Saturday, April 05, 2008

While You Were Waiting

There are two Liberal camps, the election hawks and doves, each has their own reasoning. Big City Lib offers the latest installment on why waiting for an election is the prudent route. I offer this post as the respectful counter.

The economic argument, that being a potential downturn will hurt the Conservatives, is credible, but it's also more wishful thinking, than sound strategy. The Canadian economy is not a monolith, everyone would concede that any downturn is largely a Ontario and Quebec equation. With that reality in mind, any potential harm to the Conservatives is confined to this region of Canada, other regions are in boom and show no signs of a pullback.

Let's look at these provinces, and see how exactly a potential recession would play out electorally. First off, in Quebec, nobody in their right minds think the Liberals have any real potential to "grow" in the short term, more likely the status quo would be seen as victory. Within this environment, to say an economic downturn would benefit the Liberals, isn't rooted in reality. While it could hurt the Conservatives, polling shows voters more likely to look elsewhere, by-passing the Liberals. The harsh truth, for many the Liberals are no longer the second option, and it is hard to see how the economy will bring back voters in droves. No, whatever happens with the economy, it is unlikely to raise Liberal prospects considerably in Quebec.

The premise really revolves around Ontario, a possible recession, that could do real harm to the Conservatives. Nevermind that this belief is a theoretical, a "maybe", a "could", nothing conrete or known, the belief also fails to look at the present circumstance. Last time I checked the Liberals were leading in Ontario, some polling actually has the Conservatives down to their core constituents. In other words, the Liberals are already in a good position in Ontario, the Conservatives unlikely to see much more erosion, if history is your guide. If anyone thinks the Conservatives fall below 30% in Ontario, then they are detached from reality, that's bottom. In the only region where the Conservatives can be hurt from the economy, their position is already tenious, the Liberals appear strong. Given this circumstance, the now, it is hard to see how waiting on the economy pays any dividends. In Ontario, the optics are good right now.

There is another major problem in looking to the economy for salvation. That strategy is a one-sided proposition, because it fails to factor the concurrent erosion of the Liberals. While the Conservatives could be harmed, it happens while the Liberals operate in this vicious cycle of perpetual weakness. Whatever potential gain is negated by cementing the theme that Dion is weak, the Liberals stand for nothing.

If one wonders why the media "picks" on the Liberals, much of it comes down to a lack of respect. There is no way for Dion to emerge as a strong leader, while he takes a pass on issues which are core principles for the Liberals. In many ways, this recent debate on immigration is seen as the litmus test. This issue is being framed in such a way, that if the Liberals take another pass, it will be the final straw, the narrative cemented. And, when you think about, that isn't necessarily unfair, given that when you think Liberal, historically, immigration is always part of the mix.

While we are waiting for the economy to tank, or some other silver bullet to bring us electoral bliss, we in fact ensure our defeat. Our inaction guarantees failure, it doesn't lead to "winning conditions", it prevents them. The argument of the doves, you don't go into an election you could lose is irrelevant, because this circumstance guarantees that possibility for eternity.

Two more articles today, detailing the Liberals problems. The Globe and Mail piece is particularly scathing, but there is one quote that should be heeded:
Influential Saskatchewan Liberal Tony Merchant is convinced that Mr. Dion will “wear well with the voters” once he is on television every night during an election campaign. Echoing Peter Russell, Mr. Merchant says Mr. Dion will be “liked by crowds.”

He says: “I regret the decision that has been made to hold off on an election. That's not really playing to Dion's strength – his passion over issues. The waiting hasn't been helpful to him.” As an opposition leader, Mr. Dion has to wait until an election is called before he can vend his issues to the public. Otherwise he won't get the media's attention.

Dion never gets traction until an election campaign. In fact, Dion's numbers continue to erode, borne out in the polls (from abysmal to unheard of), as we sit on our hands, waiting on maybe's. The only chance Dion has, the glare of an election campaign to make his case, the other path, a slow burn to oblivion.

Susan Delacourt in today's Toronto Star:
In an interview with the Star this week, Smith talked about election readiness. In his seasoned assessment, the Liberals are in okay shape in terms of logistics – money, planes, organization, platform.

"I would say that on the organizational side, we can handle an election from this point on," Smith said. "I wouldn't have said that a few months ago, but I can say it now."

Good to go, or good enough to go. But, we need a narrative:
"What everybody would concede is that the party is not ready, intellectually," said Herle. "What is the Liberal narrative in this election? What's the strategy to win an election? Without answering those questions, you can't settle on a platform, design advertising or lay out a tour plan."

Herle, then answers his own question:
"Stephen Harper is a very intelligent person, but he's very right-wing. If you look at the philosophical spectrum, he's probably as right-wing a leader as we've had in memory. And I'm not sure that a lot of Canadians understand that," Smith said. As well, "in living memory I've never seen anybody where things were run from the Prime Minister's Office so directly," he argued. "I mean, this is new. And to the extent that Canadians understand that, I don't think they relate to it."

There's your narrative.

If people want to lose an election, then I can't think of a better way than furthering the idea of weakness, alienating core groups, by taking a pass on this immigration reform. Don't blame the media, we provide the storyline with our inaction. Dion doesn't get any respect? Why should he really, all he does is abstain. When the Liberals ask six questions in QP, criticizing the Conservatives on this immigration reform, and then do nothing in the end, don't get angry when we read more and more on weakness. Is it fair? You know what, it probably is when you stand back. Nobody respects a wimp, nobody gravitates to inaction, nobody holds cowering in high regard. The only way to change the channel, is for Dion and the Liberals to take a stand, and get out there and make our case. Sitting on the sidelines is a recipe for failure, you never win. Patience shouldn't be confused with sealing your own fate over time.

24 comments:

Greg said...

Exactly. The question is will progressives stick with the Liberals or jump ship once they cave on immigration? If they jump ship will they go Green or NDP or split? It is a big, big mess.

Jennifer Smith said...

Well said!

I would add one further argument against the 'wait for the economy to tank' strategy. For some unknown reason and despite all evidence to the contrary, there has always been a perception that Conservatives are good at dealing with economic issues.

Because of this, and because the coming/current economic crisis is seen as originating in the U.S. rather than Canada, far from being blamed for our economic woes, the Conservatives are likely to paint themselves as the only ones who can save us. And people will buy it because... well, most people aren't that bright.

(I'm sorry - did I say that out loud?)

Steve V said...

The fact the American economy is in MUCH, MUCH worse shape than others, is another reason to discount any thoughts of the Cons "wearing" the downturn. People see what is happening stateside, and nobody is naive enough to think we operate with impunity. Seems to me people are more waiting for the fallout, rather than looking to place blame.

Joe said...

Of course the elephant in the room that everyone likes to ignore is the fact that the election is not the Liberals to call. The House being what it is requires that all three opposition parties vote in unison to bring down the Government.

Picture the day Stephane finally drums up the courage to bring the house down only to have Jack or Gilles say no.

Harper has a minority in name only, with the divided opposition he effectively has a majority.

Steve V said...

Yes Joe, I'm sure if the Liberals try to force an election, the NDP and Bloc would love to prop up the government, especially with all the rhetoric of the past months. I don't even consider that an issue. More mole than elephant.

Anonymous said...

Geez Joe, don't worry about the Bloq and the NDP. If the Liberals actually finally stood up to vote against the government and the NDP sat it out, their own supporters would have them drawn and quartered.

If the NDP sat it out, that would be win-win for the Liberals. Don't let that stop you.

bigcitylib said...

Well, a couple of things.

1)What would help the Libs in Que. would that they look like they're credible elsewhere. That's part of what happened in '06 for the Harper Tories; they sucked in Quebec until they looked competitive in the ROC.IMHO

2)That Dion will "wear well with voters" is as much speculation as the idea that a sagging economy will harm the governing party. One with a lot less empirical evidence on its side.

3) Quebec and Ontario is where Harper needs to win votes if he is to get a majority. I would also say that the Atlantic Provinces and B.C. will feel the pinch when the economy sags. When you say "The West" you really mean Alberta.

3) The problem with the "Harper is very right wing" is that, while it is true and percieved to be true, the Canadian people also seem to regard him as being not too bad as long as he is being held in check by his minority situation. To say that Harper is governing as though he has a majority is baloney. A majority would look like Mike Harris, nationalized.

Steve V said...

"To say that Harper is governing as though he has a majority is baloney."

If he can push this immigration reform through the house, despite our opposition, that's exactly what he has. And, to those who use the Senate, Harper would face the same circumstance with a majority.

On Quebec, BCL, Dion has limited range in the short term, he's a known quantity. Besides, I don't remember Harper polling below Layton, and he was an "unknown".

As for Dion "wears well", that is really the only option left, because you NEVER rehabiliate him, or get traction, by demonstrating weakness, a narrative that reinforces the attack ads. The only thing that saves Dion is an election.

Koby said...

Going right now would be a mistake. Sure Ontario is looks good, but things are not getting any better in Quebec, BC is disaster, and there is not much potential for growth in the Maritimes. Indeed so what if they Liberals take, 5 to 7 seats from the Conservatives in Ontario and 2 to 3 from the NDP. (That is a best case scenario too) That is still not going make them the governing party. The Conservatives are going to gain seats at the expense of Liberals and NDP in BC, and at the expense of Bloc in Quebec.

Steve V said...

koby

Things aren't getting better in Quebec anytime soon, or at least not before Nov 09. Things are a "disaster" in BC? The Maritimes, we could pickup a few seats, best case scenario and that doesn't change over time.

Really, it comes down to Ontario, and we already have the "anti-Ontario" narrative on the frontburner, I don't see how appearing weak increases our chances.

Bottomline, our chances to win a minority aren't great, but if we keep this nonsense up, then a Con majority is more likely.

Möbius said...

probably as right-wing a leader as we've had in memory. And I'm not sure that a lot of Canadians understand that," Smith said. As well, "in living memory I've never seen anybody where things were run from the Prime Minister's Office so directly,"

SH is not acting like a right-winger, he's acting more like a Liberal. What's right-wing about him?

In living memory, Chretien was running certain things from the PMO directly. Hence recent problems.

The only reason to depose Dion now is to speed up the new leader selection process. The LPC needs to develop a few policies before they attempt to do something so stupid, unless they want to wait for another 5 years of a CPC majority government for their next opportunity. This is their "time-out". Time to make something useful out of it.

Steve V said...

"What's right-wing about him?"

I can't you seriously.

Joe said...

Anon 2:37 says that the NDP would be up in arms if Jack sat out on a bill. Which depending on the bill may well be true but even if the NDP were to do a liplock with the Libs there still would not be enough votes to bring down the Cons. The Libs, Bloc and NDP all have to vote to bring down this government and at this time the Libs aren't the only ones contemplating the yawning chasm of a dissatisfied electorate. How many Bloc MPs are going to vote themselves out of a job?

Möbius said...

His policies are right of centre, but "US style neo-con right-wingish", not so much.

I'm slightly right of centre, switching back and forth between the PC's and Libs over the last 20 years (depending on who's more corrupt at the time), and he's not behaving nearly fiscally conservative for my liking.

Steve V said...

mobius

The neo-cons aren't behaving very "fiscally" either. Harper's as right-wing as Bush, that's why he calls him Steve.

Koby said...

>>>>> Things are a "disaster" in BC?

The Quadra debacle was hardly a surprise to people who live here, least of all Liberal staffers and MPs. I can guarantee you that if there is spring election, the Conservatives would pick up 4 or 5 Liberals seats in BC.

Anyway, suppose the Liberals and NDP hold in BC, god know how, and the Liberals pick up 5 Conservative seats in Ontario, 3 NDP seats in Ontario and 3 Conservative seats in NFLD. The Conservatives would still hold an 8 seat lead 120 – 112 and then you factor in Quebec and the Conservatives taking oh, 5 Bloc seats and you are right back were you started. In the meantime you have spent the Liberals entire war chest.

Speaking of Quebec, the question is not whether the Liberals will move up over the summer, but rather will a summer of causalities hurt the Conservatives, if only slightly, in Quebec. Right now the Afghan issue is the only thing the Bloc has going for it and even then the situation is dire for them. With the Liberals have punted the issue away, it is not going to get as much attention as it once did.

Josh Gould said...

The Quadra debacle was hardly a surprise to people who live here, least of all Liberal staffers and MPs. I can guarantee you that if there is spring election, the Conservatives would pick up 4 or 5 Liberals seats in BC.

Doubtful. Even in Quadra during a by-election, the Conservatives couldn't match the level of support the Alliance received in 2000. While I've little doubt that the Greens will do better in the next election than in 2006, the sorts of numbers we've seen in by-elections are unlikely to persist. The simple fact is that by-elections mean very little.

Anyway, suppose the Liberals and NDP hold in BC, god know how, and the Liberals pick up 5 Conservative seats in Ontario, 3 NDP seats in Ontario and 3 Conservative seats in NFLD. The Conservatives would still hold an 8 seat lead 120 – 112 and then you factor in Quebec and the Conservatives taking oh, 5 Bloc seats and you are right back were you started. In the meantime you have spent the Liberals entire war chest.

Except that the task for the party will be to continue raising money during and after an election. In the meantime, the Liberals will have finally showed some backbone against the putatively unconscionable Conservatives, and by holding Harper to another minority, his position in his own party will be significantly weakened - remember, these are the people who have built up a leadership cult around their "genius" strategist leader.

Steve V said...

"Anyway, suppose the Liberals and NDP hold in BC, god know how, and the Liberals pick up 5 Conservative seats in Ontario, 3 NDP seats in Ontario and 3 Conservative seats in NFLD. The Conservatives would still hold an 8 seat lead 120 – 112 and then you factor in Quebec and the Conservatives taking oh, 5 Bloc seats and you are right back were you started. In the meantime you have spent the Liberals entire war chest."

Please tell me how waiting brings the extra seats?

Koby said...

“Even in Quadra during a by-election, the Conservatives couldn't match the level of support the Alliance received in 2000.”

They do not have to move much and I am not talking about Quadra. I am talking about Richmond, North Vancouver, Newton North Delta, West Vancouver Sunshine coast, Esquimalt Juan de Fuca.

>>>> While I've little doubt that the Greens will do better in the next election than in 2006, the sorts of numbers we've seen in by-elections are unlikely to persist.

I agree. I am not worried about the Green numbers. I am worried about the Conservatives eating into the Liberal numbers. If the Conservatives move up 3 or even 2% in BC at the expense of the Liberals, then the aforementioned all go Conservative.


>>>> Please tell me how waiting brings the extra seats?

Who knows? Maybe things change. Maybe the Liberals will finally get around to rolling out policy. The point is if you go now, there is no way the Liberals win.

burlivespipe said...

The immigration item is just the tip of the iceberg, both ways. Harper and his hacks have done nothing but show their fervent disdain for multiculturalism since taking office. While as a program 'multiculturalism' is not without its failures, but as a whole it has been incredibly successful in creating a Canada where people from immensely differing backgrounds become neighbours, co-workers, friends and family. It has developed into part of the Canadian mosaic mythology, whether you believe it or not... And the CONs are spending our tax dollars to chip it away, without supplying any kind of optional choice for Canadians.
My wife is Chinese-Canadian. She has been reading the chat forums and newspapers, and all seem to be nearly 100% against Harper's immigration legislation. A number of times it has been stated that this act must be stopped, that it is an attack on the Canadian rule of immigration and fairness. There are the obvious lies being spouted by the government (that immigration has risen since they took office; in fact, they've put the brakes to immigration in favour of temporary work permits) that are getting less than sure shrift from the media.
But the Canadians who will most likely be effected by this legislation will not understand our 'principled' sitting on our hands for a better chance. You don't keep giving the bully money and opportunity to punch him in the hopes that you can catch him when he's got a 104-degree fever. At some point you've got to take a stand. It appears that this is that time.

Steve V said...

burl

Agreed!

Josh Gould said...

They do not have to move much and I am not talking about Quadra. I am talking about Richmond, North Vancouver, Newton North Delta, West Vancouver Sunshine coast, Esquimalt Juan de Fuca.

Newton-North Delta and Equimailt-Juan de Fuca are far more likely to fall to the NDP than the Conservatives, who were the third place finishers in both. As for ridings like Richmond, they're the exact sort that will be more likely to be lost if the Liberals let this immigration legislation pass.

I agree. I am not worried about the Green numbers. I am worried about the Conservatives eating into the Liberal numbers. If the Conservatives move up 3 or even 2% in BC at the expense of the Liberals, then the aforementioned all go Conservative.

Then start fighting for those voters! Start by standing up for Liberal principles and policies, assuming they have any. The immigration reforms can be seen as just one part of it. In the meantime, the Liberals are letting the Conservatives govern as if they had a majority - since we are likely to be stuck with minority parliaments in the future, when will the Liberals start to fight for putatively progressive policies in the Commons?

Tomm said...

Steve,

Interesting post.

The Liberal's should have forced an election two months after Dion became its leader. Hindsight is 20/20. But if you recall, I was also saying that at the time.

Its truly a lose-lose for the LPC. They've got no money and fewer and fewer committed volunteers. They have no prospects of getting more money, or committed volunteers because their party is tanking, and they will have to fight an election regardless.

Fight now and lose. Use it to boot Dion. Fight later and lose, use it to boot Dion. Pick a poison.

One thing to be careful of, is the Canadian public thinking that the LPC has no principles and is just forcing an election to get rid of their own leader, because the party has no internal mechanism to do it.

If that sticks with the public, life will get uglier for Liberal's.

In regards to the polls. Just quit looking at them and start forging some coherent policies.

Without policies to sell, the apparent lead in Ontario will evaporate. I hate to think what effect Mulcair's rant "the Liberal's stand for NOTHING" is having in Ontario. We already know what effect its had in Quebec.

Tomm

Koby said...

You are sounding an awfully like Thomas Mulcair Josh. Yes the Liberals lack policy. Yes the Liberals are letting the Conservatives govern like a majority. Yes, there is no clear answer as to what do the Liberals stand for. No, there is no point in fighting an election that will either result in a Conservative majority or larger Conservative minority. Indeed, however bad the Liberal situation the NDP is even worse off.

Here is my prediction for what would happen to the NDP if there was an election this spring. NDP will be swept aside by a Liberal wave in 416 and will loose votes to the Greens. Layton will barely keep his seat, but Chow and Nash will loose their seats. The situation will only be slightly better for the NDP in the 905. Marston and Charlton will loose. Elsewhere in the province, Maythyssen and Tony Martin will have fight on for dear life. In BC Dawn Black, Penny and Bell will all loose to the Conservatives.

It is cruel irony indeed that as the NDP has hammered away at the Liberals, NDP voters in Ontario look to be moving back to the Liberals.

As for Newton-North Delta, it was a close three way race last time and this is G. Grewal’s old seat. The Conservatives have won it before and they will win it again. Equimailt Juan de Fuca is more a Keith Martin seat than a Liberal seat. However, a la landslide Anny, the national polls can only move so much before Martin is trouble. If Martin does loose it will be because blue liberal voters felt comfortable enough voting Conservative. That is where all the potential for movement is.