Thursday, October 23, 2008

Abstaining

One of the chief questions, being asked of returning Liberal MP's- are they prepared to endure another period of abstentions? The theory being, a weakened opposition, with no leader and no money, will be forced to dodge and weave to avoid another election. I would argue, that there should be little chance for a repeat of last spring's embarrassing string of abstentions. One simple reason, Canadians will crucify any party that forces us back to the polls within the next year.

Let's not forget, that the Harper strategy of making everything a non-confidence motion came after his government had been in office for some time. The Conservatives could leverage the Liberals, because the minority government was well into any mandate, the prospects of any election were real. The reality is much different now, and the Liberals have the benefit of potential voter wrath as useful counter.

The Liberals need to make the case immediately, that this is a minority government, that must reflect the views of a majority of members to survive. That frame is crucial, on any occasion wherein the Harper government attempts to ram through legislation, without proper input from other parties, the Liberals can argue that voting against translates to the Conservatives forcing an election, because of simple arrogance and bullying. The Liberals are in a weakened state, absolutely no reasonable scenario wherein they welcome another election, which means that as long as they make an honest effort to accommodate, they have the luxury of voting against the government, with little chance of recourse. Canadians recognize the Liberal predicament, should they draw a line in the sand, it will be rightfully characterized as a simple matter of principle, Harper would bear the full weight of plunging the country into another election.

It remains to be seen, but in the coming months, I would argue the onus is on the Harper government to be conciliatory. Should Harper begin to act as though he has a majority, attempting to jam legislation down the weakened Liberals throat, he could well face a surprise, rather than abstaining to avoid, a vote against, with the full knowledge that the government would be held to account. It is in NOBODY'S interest to play games of brinksmanship in the coming months, because in reality, there won't be an election. The party that is perceived to be playing games, acting outside of the minority reality, will pay the price, and in this way a weakened Liberal Party can turn this around to their advantage. Explain in no uncertain terms, right from the onset, that the Liberals are prepared to come to mutual agreements, but should the government present legislation, based on the assumption the Liberals will abstain, they willfully set the stage for an election of their own making.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

And if the government should fall relatively soon after the election, it is still entirely within the realm of possibility that the GG asks if anyone else can run things...

Hello stable progressive minority government!

Greg said...

I would argue, that there should be little chance for a repeat of last spring's embarrassing string of abstentions. One simple reason, Canadians will crucify any party that forces us back to the polls within the next year.

Wouldn't that mean that we are headed for abstentions? I am not saying that is how it is going to play out, but if the government calls the Liberal bluff, will they vote to bring down the government? More importantly, will the Tories believe the Liberals will bring them down, when they are minus a leader?

As for Canadians caring about who is at fault for an election. The Tories just won an election called in contravention of their own election law. How much easier will it be to sell the idea that they are blameless if they are defeated in a vote in the Commons? I am just sayin.

Anonymous said...

I think the Liberals should oppose every single bill and see if the other parties will support the Cons. If an election happens then, contrary to what some think, we actually do have a leader. I doubt the LPC could do any worse in another round.

Steve V said...

"but if the government calls the Liberal bluff"

Then we head to an election, an no Canadian in their right minds would think it was because the Liberals really wanted one. Fine by me, 300 million because bully Harpo can't play in the sandbox.

Gayle said...

I agree with Anon #1. Chances are any attempt to dissolve government in the near future is going to result in a coalition between the remaining parties.

Besides, apparently Harper wants the opposition to agree on all his economic measures so he can blame them if there is a recession. I think they should just tell him to find a way to restore that 12 billion dollar surplus. Either increasing the GST or taxing carbon ought to do it... :)

seaninsaskatchewan said...

I agree, call the bluff if offered by Harper. The GG can't let another election happen for at least another year.

Constant Vigilance said...

I expect that the NDP will prop up Harper. They spent to the max during this campaign. The results indicate that they saw very little real increase in their support.

Joseph said...

I may sound idealist (not something I'm normally accused of these days ; ), but I could see the NDP and Liberals agreeing not to run against any sitting MPs of either party if a snap or forced election transpires int the next 6 months.

I just think pragmatic financial considerations might trump ideological differences and allow both parties to focus on the conservatives and still compete with each other on the conservatives playground if both parties are forced into an election under the current circumstances.

I just don't think it is that far-fetched. It would be good for both parties in trying to hold what they have from this election and force the debate to the conservatives, where either party might pick up a few seats with less risk to their current standings.

I think it is quite possible the conservatives will push a few things in their bag of goodies, but I think they risk a lot if they blatantly force an election on some ideological grounds early on. They won the election, but it was hardly a ringing endorsement of their government. They might well suffer from going to the well again. They might even face some actual scrutiny this time, and the media narrative might not be as conducive to them. I suspect it wouldn't be.
_________________

Also, I know this is totally off-topic. But, Steve, can I finally say I was right about McCain's pick of Palin down south? Regardless of how things turn out (I am well aware that 12 days can be an eternity in a campaign), but it is clear at this point that Palin has been more bust than boon to McCain's campaign. I know Antonio was the main cheerleader of McCain's "strategic genius" in the choice, but most of that discussion was here on your blog. I've never been an "I told you so" kind of person. However, it sort of peeved me that my living in 3 of the battleground states (OH, FL, and VA) over the course of nearly 3 decades was dissed and dismissed by the Quebec point of view. I feel a bit justified now that perhaps my life experience might provide me some small insight on how she would be perceived and received.

And McCain did indeed toss away the leadership trump card by her selection, and it's too late to retrieve it now.

(I say all of that knowing the McCain has many many issues, of which Palin is just one. But she is the one accessory on which he can't turn the channel or page so she has become rather emblematic of his entire campaign).

Steve V said...

joseph

Fair points. I would argue that the economic meltdown brought everyone to their senses stateside, there was no more time for superficial storylines or flirtations. When things became very real, and voters went beyond the trivial, that's when Palin became a liability. If you look at the polls, the co-relation was striking, it was then that Palin's lightweight status was examined in another way, working in concert with McCain falling in the polls. Not sure if it's a told you so scenario(unless people foresaw the unthinkable), because I would argue, had the unprecedented economic volatility not come to the fore in such an absolute way, this race would still be anybody's to win. The tone is completely serious now, which highlights McCain's decision to choose Palin, prior to that it was tabloid politics and given the normal course of things, I'm not convinced it would have changed.

Mark said...

Let's see here...

F&W is expecting the Cons to not be f***ing a**holes, and CV is expecting the NDP to not be f***ing stupid. Let's think about this for a second...

Joseph said...

I think you're points are very valid, Steve. And the "I told you so" line never has fit me, still doesn't, and never will.

My - and my Republican friends and family in the States - primary issue about her selection from the beginning is it just wasn't a serious selection - and VP is the first executive decision of a potential President. And their ventings on the matter were weeks before the meltdown. But I agree the financial crisis is what galvanized the campaign trajectory. I would still argue, however, if McCain had made another choice (even Romney, whom I despise), he wouldn't be in the unenviable position he is now. So I do stand by my initial assessment that it was a bad choice that reflected badly on McCain, setting strategy aside, which is what my friends and family were starting to do even in early September. Events since that time may be accentuating that fact, but they didn't create the fact.

Joseph said...

Sorry I got off-topic, Steve.

On the topic at hand, what types of things does everyone think we will see in the next six months.

I am waiting to see if Harper finally shows some ability to try to govern beyond the next election cycle. I suspect the actual legislation put forth will be relatively moderate, with some conservative glitter but nothing that might force a showdown. But I do expect to see more blatant moves to fill government positions with conservatives and other behind-the-scene works on furthering or setting the groundwork for a conservative agenda. I think the focus will be on creating a more conservative government infrastructure than on pushing the limits on legislative matters in the House of Commons. The hope being, of course, that the other parties will be in disarray in fighting any of the measures they implement or position selections they make.

Chrystal Ocean said...

Well, I'd composed a great comment and then Blogger died. Shall try again...

I am not a member of the LPC nor a long-time supporter. Therefore, my viewpoint may not be considered of value in this discussion.

BUT two friends and I very seriously considered voting LPC this time. We'd liked the Green Shift and Dion's efforts to modernize the party and move it in a new direction. (Heck I was excited about the LPC for the 1st time in my life.) Unfortunately, the antics of party "insiders" chased our votes away - we couldn't run away fast enough.

So that said...

I would strongly urge that the Liberals NOT adopt an abstention policy. That the party instead urge its MPs to vote according to the LPC's stated principles. Thus, if a motion aligns with these, then vote Yea. Otherwise, Nay. NO ABSTENTIONS.

Make this policy public, so that there can be no doubt.

This will leave the onus up to the other opposition parties to support the Harper government or not and will force Harper to reconsider the efficacy and value of using bully tactics.

If the LPC adopts another policy of abstentions it will lose whatever respect it has left in the public consciousness.

The party did a darn good job eroding most of its cachet through the constant, public airing of the Martin/Chretien wars. And clearly, certain members - those "anonymous insiders" (aka, backstabbers and power-seekers) felt no compunction to cease and desist during an election campaign. Ultimately, it was that last which chased my friends' and my votes away.

Bottom line: No abstentions.

Anonymous said...

The Liberals should make it very clear to the other oppositions parties that they are going to vote by principle....Layton can't get away with posturing then.

Jaytoo said...

Good, yes, please, no abstentions. But stand up on principle, not from some mistaken sense of safety. Those who suggest the New Democrats will "prop up Harper" are deluded or projecting. And don't count on the Bloc to cover anyone's arse.

Call Harper's bluff. An election may even result. But follow Steve's advice and prepare now to make Harper wear his second snap call. Even if the bugger isn't ousted completely, there'll be no third run of flagrant bullying.

More realistically: prepare to rediscover that many Libloggers are both nobler and bolder than the hollowed-out party they still support.

William said...

disentsI agree with Gayle.

It is especially important to make it clear that Harpers favorite U.S. tactic of adding on poison pills onto legislation to get them passed will not be tolerated. Harper is a smart politition and it is easy to see him add senate reform onto a huge infrastructure bill and then blame the opposition for obstructing his attempts to get the economy moving if they defeat it.

The opposition should make it clear from the outset that legislation must be clean one topic papers hopefully drawn up with all parties input that can be voted on for their own merit.

janfromthebruce said...

So the liberals need to make a public announcement that will "vote on principle." Good show. About time they joined Layton and NDP in standing up to Harper. Now there's a real leader!

As a reflective side note: have you ever "really read" what you all wrote and possibly noticed the "elitism" and "entitlement" dripping in your written thoughts.
Just the mere thought that now that libs might actually show up to vote entitles them, somehow to "first dibs" over other parties voting behaviour and thus will make them change their voting behaviour. Time to get outside of your liberal bubble.
It was a thoughtful comment made to help with that "reflection."

Dana said...

Harper will maintain exactly the same tactis as he did before he dissolved the "dysfunctional" Parliament.

The Libs, with whoever at the helm, will have to abstain, or risk being seen as the reason Harper gets to go to the polls again. The resulting election will completely drain the Lib coffers and send them to bankruptcy protection.

The NDP, not having enough strength of numbers or governance credibility to be responsible for anything that results, will shriek and scream about principle (a la jan from the rocky peninsula above) while playing chicken with the electorate. The Libs and dippers now carry so much antipathy toward one another that there will be no cooperation of any kind and there may not even be any communication between them.

The corporate media will yell themselves blue in the face about waste of money, abuse of democratic process and so on and they will urge even more voting for Harper.

Even fewer people will show up at the polls. We could get below 55% for the first time and be a real country like the US or Britain. And it will probably piss off enough of the people who will remain interested in voting that they'll give Harper his majority just to avoid another election in another 6 months.

Jaytoo said...

Oh my, that didn't take long. CP is already reporting that the Liberal caucus is telegraphing low expectations for the session, starting with rubber-stamping an unseen, agenda-setting Throne Speech.

"There might be some huffing and puffing, but the Liberals won't be blowing down the Harper government any time soon ... [House Leader Goodale] told caucus Thursday that there are other ways of registering displeasure."

More "markers" laid down by the Liberal caucus while Harper does whatever the hell he wants for the next year-plus. Days after sputtering that stopping Harper was their historic calling.

Here's hoping the reporting is bad.

Steve V said...

dana

That scenario you paint just doesn't fly for the next nine months or so. Harper can't force an election, you yourself mentioned the insanity of another quick election for the Libs, so he would rightly take the responsibility, and this time I have no doubt pay a stiff price. What I'm saying, we lay out the parameters immediately, and then the onus is on Harper to conduct himself differently. Nobody particularly cares for Harper's style, outside of partisans, so you move forward with the knowledge that, politically, he has something at stake too, the bully is on camera.

jay

Obviously, we will not vote the government down on the throne speech, I mean that's sort of a given isn't it?

Brammer said...

The LPC has got to get ahead of the game and frame the narrative. Dion needs to make clear statements now that the LPC are not going to play Harper's confidence game any longer. Also make it crystal clear to the public that Harper will be to blame if he continues to be a hard-ass about everything and forces another election.

The LPC also needs to get the message out that it is ready to form a coalition govt should this one fall.

Steve V said...

brammer

Couldn't agree more, just hammer the same words over and over immediately. It's a minority, don't let anyone forget it. That doesn't preclude swallowing hard, because this government has been given another mandate, the deserve the opportunity to put forth an agenda that reflects their position. We just have to remind them, the majority still thinks otherwise :)

Steve V said...

"Time to get outside of your liberal bubble."

What a hoot, coming from the John Travolta of the blogosphere. Dated reference.

Joseph said...

Well, everyone here seems to have the right idea (including the person scolding the libs, very valid point). But it remains to be seen if the Libs will follow through. Big mistake if they don't find a spine.

Steve V said...

Remains to be seen is right, but one can hope.

janfromthebruce said...

No mass abstentions; just a sneaky few.

In the first meeting of Liberal MPs, house leader Ralph Goodale ruled out a non-confidence vote in the minority government's throne speech.

quote:Instead, insiders said, he told caucus Thursday that there are other ways of registering displeasure.

Privately, MPs are adamant that they have no stomach for mass abstentions, no-shows or other creative means of propping up the Conservative government as they did in the 39th Parliament. But they also acknowledge that the stronger Tory numbers mean the vast majority of Liberals can vote as they see fit without forcing Canadians back to the polls.

The Conservatives, with 143 seats, are just a dozen MPs short of a majority. If only a handful of MPs from other parties are absent - as is common - the government should survive without Liberals turning tail en masse.

"We'll work with the other parties of the opposition, we'll work with the government," lame-duck leader Stephane Dion said after the two-hour caucus meeting.

"We are there to be a responsible Opposition, but at the same time to keep the government accountable."

Accountable if necessary, but not necessarily accountable.

Gayle said...

Sure Jan.

Why don't you call up Layton and ask him if he is ready to force the country into another election next month.

Life is so easy when you have no responsibilities...

Jaytoo said...

That was last session's failed talking point, Gayle, and it's even weaker now.

Gayle said...

Perhaps you can explan that one Jay.

Layton's last best chance of making a break through was just a couple weeks ago - and he managed to get a whole 7 more seats. Where the NDP was most effective was syphoning off enough support to allow Harper to win more seats.

You may want to call that a talking point, but it is the truth. If he could not displace the LPC last time, he is never going to be able to do so.

We all know this man of principle is working with Harper to try and destroy the LPC. The fact he does not admit that publicly (although some of his party members are more than happy to do so) says he knows he will lose supporters once he does so. His big challenge to Harper is a total fraud.

He has nothing to lose if he forces Canada into an election because he does not care if we are governed by Harper. The LPC does.

In other words - he has no responsibility - and it shows.

By the way, I was once a solid supporter of the NDP, both with my vote and my donations. I have long stopped the financial support due to Layton's appalling attitude that forces him to choose his party over his country. I will support the party that wants to defeat Harper, not the one that wants to defeat the opposition.

eyerollingcasualty said...

Wow Gayle. It's nice to know that when the Liberals abstain in confidence votes and propping up the CPC government and the NDP are not, that the Liberals are putting principle before party and the NDP are working with the CPC to destroy the country. Also, it's nice to know that when the Liberals vote against the government in a confidence vote and the NDP do as well, then the Liberals are putting policy and country first, but the NDP are loud mouthed grandstanders who are working with the CPC to destroy the country.

So glad that you were able to share that with us.

Gayle said...

We all know the LPC abstained because they could not win an election at that time, and more seriously, could not afford to have more than one election in the next couple years (something that may apply to the NDP now, does it not?).

We also all know they are the ONLY party that can replace the CPC. Kill the LPC and say hello to CPC governments for the next millenium, or at least for as long as it takes for the LPC to recover.

The NDP will never form government. When they seek to destroy the LPC, they also seek to destroy any chance for a progressive government in this country.

Layton is propping up Harper by assisting him in his quest to destroy the LPC. If you want that to be your legacy, that says a lot about you. The rest of us will acknowledge the truth and try to replace Harper.

Möbius said...

Layton is propping up Harper by assisting him in his quest to destroy the LPC.

Once again, who was propping up the CPC by abstaining?

I don't recall that it was the NDP.

Gayle said...

Gee Mobius, tell me something that isn't obvious. Are you suggesting I am not acknowledging that fact? If you are, then allow me to direct you to my post just above yours, where I say:

"We all know the LPC abstained because they could not win an election at that time, and more seriously, could not afford to have more than one election in the next couple years..."

If you have trouble reading between the lines, it means I know the LPC propped up Harper by abstaining.

How does that counter my argument about Layton propping up Harper in their joint quest to destroy the LPC? That's right, it doesn't.

It does not have to be one or the other you know.

I get that it assists you guys to prop up the NDP, but it does not help Canada.

As I said above, I am interested in a party whose goal is to govern, not the party whose goal is the destruction of another party. That little exercise just cost the Canadian taxpayers 300 million dollars, in case you did not notice.

Jaytoo said...

Gayle writes: "I am interested in a party whose goal is to govern..."

Your party could have that chance shortly, Gayle. If the three oppo parties vote down Harper's throne speech, then by convention the GG will invite Dion to try to form a government with a new agenda. No formal coalition or accord required. Just the ability to sustain the confidence of the House.

If that's not worth a try now, then when?

Yet the Liberals have already telegraphed that they're not interested. They're choosing to rubber-stamp a Harper minority instead. They will cave on a Throne Speech that hasn't even been written yet. Once again, by telegraphing that they're not a threat, the Liberals are also removing any moderating influence over the agenda Harper is about to propose. And they're doing this at a critical time, when Harper's likely to use the pending recession as cover for neo-con shock therapy.

Tiresome conjecture about conspiracies to "destroy the Liberals" doesn't cloak the real responsibilities that are at play now. Or the fact that the Liberals are doing a pretty great job of destroying themselves. Seriously, Steve can't even get basic acknowledgment here for a straightforward proposal that MPs stand and be counted. Forget about pressuring the party establishment, I guess.

Gayle said...

jaytoo - What I read from Goodale's comments is that the expectation is that all three opposition parties will be responsible enough not to defeat a newly elected government on its first throne speech.

And yes, that is the responsible thing to do. This notion that the throne speech is somehow critical is kind of silly.

As for the rest, if you are so concerned about Harper imposing a neo-con agenda, you should have thought about that before the election, when your guy did your best to ensure Harper won.

If the good of the country is the most important thing, Layton would have aimed for a liberal minority, with the NDP holding the balance of power. After all, the times are "critical", are they not? Doesn't that call for sacrifices to be made? Or perhaps you believe the only party that should be making sacrifices are the LPC.

Your suggestion the LPC force another 300 million dollar election (which I am sure you know is just as possible as the GG going to Dion to govern, particularly since the LPC are going through a leadership contest), is hardly a solution, nor does it address what you refer to as the "real responsibilities" that are at play now.

Gayle said...

By the way, here is the link to the NDP admitting they work with the CPC to defeat LPC candidates, and allow CPC candidates to win.

http://uncorrectedproofs.blogspot.com/search?q=rob+nicholson

Jaytoo said...

Because someone's riding-level campaign tactics in Niagara Falls — never contemplated by Liberal organizers, of course — is a perfect excuse for Liberal MPs to sit on their asses and rubber-stamp Harper's nationally destructive agenda, immediately and indefinitely.

Gayle said...

That is not what I said Jaytoo.

The point is the fact the LPC are aiming to govern the country, while the other two main parties make the destruction of the LPC their focus. At no point did I say the latter justifies abstaining. The former, in certain circumstances, does.

Nice try though.