Sunday, September 24, 2006

"Play It Safe"

Peter C. Newman's column yesterday, on Michael Ignatieff, referred to Bob Rae's campaign as "play it safe". If the measure of success is bold policy, who stands out from the Liberal crowd?

In my view, only Ignatieff and Kennedy can credibly claim the "bold" title in this race- bold meaning articulating policies that are controversial and politically risky. Like him or not, Ignatieff has proposed several ideas, that at first blush, cry "don't touch that". You do have to acknowledge the risk in Ignatieff proposing a carbon tax that is sure to alienate. I'm not speaking to the merits of the policy, only the fact that such a proposal invites blowback. With some many other less overt paths, I have to hand it to Ignatieff for having the guts to be controversial. When I met Ignatieff, I actually asked him about the carbon tax and his response was great- "we can't be timid, we have to be aggressive". Right or wrong, you can't fault an approach that puts principle well ahead of political consideration.

On the constitution, Ignatieff seems the only one who makes any statements that generate discussion. You can characterize some of the statements as "gaffes", that is legitimate criticism. However, in mind Rae and Dion essentially have taken a pass for fear of any hint of controversy, while Ignatieff has at the very least put himself out there. Again, this is not a policy judgment, merely an acknowledgment of bold talk.

With regard to Kennedy, no one seems more committed to reforming the Liberal Party in a substantive way than him. I love the "party of purpose, not just a party of power" line because it shows a true understanding of real re-birth. You can say Kennedy is prone to easy platitudes, but a careful ear reveals real conviction in his voice. Kennedy has distinguished himself on this file, which may help explain his appeal to younger Liberals.

Kennedy's biggest claim to the "bold" title is his position on Afghanistan. While others were arguing from the muddled middle, articulating an overriding nothingness, Kennedy took a position that welcomed easy criticism. For a foreign policy "rookie", taking such a chance is admirable in my mind and demonstrates real leadership. There is no question that Kennedy could have hid in the bushes, but he chose a clear position, that brought inherent risks.

Campaigns are tactical, so "play it safe" is not necessarily a minus if the goal is victory. All kinds of campaigns operate with the primary goal of "don't make waves" and many of these are successful. One man's bold is another man's reckless, one man's safe is another man's seasoned. With this in mind, my opinion of the Rae and Dion campaigns as safe doesn't translate into an automatic negative. What it does say- it is hard to think of one policy or statement that is really memorable or jumps out. Rae is an amazing orator, that is able to craft a coherent vision, but much of the rhetoric is relatively benign and hardly surprising. You could argue Dion has distinguished himself on the environment, but essentially the platform is a "carbon" copy of his time as Minister. Within this discussion, the word "bold" doesn't shout out to me when I think of these two campaigns. It all boils down to approach, and it's an open question what is the best path.


s.b. said...

substitute bold for dumb and we tried that whenn you weren't in the country all those years and your assessment might be correct.

Steve V said...

I don't think a carbon tax proposal is "dumb", but it is risky.

Anonymous said...

Is this the new spin? Idiotic equals bold?

Was Joe Clark bold or misguided when he called Canada a community of communities?

Was Paul Martin bold when he asked to choose our Canada?

Was Paul Martin bold or desperate when he said he would reopen the Constitution to delete the notwithstanding clause?

The Iggy apologists are slowly realising that their man is not going to win. Funny to watch the desperation.

Steve V said...

"The Iggy apologists are slowly realising that their man is not going to win. Funny to watch the desperation."

First time I have been called an Iggy apologist, but whatever. As I said, bold can also be reckless, it's a matter of opinion. BTW, he ain't "my man", pay attention :)

Anonymous said...

Out of the country - learning, teaching, writing, but still a proud Canadian.

I watched him in a lecture on TV some time ago and make no mistake about it, he loves Canada, has remained a Canadian and quite frankly knows more about it than most of us.

This argument is weak and tiresome and doesn't count.

Ya, just what we need - a woosy for a leader.

Anonymous said...

The last time met a politician he supported, he taped that bold and refreshing language in a book.
I can only conclude from the Ignatieff supporters who pounced on Rae's comment about ideas versus leadership, that for them it is neither - it is a game of gotcha. I don't think Rae is any less bold than the others - he called for a no vote on Softwood before anyone else and issued unique policy ideas.

Steve V said...


Actually that is a good point about Rae on softwood. Rae did take a firm stance and I should have factored that into my post.

Gavin Neil said...

I agree that both Kennedy and Ignatieff have bold visions for Canada; only one of them has a bold vision that is clearly different from Harper's though... and it's not the one that's reckless...

burlivespipe said...

interesting analysis, and of course you've opened yourself up to all kinds of mis-interpretations, as viewed above.
I agree, Ignatieff has stepped forward with probably many of the more delicate proposals, including getting past the now-history Kelowna accord. I think its an important standpoint and one we need to also take (or at least consider) when talking daycare. The public wasn't in awe of our plan, and we need to come up with something that addresses home care and daycare, not just to please everyone but to acknowledge the reality and importance of both.
And i'm no iggy supporter and would consider him barely in my top-5...
Rae's catastrophic drug plan is a major proposal that could be quite costly.
But can anyone out do Volpe's plan to raise the dead to vote Liberal?

cdntarheel said...

Hi Steve,

I enjoyed the post even if Iggy is not "your man." I'd like to cross-post your remarks on my blog.

Additionally, I agree with burlivespipe in that unfortunately this post is open to mis-interpretation. Calling you an Iggy appologist is only one example. I tend to think of such "mis"-interpretations as either being on purpose or resulting from a knee-jerk reaction to what people do not want to hear. I wouldn't worry, you remain an articulate blogger.

Finally, I like both Iggy and Kennedy. Since Kennedy receives far less criticism than Iggy, I often find myself pointing out the lack or principle and unfairness in many of the Iggy criticisms. Some of the fellow commentators may have a bone to pick with me.