile."

5:59 PM Steve V

I agree, and I think that he is doing very serious damage to the NDP credibility federally. I think he is playing his base instead of representing it, and while I can understand the allure of trying to replace the Liberals as the alternate governing choice, I do think he is taking a very major gamble, as the odds of that outcome coming true are not the best. The NDP has the credibility it does because it has been consistent about its commitment to its principles and agendas over trying to be all things to all people aka big tent party.

Like I said before, I do not have a problem with the NDP making this change in direction, what I object to is Layton's decision to do so without any conversation/discussions within the NDP on making such a fundamental shift. If he is willing to treat his own party members with such arrogance and condescension as such an act as he has chosen regarding party aims and choices like this, how can anyone trust what he will do with real power? In the process of selling out the NDP legacy for a chance at replacing the Liberals he is risking the long fought for reputation of the NDP being a party of genuine principles and commitment to those principles, even over holding the reigns of government. That appeals to a large segment of the NDP voting base, and Layton is pissing on their heads and telling them they are being rained upon and should be grateful for it.

Instead of managing to bridge the divide he is instead far more likely to end up strengthening the CPC, weakening the Liberals enough to prevent them from coming back to power next time out, and simultaneously alienating his party's strongest core base of voters. He is taking some very major gambles here and not with much to support the outcome he clearly wants to have happen. I think that if Layton does not have this discussion within his party very soon indeed the NDP will start seeing a significant loss of its core voter support, and if they feel the NDP is too close to the CPC then the Liberals become their de facto alternative since the CPC as I noted before is the party most hostile to the aims of the NDP.

The Liberals while not as willing to go as far as the NDP would like at least see the merits of social justice issues and the need for a social safety net from the government unlike the CPC. That makes them the only alternative for these voters for the most part if they want to stop the CPC from becoming a majority because Layton is showing he will deal with the CPC even before the Liberals despite the clear differences between the fundamental principles and agendas of the NDP and the CPC.

Steve V said...


"I think he is playing his base instead of representing it"

That strategy has been an unmitigated disaster for the Democrats stateside.