Thursday, May 15, 2008

Who's Afraid?

A common retort from Conservatives, is if the polls point to a deadheat, if the government is supposedly weakened, why then don’t the Liberals force an election? I’ve heard it mentioned numerous times that party internal polling must point to defeat, Liberals should take little comfort in public polls. Nevermind that unsubstantiated assumption, I think it really is pretty simple, why despite apparent opportunity, the Liberals have chosen to wait.

I am of the belief that we should go now, should have gone already, so my understanding of the rationale is more admission of another point of view, rather than complete agreement. It seems clear to me, that people do see the potential for victory now, but feel it is best to keep our powder dry until the result looks more certain. The feeling is that time is the Liberal friend, both in terms of heightened “readiness” and potential for further Conservative erosion. You only get one chance, better to roll the dice with maximum odds.

I understand the apprehension in this sense, a 50/50 proposition now has the potential to be a 60/40 scenario in the fall. I’m not debating whether that potential is real or wishful thinking, but it is true that the Liberals are in the drivers seat on election timing, Harper has largely given up control with his fixed election date pledge. The Liberals have the power to choose the issue, choose the moment when the landscape offers the best opportunity.

David Herle writes an interesting column, with a great headline –“Yes, They Can Win An Election”. It offers advice on ways the Liberals can improve their fortunes, particularly how Dion can use his lack of natural political instincts to his advantage, namely that is fine to be different, maybe even attractive to not be a seasoned spinster, a partisan pitbull. Herle also offers advice on Quebec, correctly arguing that it is key if Liberals are to acquire better odds for victory:
”The Liberal party with its current problems in Quebec could likely not beat the old Progressive Conservative party, but it can beat the Harper Conservative party.
In particular, this needs to happen in Quebec. Savagely caricatured by the media and political elites of Quebec, he has essentially been the victim of an ongoing negative ad campaign with no response. As a native son of Quebec City, somebody who has travelled the road from separatist to federalist yet remains a stout defender of Quebec's jurisdiction, and with a strong record of achievement, he has a biography that needs to be told in Quebec. Right now, he is considered a liability for the Liberals in Quebec. He needs to be, and can be, a strength. Liberal fortunes in Quebec will largely rise or fall on the basis of Dion, and the Liberal party should respond by reintroducing him to the Quebec electorate.”

Herle echoes what I’ve argued, if we are to wait, then Dion’s focus should be Quebec, Quebec and then some more Quebec. If hesitation has been “internalized” by Liberals, most of the apprehension stems from perceived organizational and popular weakness in Quebec. The readiness question is largely a regional problem, it could go a long to improving morale, if there was a sense of movement in Quebec. Last week’s successful fundraiser can’t be understated, an influx of money into the provincial coffers acts like a shot in the arm, lays the foundation for the idea of some improvement. A good first step for suggesting the Liberals could come off the mat, sometimes a possibility is all that is required to change psychology.

When Conservatives argue the Liberals are scared, that is why they wait, I think it should be dismissed. I’m not afraid of Stephen Harper in the least, and there is nothing to suggest that he has made any inroads with Canadians. My only beef with waiting, has always been about what that does to Dion, what that does to the Liberals, how Canadians react to perceived “weakness”, it was never about worrying about the big blue machine. I think we would have a good chance of beating them now, but I also understand why some might think the odds are better with time. If people want to think its “fear” that’s their prerogative, I think it more a debate about when best to pounce, what scenario offers the best case scenario. Tactical consideration, rather than any sense of seeing a juggernaut across the aisle. Waiting is just a strategy, a strategy we can debate, it isn’t about scary internal polls, or inability to spend the maximum in an election campaign, or no ideas, or fear of Harper’s merry band of misfits, it’s just a gameplan, with the ultimate goal of forming the next government.


Anonymous said...

There is a perception of Liberal weakness because Dion and LPC are weak. My biggest issue is that the Liberal Party has given Harper a de facto majority. Why not call an election because its not like Harper isn't doing damage to the country now. Canadians are tired of a political party that only acts in its political interest not in the interest of the country. I know that LPC activists believe that the interests of their party are the interests of the country but that isn't true. Just ask Canadians who are worried about the implications of Harper's immigration 'reform' or the people who work in the film and television industry (bill c10) assuming the Cons make it a confidence vote. Or ask Canadian voters who care that the Conservative/Liberal coalition is limiting the federal government's fiscal capacity to implement new programs (read Paul Wells).
Enough with LPC rationalizations. To Dion and caucus: Step up to your role as official 'opposition' or step aside. The real opposition is the NDP to the Conservative agenda (

Steve V said...

It's not a rationalization, it's a calculation, based on how best to defeat the government. Your criticisms are nothing that I haven't mentioned myself, all I'm saying others have decided a different path, and it isn't based on any fear, just probabilities.

Jay said...

Interesting anon,
I would argue that the liberals are taking the correct path. The cons still poll high so what better way to show Canadians why you shouldn't vote conservative than by giving them a taste of what cons would do with a majority. Keep in mind the liberals will revert all the bad policy back.

The NDP on the other hand can say what they wish as they never have to follow through on any of it. They are though, through similar rhetoric going to help the cons get a majority if Laytons attacks have any effect. The liberal vote will not switch to NDP in the next election. What Jack got in borrowed votes the last time is all he can ever expect. Indeed those fortunes seem to have diminished since the last election. What Jack is doing is catering to the nickel and dimers who have little petty grievances with fees, etc. No grand vision, no nothing. They have even abandoned the environment to cater to rural folk because they realize they have lost the urban centres. Rural folk will not be voting for Big City Toronto Jack Layton. I would imagine Jack will be seatless after the next vote.

NDP as official opposition? What a joke. As useful as the sole NDP member in Newfoundlands provincial government. Big on ideas and whining but neutered when it comes to action and influence.

Greg said...

Keep in mind the liberals will revert all the bad policy back.

Ya anon, don't you remember how the Liberals reverted back Free Trade and the GST? Have faith man, the Liberal Party would never walk away from a solemn pledge.

Jay said...

Yeah greg, and the conservatives are accountable and transparent.

Glad they reduced the gas tax when it hit what was it 85 cents a litre is what Harper said just a few years back and lets not forget about no new taxes, except on income trusts.

See its easy to pick on liberals and conservatives because they have been governemnt, unlike the NDP. And by the way greg neither Chretien or Martinn are the leader of the liberal party currently, nor will they be the next liberal PM.

Great job with deflection. Look over there...the liberals.


Steve V said...

"Have faith man, the Liberal Party would never walk away from a solemn pledge."

Is that like income trusts? Just curious.

Antonio said...

I have said for a while that Dion can win an election, and can make small gains on the island of Montreal and in some suburbs. If they wish to take government away from the conservatives, they will have to beat them elsewhere because in Quebec, they will probably be head to head in 1 or 2 ridings maximum.

I would like to mention that if you speak to helene scherrer or dennis dawson, or any of the martin entourage from Quebec, they will tell you David Herle didnt understand a damn thing about the province and that was why Martin did so poorly after the 2004 election in the province.

Don't say Gomery was the reason Martin did poorly. The decision by Paul Martin's entourage (mostly unilingual anglophones) decided it would be politically beneficial to publicly hang half the Quebec Liberal wing out to dry to the wild accusations of a madman like Jean Brault.

When David Herle gives you advice about Quebec, just take it with a grain of salt

Anonymous said...

"the Liberal Party has given Harper a de facto majority."

I completely disagree with this assertion. Harper does not have a de facto majority ... the difference between what he can do now and what he would do if he had a true majority is immense.

Steve V said...


I'll take the advice that there is work to do in Quebec, whether it has any effect is debatable. Interesting that you see the potential for seat gains.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that the Liberal activists argue that Jack and the NDP have no vision given that other liblogs are desperately trying to convince their readers that the NDP are good for ideas but not good enough for their vote. Sigh more LPC/Lib activist double-talk.

The cons are bad on immigration - but we won't vote against Bill C50
The cons are killing our planet- but we won't support a non-confidence motion to try and stop them
The cons are not waging a successful war in Afghanistan - we will extend the mission...twice
The cons are squandering the govt's fiscal capacity - we won't vote against the budget

In fact, the LPC caucus would sooner play gotcha politics about the girlfriend of an (admittedly pathetic) Foreign Affairs Minister instead of focusing on substantive issues like the ongoing 25 year income gap or the shedding of manufacturing jobs in Ontario.

I get what the LPC is about. I have a personal history with the party. I simply will no longer stand by while the LPC and LPC activists try and claim the 'progressive' ground. The facts simply belie the the claim.

The NDP has successfully increased their vote in the last three elections. I don't characterize that as borrowing votes rather they are growing their vote.

Thanks to Liberal inaction that vote will continue to grow. Canadians want political parties that act on their principles.

Steve V said...


Good pep talk, if predictable.

Anonymous said...

Seat gains in Quebec City and South Shore while improbable months ago, are now realistic. I see Verner and Bernier vulnerable Cabinet Ministers that can be knocked off. This is due to the self-destruction of Dumont in the by-elections. Paint Dumont with Harper and the Cons can go up in flames in Quebec.

The best strategy for Dion in Quebec is to defeat the Cons on the immigration bill. Then he needs to make a passionate defence of Canada's multicultural fabric and how Harper will set to erode this. Add to support for the carbon tax and Dion can make some mileage.

Mind you, an election fought on immigration will get nasty and Dion has shown a reluctance to push back at Harper using attack ads. He will need to because you are essentially painting Harper as a boogie man.

Antonio said...

mushroom, the Liberal candidate who ran against bernier did not receive his elections canada deposit back. Only one Liberal in Quebec City, Helene Scherrer, got over 10% in 2006. They won by bigger margins over liberals than in most Tory seats in Alberta.

Pick the battles you a win in Quebec. The Montreal seats, maybe laval, and Brossard. They will not go head to head with the Conservatives in any riding except Pontiac, and even then, maybe.

A Liberal election win will come in the 905 and the ridings bordering it, not in he very small c conservative heartland of the province of Quebec

Anonymous said...


I saw the result in Louis-Hebert where Scherrer got squeezed out in a three man race. Come election time and with the carbon tax on the horizon, the three man race will become a five man race (adding an increase presence for the Greens and the NDP). Everything is up for grabs.

I do not consider Quebec City, small-c conservative heartland. If it is conservative, the Grits need to ensure that they vote for the Bloc and not Harper's Conservatives.

The key for Dion is not to pick your battles. It is like guerrilla warfare, set up roadside bombs in Quebec and hope that Harper rolls over them like a light armoured vehicle. Immigration and reasonable accomodation are the two issues that can destroy the Cons.

Antonio said...

mushroom by squeezed out you mean 11% right

the liberals dont have a massive war chest. they need to fight where they can win.

Greg said...

Is that like income trusts? Just curious.

Exactly like the income trusts, Steve. Are you suggesting that the Tories are as bad as Liberals or that the Liberals are as bad as Tories?

Steve V said...

I like, the Tories are just as bad as the Liberals, because it provides a nice contrast to all the moral high ground positioning of Harper and company while in opposition, during the campaign. Being like the dirty Liberals is quite a blow for the lily white, self-anointed "principled" ones.

Greg said...

I like, the Tories are just as bad as the Liberals, because it provides a nice contrast to all the moral high ground positioning of Harper and company while in opposition, during the campaign. Being like the dirty Liberals is quite a blow for the lily white, self-anointed "principled" ones.

Everything you say is true, but why it would encourage anyone to vote for either party, remains a mystery.

Steve V said...


No, it clearly doesn't motivate, in fact it creates more apathy.