Tuesday, June 03, 2008

On "Cowardly" Liberals

Plenty of criticism, much of it justified, some good questions:
Pray tell, what exactly the Liberals waiting for? What will show them that this is it, and that they must go now? Are they waiting for a signed invitation from Harper? What about flying pigs? Little girls bearing skittles? Mana from Heaven? Hmmm? No one has told us exactly what these cowardly Liberals are waiting for.

You hear the above, in differing forms, across the blogosphere, as the Liberals are reduced to punching bags, everyone taking shots. Justified? Well obviously, from a principled position, hard to spin the abstaining strategy. It's weak, it's an abdication of responsibility, it's a loser politically, it reinforces negative impressions of Dion, it allows others, namely the NDP, to capitalize on the "opposition" vacuum, it is what it is. If anything, Dion's leadership numbers have plummeted further (who would have thought that possible), the Liberals have failed to benefit from Conservative missteps, missteps that have been plentiful. At best, the Conservatives various scandals have temporarily distracted the media from their previous focus on Liberal inaction, but that was never by design, just luck. In other words, this strategy has accomplished nothing, except to strengthen the arguments of detractors.

I've resigned myself to this strategy, of running out the clock on this session of parliament, spending the summer getting ready, with the ultimate goal of forcing an election in the fall. At some point, you tire of beating your head against a wall, the decision was made months ago, best to make the best of a questionable direction.

Despite my feelings, I acknowledge there are other points of view, and while I vehemently disagree, they aren't without merit. I knew the writing was on the wall, when I heard Dryden at a small fundraiser, he articulated the patience strategy in a clear way. Basically, you only get one chance, you go when you at maximum readiness, armed with policy, solid candidates and a clear gameplan. For whatever reason, those close to Dion feel more time is needed to prepare, a summer of consolidation, the Liberals will be stronger come the fall. Important to remember the timing, these decisions were largely made in the aftermath of the latest Quebec Liberal blowup. No one could quibble with the fact that the Quebec wing of the party was anything but ready, in fact it was in disarray. In waiting, it allows time to get candidates, develop some cohesion, even down to simple things like fax machines and office space. You can understand why some people were "spooked", rightly or wrongly.

I saw the latest no show routine of Liberal MP's, as they take a pass on the Conservatives Immigration reforms. It's hard to get worked up anymore, because it doesn't matter, that ship has sailed. Rather, you just wait for it too end, and hope the summer does bring some positives. I've chosen to distract myself from the abstaining, by focusing on some interesting, and yet to be released, policy ideas. In the end, that is what will matter, and it provides a personal motivation to swallow hard. I don't think the Liberals are cowards, I just think people with the sway have committed to a certain strategy, one that believes short-term pain will pay dividends in the end. In my mind, the Liberals checked out of Parliament a couple months ago, I'm just waiting for it too be official, so we can get on with it.

14 comments:

Austin said...

Political version of Ali's rope-de-dope, I say.

Anonymous said...

We have no platform.

It will be very difficult to craft one now after voting in favour of everything the Conservatives want.

I don't know where Dion is going to find a platform, but the longer he waits the more convinced I am that someone else will have to be leader, unfortunately.

And who? There is no one, hence the stalemate. Dion won because no one else was acceptable. No one else is still acceptable. So we have Dion and no platform.

Catch 22, painted into a corner, up against the ropes etc. etc.

I doubt we will go in the fall.

ottlib said...

Many in the Liberal blogsphere just do not understand that a bunch of scandals is not enough to win an election.

Look at the last one. The Conservatives had the scandal to beat all scandals. It was the talk of Canada for 3 YEARS and throughout that time they never once lead in the polls. In addition they were still trailing in the polls halfway through the election. It was only the RCMP announcement of the Income Trust Leak investigation that finally tipped the polls in the Conservatives direction, and then not by much.

You will also note that the Conservatives actually had a platform beyond the Accountability Act. There is still some debate as to whether the Liberal platform is ready.

So look at the current situation. The Conservatives have demonstrated that they do not walk the accountability walk but none of their scandals or missteps have been of the fatal variety. There is certainly some good ammo to take into a campaign and some of the visuals over the last couple of months will make great advertizing material. However, the Liberals are going to need much more than that to defeat the Conservatives.

The Liberals have one shot at this. If they lose then we are stuck with the Conservatives for at least two years while the Liberals again sort themselves out.

If these were the Conservatives of Joe Clark or even Jim Prentice I could live with that and I would agree that the time is now and let the chips fall where they may.

However, they are not that kind of Conservative. If they win we are stuck with Stephen Harper, Jim Flaherty, Van Loan, Poilivre et al. That is, the vehemently partisan Conservatives as opposed to anything resembling moderate voices. And make no mistake if the Conservatives win the next election that will emboldened these cement heads to pursue their agenda even harder, much to the detriment of Canada.

So complain all you want about Liberal inaction. Accuse them of placing expedience over principle all you want but remember that there is much more at stake here than bad optics for the Liberal Party.

Oh yes, for those who believe that Liberal actions have actually had an effect on the polls I would point out that we are seeing the exact same dynamic in this minority Parliament as the last minority Parliament. Back then it was the Conservatives doing what they could to avoid an election. It was Stephen Harper trailing Paul Martin by a wide margin. And all of it meant nothing. Three weeks into the last campaign Stephen Harper had reduced a 25point "leadership/vision" deficit to single digits. By the end of the campaign he was ahead. He also changed an eight point deficit in the polls into a 6 point lead.

I would also point out that at this point in the last election cycle the Conservatives were sitting in fourth in Quebec in single digits.

northwestern_lad said...

"For whatever reason, those close to Dion feel more time is needed to prepare, a summer of consolidation, the Liberals will be stronger come the fall."

Steve... I know how you feel about this whole situation, but you must admit that this has been the same line going now for a while. First it was "wait until the New Year, then we'll be stronger", which then became "wait for the spring, then we'll be stronger", which then became "wait for the summer, then we'll be stronger" and now, after all of that, we're supposed to believe "wait for the fall, then they'll be stronger"???

This has become a sad joke at this point, like hearing Michael Jackson has been accused of abusing another kid or Britney Spears being back in rehab. Honestly, I never thought i'd see the day that the Liberal brand would be exposed to such crap. I'm not trying to pile on or anything, but like I said way back when, this is like watching your opponent get defeated by their own hand, and not on "the field of battle" as it were. It doesn't seem right, but it is what it is and Mr. Dion has no one to blame but himself for that.

Mushroom said...

There is a difference between abstaining through various actions: sitting on your hands, not showing up for the vote, having a token presence etc. and opposing the government, but allowing the Parliamentary process to move forward.

The Grits chose the first because they lacked the imagination to do the second.

Olivia Chow said today, the Grits can hold up C-50 by holding Senate hearings and force Harper to demand passage through stealth. That the Grits failed to consider this option represents bad optics that do not play well in the political sphere.

Dr. Tux said...

"Well obviously, from a principled position, hard to spin the abstaining strategy. It's weak, it's an abdication of responsibility"

I take objection to this statement.

From a principled position, our responsibility is to defeat and replace these clowns. It would be irresponsible to bring this government down, just so it can stand up again.

Don't pretend that the position you advocated has a monopoly on principles or responsibility.

Remember that we respect each other's position.

Dr. Tux said...

"Well obviously, from a principled position, hard to spin the abstaining strategy. It's weak, it's an abdication of responsibility"

I take objection to this statement.

From a principled position, our responsibility is to defeat and replace these clowns. It would be irresponsible to bring this government down, just so it can stand up again.

Don't pretend that the position you advocated has a monopoly on principles or responsibility.

Remember that we respect each other's position.

Anonymous said...

This will only be answered after the next election. I think most people can understand why the Liberals have not pulled the plug, its obvious, but, on the election trail the questions will be asked by the average Canadian, if the bills passed were bad for Canada, why did you pass them? I dont understand for the life of me why Dion stood so many times in front of camera's and called a Conservative bill bad for Canada and bad for the country. I can understand living to fight another day, but, was there not someone around to tell him to soften the rhetoric just a wee bit?? And thats whats going to cost him. billg

Anonymous said...

I fully agree with you and have been wondering the same thing, what the hell will it take, to my opinion, someone missed the boat..and there is political cowardice..

Steve V said...

"Don't pretend that the position you advocated has a monopoly on principles or responsibility."

Well, it is entirely spin to argue that we are abstaining because Canadians don't want an election. And, I would add, you can't criticize a bill or initiative, then fail to even show up for the vote. Principled, would be YES or NO, because hiding is essentially a YES, no matter how you frame it. If you want to claim principled stance, then falling back on the "marker" defence is almost nonsensical, if you disagree with the reforms, you don't cut a deal in the Senate to let it pass, you delay, you filibuster- that's the bottom line.

It's an argument of self preservation, intellectually dishonest to present it as anything else, it's a simple political strategy, not a principled stance, because it sacrifices said principles to achieve the goal. There is an inherent contradiction there, and while I understand it, you don't get the luxury of arguing principle.

Mushroom said...

From a Hill Times article in Blogging a Dead Horse.

The Grits will expedite passage of the budget so Parliament would shut down early on June 11, so the MPs could go home and possibly stay at their constituencies until November!!!

You call this "Making Parliament Work"? It seems the Grits are in danger of making this minority
government, one of the more effective legislative session in recent times. All without having the Cons ask the Grits for passage of additional supply measures, in order to keep the government alive.

Steve V said...

"It seems the Grits are in danger of making this minority
government, one of the more effective legislative session in recent times."

One thing to consider, if parliament doesn't come back until November, and given the long break last year, it serves as some indication of just how "light" the Conservative agenda.

Mushroom said...

"One thing to consider, if parliament doesn't come back until November"

This means definite election. No way will the Grits allow a new throne speech to pass.

The Cons may also limp back into the House in September and wait for the next confidence motion, which is the fall economic update. If the economy goes south, well, the Cons' steering wheel will be extremely sticky.

I also heard that the Grits and the Bloc want to be out by Thursday at the latest. The NDP wants to extend the sitting but it remains to be seen what 31 members can do if closure was agreed upon.

Josh G said...

The Liberals have one shot at this. If they lose then we are stuck with the Conservatives for at least two years while the Liberals again sort themselves out.

Well, no. Unless the Cons win a majority, which remains unlikely, we will have another minority Parliament, in which case it will be the duty of the Liberal Party actually to oppose (meaningfully) wrongheaded Cons policy. I don't think the defenders of the current policy of abstentions understand what minority government is about. It's all well and good to claim that the Liberals would reverse things like the immigration changes if they win government, but in the meantime, they've let these changes pass and the damage will start to be done. Worse, the abstentions - which reflect nothing more than Liberal self-interest - are spun as justified since Canadians don't want an election in the spring... or the summer... or ever?

Cowardice is the right word - if a Cons majority is such a bad thing, and I tend to agree that it is, allowing them to govern as if they had a majority is no better. And that's exactly what the Liberals are letting happen.