Thursday, November 09, 2006

Layton Playing Games?

In my opinion, Layton's powerplay against the Tory environmental plan is the highlight of this parliament. Layton was able to manufacture a significant concession, and there was reason to be optimistic that a real plan could be crafted. Some environmental groups offered trepidation, worrying that Layton's deal with Harper could divide the opposition and breathe life into a bad bill. After hearing this development today, I am beginning to question Layton's motivations:
Liberal leader Bill Graham said it was an “embarrassment” that Environment Minister Rona Ambrose will chair a UN summit on climate change this week in Kenya, after admitting Canada won't meet its Kyoto targets.

“To be chairing a process you aren't committed to is an embarrassment,” Mr. Graham said, during a joint press conference with Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe Thursday in Ottawa...

Noticeably absent from the press conference was NDP leader Jack Layton. A spokesman for Mr. Layton said the NDP's stance on Kyoto is well known, and that Mr. Layton didn't feel the need join the other leaders at the press conference on Thursday.

Mr. Layton has been pushing environmental issues in the House as of late, including during a meeting with Stephen Harper that resulted in the Prime Minister agreeing to send the Clean Air Act before an all-party parliamentary committee.

I read another piece that said New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen was also in attendance, but the Layton angle is disturbing. Why not join the other parties in a co-ordinated response? The fact Layton "didn't feel the need" forces me to think that Layton doesn't want to share the stage and is playing politics with this issue.

I applauded Layton's recent moves, and resisted the cynicism that Layton was playing games. However, I call bullshit now, because Layton's no show looks transparent and dangerous to the process. Crafting a real environmental bill isn't an exercise in who comes out smelling like a rose. Layton's freelancing, and resistence to join a coalition makes me question the entire motivation for his discussions with Harper. Harper would be quite happy to peel away one of the parties and confront a divided opposition. Layton sends exactly this message, by choosing to not attend such a basic show of unity.

If the environment is such a central thesis to Layton, if the planet's needs are paramount, then he should go to great pains to eliminate any political motivations. What we learned today, Layton should be watched carefully and the events of recent days may just be more typical grandstanding, wherein personal ambition trumps any sense of moral obligation, despite the pointed rhetoric. I now wear my cynical hat. Is this exercise "making parliament work" as Layton argues, or "making parliament work for my self interest" as today clearly infers?

Another take.


Olaf said...


The fact Layton "didn't feel the need" forces me to think that Layton doesn't want to share the stage and is playing politics with this issue.

Layton's the one who's playing politics with the issue? Watching a Liberal leader extol the virtues of the Kyoto accord is beyond rich, especially with the support of a seperatist who only cares about Quebec.

Let's be serious here. The Liberals did shit all on Kyoto for 13 years, and now that they're out of power they can't stop talking about Kyoto. It's absurd, and I think Layton did the right thing by not partaking in such a travesty.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Is Layton trying to actually get something done that would be good for Canadians? Of course he is. Is also he trying to make the NDP look good? Of course he is! It's not a matter of either/or, and never was. As for "calling bullshit on his motives," I don't think you have anything to worry about unless he starts trying to make the NDP look good at the expense of doing something that would actually be good for Canadians. I would be very surprised if that happened.

I mean, you can wish all you want that the parties would only worry about getting things done and not think at all about their own future electoral fortunes, but that's a pipedream. All parties do it, too, and especially in a minority parliament. So if you think this is just a Jack Layton thing, you haven't been paying much attention to the strategic moves of the other parties (some of which have been successful, and some of which have fallen flat).

Steve V said...


The only way this stinking mess of a Clear Air Act can be salvaged is if all the opposition works together to apply consistent pressure on Harper. I could care less about the past thirteen years, nor do I endorse the Liberal failure. Layton wasn't there because of seperatists and the Liberal failings, he wants to operate seperately for political advantage. What happened today seems blatantly transparent. Let's not forget who was lauding Layton last week, so I think this gives me some credibility here.

Steve V said...

"So if you think this is just a Jack Layton thing, you haven't been paying much attention to the strategic moves of the other parties (some of which have been successful, and some of which have fallen flat)."

You have to admit, Layton's singular approach fits in nicely to the concerns expressed last week by environmental groups. Normally, I am cynical, I thought for once we might see politics take a back seat. Besides, no matter the final solution, Layton can always take credit for the initial concessions- in other words he has the sought after talking point for next election to look relevant.

As an aside, I think Graham looked foolish criticizing Layton last week for trying to turn the tide, so your point about all sides playing games is sadly true.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

It's not about Layton or Graham, though, it's about having a minority parliament. Unfortunately, this is just the way minority parliaments work--all the parties are playing political games, even when something substantial is getting done. Which is why we need a better way, because this situation is just not tenable in the long term.

Steve V said...

I'm not sure how PR eliminates the gamesmanship, in fact it could lead to more jockeying.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve

Maybe when Layton and Harper met, the agreement was to put the Act before committee in exchange for a brief respite from the "Your legislation is crap and your Environment Minister is too!" sound-bites. I reckon it's either that or when Graham and Duceppe realised that they'd been trumped by Layton, they figured that they better make some noise and try and steal the spotlight. If they had invited Layton along then they would have just looked even more like a couple of Johnny-come-latelys.


Yes, I agree, as long as the parties in a minority parliament can dream of forming a majority gov't in the next election, they will continue to campaign to the elecorate instead of representing their constituencies. I think PR and majority coalitions would be a good fit for Canada.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I'm not sure how PR eliminates the gamesmanship, in fact it could lead to more jockeying.

Um, did you actually read my post? It responds to that charge and then some.

wayward son said...

My feeling has been that Layton was playing games from the start. I can't say I completely blame him. He has been a successful leader of the NDP so far, but the only way for the NDP to grow more is to weaken the Liberals and stall the Greens.

Olaf, just a slight correction, the Liberals did shit about climate change for 13 years (Kyoto as a protocol didn't exist before December 1997, the Liberals didn't ratify it until 2002. And it didn't have enough international signatures to come into force until 2005). Regardless the Liberals knew that climate change as an issue was important, yet ignored it. Their record on climate change is a disaster, with the exception their last budget which was a good start, before most of it was reversed.

I was a long time fan of Layton from his Toronto council days. He worked tirelessly fighting against the City of Toronto's bid to send its garbage to an open pit mine in Kirkland Lake (something I had been fighting for a decade). Back in 2000 I heard people start throwing his name around as a potential leader of the NDP. I was thrilled as I thought that he would finally bring environmental issues front in centre in the party (The NDP has always had good ideas when it comes to the environment, yet they have always seemed to be trumped by other ideas, if you don't believe me look at the environmental records of NDP provincial governments - not pretty).

However, I will likely never forgive Layton for bringing down the government when he did. It was unneccessary as the government was going to fall in a couple months anyways and it was nothing by a power play. It was just a couple days before the international day of action on climate change and the Meeting of the Parties in Montreal (both on December 3rd). At the same time a group of major Canadian corporations also called for urgent action regarding climate change.

Those events should have received a ton of media attention and for the first time really focus Canadians on the issue of climate change. Instead because of the election it was largely ignored by the media. The environment received almost no mention by any of the leaders during the campaign and wasn't mentioned at all during the debates - including by Layton. As far as I am concerned that day a year ago when Layton brought down the government was a huge set back for the environment. As far as I am concerned these games that Layton is playing now will likely turn out to be another huge set back for the environment. We had a chance for the Liberal, NDP, Bloc and Green Parties to show a united front on the environment and together create positive legislation which the Conservatives would either have to accept or fall. Instead Layton decided that it was more in his interest to break away and work with Harper.

Steve V said...


Um, I did :) I'm not sure I buy the argument that parties stay in the coalition because they are part of the government. If a party has, as you say, 2 cabinet positions, and the polls show growth, then the temptation is to test the waters. Where the model might fail, you haven't eliminated the quest for power. Parties will always want more, and under PR, a smaller rise in the polls might suggest more seats than our current system. I would like to hear evidence to support the thesis that coalition governments last longer than minorities.

In addition, Canada is largely unique in terms of regionalism, and I suspect we would see the rise of narrow parties, further fracturing the country.

Steve V said...


That sounds reasonable.


I was a big fan of Layton when he served in Toronto, not so much after the last election. Those debate performances were downright embarrassing.

Karen said...

Steve, for the record, Cullen was not at the news conference, but appeared later. Layton refused.

I hope the cynical hat isn't too uncomfortable, but mix it with a bit of optimism, and you can tune into some reality.

While many politicians are motivated by the greater good, it is rare that altruistic actions are taken.

I know you know this. I think many of us believe that this is an issue that supercedes politics and we wish that politicians did too.

My take, they all believe in the importance of the environment as a global, real issue, (except Harper), however, they keep their political fortunes in mind as well, (including Harper).

Layton has evolved into a real politician in that, 'okay, here's a matter we can get behind, but we have to do it in a way that erodes support from the Lib's'. He took the lead and will not share that glory with the other opposition parties. He needs another, "only we held the government to account" line.

I agree in essence with what Graham and Duceppe said and it would have been far more powerful if Layton had been there. It would have said and accurately so, that the majority of the country does not agree with the Harper direction...full stop.

Layton to be sure is playing games and IMO, Harper is eating it up and playing him for a fool. What better line could Harper have? "Well, the (green) NDP are working with us..."

So where does that leave us and the planet? On hold.

I suppose there is good news in that the lib leadership candidates have plans, but we need action now.

Perhaps something will come from Layton's ploy, though, to see both Harper and Layton come out winners on this is tough for me to imagine. Neither likes to lose.

Steve V said...


Well said! Thanks for the Cullen clarification, it was confusing. Did you see Ambrose's latest comments on what she was willing to accept from the opposition. Hardly earth shattering, so I am in the "cautiously pessimistic" camp :)

Olaf said...


The only way this stinking mess of a Clear Air Act can be salvaged is if all the opposition works together to apply consistent pressure on Harper

Wouldn't a parliamentary committee on the legislation, which Layton brought forward, be the best avenue for this?
The point is that vacuous proclamations that "we cannot abandon Kyoto" from a party who completely abandoned Kyoto in all but rhetoric does ABSOLUTELY nothing of concrete benefit. It's the Libs playing politics, while Layton has suggested something useful, for once. As IP said, of course he was doing it for political purposes as well (trying to marginalize the Libs and Greens on the environment), but that doesn't make his suggestion less useful.

Graham and Duceppes press conference was absolutely useless in bringing about change, Layton's strategy is promising in changing the governments legislation. Judging by who's actions may make a difference and whose are completely useless, I'd say Layton comes out looking less like he's playing political games.

Karen said...

Steve, of those 4, I think she may look at the third. She is focused on the second part of Kyoto, so that's a maybe. Carbon tax, perhaps, but it would be watered down I think.

olaf, enough about the Lib's abandoned Kyoto. Their record was bad, no one will dispute, but they ratified, and before being voted out of government, they did have a plan. I know it's politically convenient to ignore that, but let's deal with fact shall we. BTW, I don't remember any party going after the Lib's on environment during the election.

As to Layton, can you please tell us all, what, exactly he has proposed? What he laid out had nary a mention of Kyoto. Love it or hate it, Kyoto is the ONLY international context by which to approach this subject. "Made in Canada" is BS and regressive.

IF and only if, this committee was one that could actually put teeth into the conservative plan, I'd buy some of what you are saying. If you don't think that there are going to be huge caveats in the set up, wherein Harper has all of the control, well, I don't know what to say. Worse yet, if Layton believes that...

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

I would like to hear evidence to support the thesis that coalition governments last longer than minorities.

It's in the post! In several different forms.

But don't take it from me--check it out yourself. The data's out there. In fact, there's a great book quoted at the bottom of the post where you can fact-check me to your heart's content. *grin*