Monday, November 24, 2008

Red Flags



First off, let me state, that I genuinely like and appreciate Bob Rae, his talents considerable, he would make a much better PM than the current character- that goes without saying. However, in doing your own mental math, to determine which person is best suited to become Liberal leader, who can end the Conservative reign and put the party back into government, it is imperative that you recognize the potential pitfalls ahead.

If I were to ask you which issue you think is likely to be the central point of debate in the next election, what would that be? Further to that question, assuming you answered as I suspect, what lines of attack would give the Liberals the most mileage, what is the government's achilles heel? I would submit, the answers are obvious, it will be the economy, and within that dicussion the Liberal argument will center around deficits and fiscal mismanagement. I can't tell you how many times I've heard various Liberal MP's and party people speak to this issue in the past few days, it's a political no-brainer, a gift in terms of attack lines.

With the above in mind, I listened to Bob Rae do a radio interview on The John Oakley Show this past Friday. Rae did a very able job declawing Oakley, but within that discussion, the challenges Rae will face crystallized, a critical moment for consideration:

Rae:

"I did not bring in a deficit. The fact of the matter is, the recession caused the deficit, we did not have a tax and spend agenda, that's just nonsense. We had a situation where revenues where dropping like a stone as a result of the recession, that's what happened."

"Okay, so if we have a deficit now, at the federal level or the provincial level, is that going to be the personal fault of Mr. Harper or Mr. McGuinty? I don't think so, these are things that happen"


Oakley:

"If Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty take us into deficit because of the situation or circumstances, you'd be willing to cut them a lot of slack?"

Rae:

"With great respect John, they're not taking us into deficit...

Oakley:

"Mr. Rae, if the country runs a deficit, do you give them the benefit of the doubt?"

Rae:

"It's not a matter of giving them the benefit of the doubt, the fact is there is a very serious recession on John, maybe you haven't noticed. A lot of people are going to be losing their jobs, a lot of people aren't going to be paying taxes, a lot of companies are not going to be in a position to pay taxes. That is going to have a major impact on the revenues of the country. Would I agree with everything they have done so far, in terms of how they've spent things? No, but do I hold them personally responsible for the fact that we're going to have a deficit here, and in Ontario, of course not and no reasonable person should do that"

And there it is, what amounts to red flags of biblical proportions. In order for Rae to defend his record, he must absolve the current government from much of its responsibility. This isn't a question of fairness, this is politics, and the above confirms that a Rae-led Liberal Party can forget about pinning any personal responsibility onto this government. Rae confirms the wasted opportunity, he argues no reasonable person should blame the government, merely a victim of economic circumstance. You can't blame Rae, the fact of the matter, it is really the only logical argument he can make, otherwise he is left with criticizing himself as well.

The question for Liberals to sift through, is it really advantageous to have a new leader, essentially neutered, even something of an apologist, on the central issue moving forward? I simply can't reconcile the wisdom of introducing fundamentally damaged goods to the equation, then expecting that flawed start will result in ultimate victory. It just doesn't work that way, and Rae's own words confirm the problem.

Liberals need to crucify this government on the economy, they need to point to the squandered surplus, they need to make the argument that this is a "made in Canada" deficit, not merely the result of events outside of our control. Rae needs "events outside of his control" to justify his record (whether he is right, completely and utterly meaningless), and that fact will give a free pass every time, we effectively cede any potential advantage. I fail to see the attraction, as a matter of fact, I see nothing but defeat. Love you Bob, respect people that are supporting you, but the above interview is representative of nothing but political poison, it literally makes me cringe.

39 comments:

catherine said...

I am really surprised to hear Rae absolve Harper of his bad financial decisions. This contradicts the independent Budget Officer and what many economists have been saying for months. I don't think Rae has to do this, although, admittedly it is a difficult, complex message to point out the obvious for Harper and yet defend his own message. I agree with you that what Rae is saying is a huge problem. In fact, I don't even like to hear him saying it during the leadership campaign, never mind as possible leader of the Opposition.

catherine said...

I meant "defend his own record"

Steve V said...

catherine

That Budget Officer conclusion is pure gold for the Liberals, because it's independent confirmation of responsibility. But, Rae can't use it too advantage, because he must defend his record, which seems to amount to a whitewash for the government.

Just to add, I want to keep this race positive, but I think it's simply crazy not to flesh out, or consider, what amounts to a critical problem.

Scott Tribe said...

Ok, so that means you're either endorsing Iggy or Leblanc, then? Are we going to be seeing an announcement? :)

WesternGrit said...

I really like Bob Rae's "retail politics", but this one thing also sticks in my craw. I can't believe he absolved Harper! Just picture THAT coming back to haunt us in an election ad. It may still come back at us in a debate (no matter whom our leader is)... "Yes, but Mr. X, your own _____ critic stated that this deficit is beyond our control... Do you disagree with him? You can't have it both ways."

Yeah... not a good thing. To say that one group had no control over the deficit, but another does (because of poor planning)?

Not endorsing anyone here, but, again, common sense needs to be used. Bob could have said many things besides the deficit was beyond his control. He could even just pose the same question back to the interviewer WITHOUT making any assertions... Tell the interviewer, "so you're saying that you blame Mr. Harper for the current deficit?"

Joseph said...

Excellent Post. Your point is completely valid.

Rae's argument does hit a chord he needs to strike and acknowledges an important fact. As much as it burns me, the reality is most Canadians won't blame Harper either because they will buy Harper talking out of both sides of his mouth - one side during the election, the other afterwards. So I give Rae credit for at least using the opportunity to attempt to neutralize his greatest weakness.

The caveat I would add, however, hits upon your main point, which is Iggy could - and should in my opinion - say the same thing as Rae. But he can add a single devastating line, something along the lines as, "Of course Harper cannot be blamed for a global recession. However, he MUST bear responsibility for the fact that the conservatives' skewed economic policies of exploding federal spending while cutting revenue to the bone erased sound Liberal budgetary policies that would have eased the blow to working Canadians without resorting to irresponsible deficit spending."

Alas, as you point out, Rae can never say that. Never.

Mike said...

Steve: You can now bet for 100% sure that audio is going to end up in a Conservative commercial NO MATTER who is the leader. Liberals have to live with that. Iggy's words hurt Dion, now Rae's will hurt Iggy. And I'm sure something LeBlanc says will be used too. Bad move on his part, but it's done, the next leader must realize that hte deficit argument will be weakened, Harper will point to Rae AND MCGUINTY as defenses for going into deficit.

Iggy isn't going to pick fights with his deputy leader (Rae) and McGuinty at the same time is he?

In reality if Rae ended up leader it would take the ability of the Liberals to hammer Harper on the deficit a few notches (even though I agree it's odd that Rae wouldn't have mentioned the Budget Officer report), if you take the economy off the table, doesn't Rae outmatch Harper in EVERY OTHER RESPECT anyway? So isn't that still a net positive for the Liberals. I mean what do the Cons have on him ASIDE from his record in Ontario? If Rae neutralizes that, then they have NOTHING. Whereas the Libs might have the deficit to hammer Harper on next time, but he'll use McGuinty and Rae as defenses AND say "you guys have ZERO exec experience so you have NO IDEA what's it's like to manage a government, you're just talking out of your ass." (ok paraphrashing here).

Mike said...

And just to be clear I would bet good money Iggy will win this race, but I just think it's best for Liberals to consider other perspectives of what we'll be up against before jumping on his bandwagon. I don't think a coronation will be good for the party, just like it wouldn't have been for the Democrats.

Ron said...

The problem with laying blame for purely political purposes is that it rarely is truthful, simply politically expiedient. To what extent are you willing to blame Mr. McGuinty for the terrible performance of the Ontario economy? It could be argued (if we want to blame someone to score political points) that his failure to keep Ontario running smoothly led to a massive drop in revenues causing the federal revenues to go south! (Hardly factual but hey, we are playing a blame game here) We have a serious economic challenge that requires a conserted, coordinated effort. The Ontario Liberal Government gets it and are working with the Federal Conservative Government to shore up the auto sector. Please, stop playing your petty little political games until we are through this crisis - then you can go back to blaming, accusing and misleading to score your points.

Steve V said...

"Please, stop playing your petty little political games until we are through this crisis - then you can go back to blaming, accusing and misleading to score your points."

Get a clue. Seriously.

One thing to consider, McGuinty wasn't sitting on a massive surplus, and his province is ground zero, so the prov and fed circumstances aren't necessarily the same.

Blues Clair said...

Another thing to consider, Rae inheirted a deficit.

When will the Liberals stop letting Harper dictate what they do?

Mike said...

In my view the four most important things to consider are:
A) What strengths does each candidate have?
B) HOW MANY attack lines can the Conservatives use against each candidate?
C) How good would each candidate be at neutralizing those attack lines?
D) HOW MANY attack lines could each candidate use AGAINST Harper?

Something to consider for Rae before tossing him out the window is while he might lose on D, he at least wins on B, there is only one attack line that can be used against him, his record as Premier in Ontario. If he neutralizes that then I would say it's his election to lose, since I hope we can all agree the economy isn't the ONLY thing we can nail Harper on in the next election. If I recall Steven you were rearing to go to take the Harper gov't down LONG BEFORE the economy tanked (or for that matter long before we got our election) :).

Steve V said...

Mike

Who's Steven? You can't compare the spring to now, people's minds are focused on one issue, everything else revolves around that. Rae's record never disappears, so if the best we can say is an unlikely "if", just to negate, it's a bad dream scenario. We don't want to negate the economy, because we don't turf Harper unless we can undermine his record effectively. It's not that complicated anymore, the narrative is almost a given.

Mike said...

Lol re: Steven, that was actually a typo, should have deleted the v before pressing "Publish".

I really don't think we'll be able to undermine Harper on the economy as much as we would hope. He'll point to McGuinty, he'll point to Rae, he'll point to EVERY OTHER WESTERN government that's gone further into deficit. And you know what? The reality is BEFORE the downturn we were not near deficit at all because the wireless spectrum auction was coming up, so Harper will argue that he would not have gone into deficit if not for the worldwide economic collapse. In reality you know he's right. The GST cuts were moronic, but any Liberal leader can call him on that, but we all know we wouldn't be going into deficit if not for the economic downturn.

Even if relied on the Budget Officer report, Harper will say the Liberal VOTED for EVERYONE of his tax policies that PUT US IN DEFICIT.

Meanwhile Harper will absolutely NAIL the other two guys on "You have no idea how to run a government, let alone anything, so you have no credibility in talking about the economy. You are the LEAST EXPERIENCED LIBERAL LEADER IN HISTORY"

Dom and Iggy each have their own strengths but I think we are deluding ourselves that people with no cabinet experience and no economic background will be able to win on the economy.

We would have been better with John Manley frankly. HE could have undermined Harper on the economy, but in reality none of Iggy, Dom or Rae can enough to win an election.

An election will have to be won on other grounds. Liberals thought in 2006 an election could be won on the environment. Now they think it will be on the economy. If this is the sole basis for your decision of who to support, I think it will be a regretted decision in the end.

Steve V said...

Mike

If, we can't undermine Harper on the economy, then we'll lose, that's you ballot issue, with other issues used to augment incompetence.

Here's a new deficit forecast, which even if it's out of line, is another indication that it's getting real messy. The thing about the changing tone of Harper and Flaherty, it means they are getting real data that says it's drying up fast, and with some bailouts and fast tracks, who knows how bad.

Mike said...

But we thought the ballot box issue would be the environment last time.

Sure if the election is within a couple months of leadership the issue will be the economy, but if Harper gets propped by the Bloc for his next two budgets (as he did last time), then the political context could be radically different.

And if it is the economy, how much you wanna bet no matter who is leader, the Cons stick with the "Not Worth the Risk" slogan for each one?

Bob Rae: "We can't let him do to Canada what he did to Ontario. Bob Rae: Not Worth the Risk."

Dom: "This is no time for youthful inexperience. Dominic LeBlanc: Not Worth the Risk."

Iggy: "This is no time for out of touch academics who don't understand the real world. Michael Ignatieff: Not Worth the Risk."

All incredibly over the top and unfair, but would you dispute those are the lines they'd use?
At least Rae is trying to counter the future attack lines.

So I guess if you are throwing away Rae, how do you defend Iggy/Dom against the notion that they are lightweights who don't know anything about the economy?

Mike said...

I guess the other question Liberals should have to answer IF they want to run on the economy is
"If the Liberals had won the last election, how would you have prevented this deficit?"

Harper will also be sure to say the Liberals let the GST and tax cuts pass whenever he can if they start citing the Budget Officer report.

So whoever the leader is NEEDS a good answer as to what could have been done SINCE THE LAST ELECTION to prevent the deficit.

Because if it's $27 billion, then well even 2% of the GST couldn't have prevented that. So that's why the higher these deficit numbers go the more Harper will actually be able to blame them on world circumstances. I just don't see this as our winning issue, we have so much else.

Anonymous said...

Harper won't get propped up by any party. See the Murray Dobson article on rabble.ca on what the opposition parties should do.

Anonymous said...

Sorry...Murray Dobbin

Anonymous said...

Bob Rae does such a great job of eloquently defending the NDP provincial government he led in Ontario and all the progressive policies it brought in - it makes me feel more determined to vote NDP than ever before. Rae gives great arguments for why the NDP is a good party to vote for. Why would he have us vote Liberal - the party that relentlessly shit on him ever minute that he was premier of Ontario!

Saskboy said...

Rae is so easy to swift boat, that there's no point in him even getting into the water. The only way he'd be successful is if he's bold, and he's shown (with the exception of his Rick Mercer stunt) that he's not bold.

burlivespipe said...

The response of whom ever wins should be: "Harper didn't create the global recession, but he weakened our house by spending Canada's rainy-day fund. Not for infrastructure, but for swift, needless political gain. The junk flyers, the focus groups, the pick-and-choose lobby groups while chipping away at the gov't's ability to react and intercede with external issues.
He didn't create the recession, but when everyone was talking about it, warning about it, he was out spending your dollars and saying 'if there was going to be a recession, it'd be here by now.' He didn't know the truth, didn't tell the truth and isn't willing to offer the truth for Canadians during this troubling time."

Anonymous said...

Funny isn't it? Rae (by his supporters) should be forgiven for all his bad choices a premier and by gosh it wasn't his fault. Yet, other candidates shouldn't be forgiven for theirs even though they acknowledged, apologized, etc.

I find it really funny that people haven't caught on the Rae - talk, talk, talk without really saying much.

What is it about NDP and former NDP leaders - they never see a mirror or camera they don't like? Hey, look at me - I need attention...sigh.

Anonymous said...

This is all a big lather. i think the point in the interview is if revenues fall by many billions of dollars it's not something they cause or can prevent. But if you don't have a contingency fund and you are naïve or rule it out in an election you're an idiot and that is Harper and Flaherty.McGuinty's been transparent and realistic and Harper's been a liar.

Francesco said...

I have to agree with Steve on this...if this was poker game bob would have been knocked off the table at the first or second round. Bob's record as premier of Ontario is at best lousy and realistically absymal. He inherited a tough situation, and unfortunately his policies only made matters worse - to his credit he understood that but it was to late. We cannot go into an election agaist the conservatives...where the key question is "competence" and "accountability" on the economy with Mr Rae at the helm. I do find Mr Rae intelligent, sincere, driven but it will difficult to win against harper when you put your ace away and don't use it.

Mr harper's policies have / will cause the deficit..removal of the contigency fund, the dumb gst tax cuts which provide you a negative return, and finally the highest spending increases recorded (percentage wise) by any government.

We liberals need to hold mr harper to account on his record and not explain it away from him.

Regards,
Francesco

Yvan St-Pierre said...

Hi all,

In 2006 I did support Rae, but this time around I'm not making my mind on leadership before each candidate commits to a specific view of how to get Quebec back in the game.

However, I don't agree that the deficit per se will be the main issue for the next election. The economy could very well be, and probably will be the main issue, but there is a lot more to the economic difficulties that we will still be facing by that time than just the colour of the federal buget's bottomline.

Questions about how the money was spent, about how many jobs were lost, about how fairly distributed the costs of this downturn were, about how quickly we will be able to get back to a balanced budget given the strategic choices of the conservatives, about how we've used or squandered our opportunities to boost productivity for the future, all these are a lot more meaningful politically than whether there should have been a deficit or not.

I don't think the other guys are particularly ill-equipped there either, but Rae has the ability to say that he learned from his own mistakes in all these respects, and that appears to me as a totally valid vantage point to criticize the real economic pitfalls of Harper's policies. And there is absolutely no need in that process to discredit all Liberal governments, federal and provincial, that ran deficits in the past or will have to run one soon.

I do think that keeping that can of worms shut by admitting candidly that it goes beyond what politicians can actually do is an excellent strategy. For sure, discussing economic policies and Rae's record is all fair game, but making a big fuss about the simple fact of having a deficit is just making a big fuss, period.

Why should voters buy them apples anyway?

Anonymous said...

Why does Scott Tribe have a sick obsession with outing bloggers to support leadership candidates?

Scott Tribe said...

No sick obsession at all, anonymous. My return question to you is: Why are you scared to say publicly who you are? ;)

Steve V said...

Flaherty just quoted from this interview in Question Period.

Andrew said...

and so it has begun. If you're watching Question Period, Deficit Jim is already using Bob's words regarding against him

Steve V said...

Those words will HAUNT Rae, and today is proof positive of that.

Anonymous said...

So what was Bob supposed to do? Lie and say that a Liberal government would have avoided deficit? Sure, Harper's economic decisions have not been good, but to call for a balanced budget is over the top. What would you do instead? Raise taxes or cut spending?

No government, fed or provincial could or should avoid running deficits right now. It's the responsible course of action for both McG and Harper. A speedly flow of deficit dollars to infrastructure projects will provide much need improvement to roads, hospitals etc, have automatic end dates, create jobs and build bridges (pun) between the feds and the provinces.

A few days ago, you wrote a post called "The Big Lie." Now you are proposing that Rae should have lied instead of providing the Cons with a soundbyte...unless of course you truly believe that a Liberal government could have magically avoided the upcoming deficits, which is just nonsense.

Also - McGuinty DID have a massive surplus last year ($8 billion)which he spent all at once under a new regulation as part of the Invest in Ontario Act.

Steve V said...

"Also - McGuinty DID have a massive surplus last year ($8 billion)which he spent all at once under a new regulation as part of the Invest in Ontario Act."

That's pure bull. You don't just subtract new investment to argue he had a big surplus. So, I guess Flaherty had a 20 billion dollar surplus this year then, if you exclude his new expenditures in the budget?

Look, Rae can't "lie", but the fact he must use this line of argument highlights a core problem with his candidacy. And, you could argue the Libs would have avoided a deficit, if they listened to economists and didn't enact a bad GST cut, kept the contingency fund and didn't go on an unprecedented spending binge. I believe the BUDGET OFFICER, said the deficit is a function of government action, NOT economic circumstance. I'll take that verdict over an apologist everytime.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, you're right, the Ont surplus was more like $2 billion. Relatively large though and all gone to one-off spending...Invest in Ontario is actually the framework which regulates the destination of surplus spending. Anyways, off topic...

"I'll take that verdict over an apologist everytime."

As I said earlier, I agree that the probable federal deficit this year probably could have been avoided with better policy from the gov, but 2009 is going to be way worse. And 2010 will be bad too. There is just no way that upcoming budgets could be balanced with gov revenues falling so fast. I admire Bob's brutal honesty.

I'm not being an apologist, I'm being a realist. So too are the economic experts who all echo Bob Rae. Want names? Don Drummond (TD), Benjamin Tal (CIBC), Sherry Cooper (BMO), David Wolf (Merril Lynch), Roger Martin (Rotman) and the list goes on and on and on. They all call for temporary deficit spending starting NOW. Are they apologists too?

Steve V said...

anon

Funny, you mention all those economists, because they were the same people who criticized the government's taxcut regime.

I just gave you examples, which would have given the government plenty of fiscal room, maybe 10 billion to deal with crisis at this moment. These economists are reacting to the reality as it exists today, with the government devoid of fiscal room, without incurring a deficit. It isn't a statement on how we got here, merely a recognition that we're here and what need to happen to deal with the crisis. It's a after the fact analysis, the Libs still have an argument about how we got here, and it's quite compelling, especially when you can contrast Con statements that denote complete hypocrisy in mere weeks.

Anonymous said...

Recent hypocrisy: No argument there. Grossly offside.

How we got here: $10 billion in savings? Maybe. I'm not convinced that a Liberal government would not be in the red right now and I'm not convinced that 10b is "plenty". No one saw an economic crisis of this magnitude on the horizon. Not the gov, and not the opposition. I do not remember hearing the opposition Liberals crying for spending cuts during the Spring and summer and warning of impending deficit. I remember scandals.

We got here like everybody else. Where we can differentiate ourselves is how we deal with it. I think Bob has the battle scars and honesty that we need.

Steve V said...

"I'm not convinced that a Liberal government would not be in the red right now"

You don't have to be convinced, because the Libs don't have to answer to a record, the Cons do. They made their decisions, it is our job to make sure we nail them, and in my view, that is how we win the next election.

Anonymous said...

I think in a leadership race you do have to answer to a record, or at least justify criticism with an alternative. (without using the luxury of hindsight.)

Once settled in opposition, nailing them on their record is fine to a point, but I would rather a leader who put more emphasis on positive and proactive policy alternatives.

What's done is done and will be forgotten by the next election. Instead, focus on showcasing Liberal depth, skills and ideas.

That way, next election Canadians vote FOR Liberals not just AGAINST Harper.

Well, thanks for the argument. I'll catch your rebuttal tomorrow.

Didn't earn my pay today!

Ted said...

Steve:

You made a mistake with your title and your chosen photo. This is not a red flag, it is a white flag.

There are three issues, three ballot issues next year and likely the year after. The economy, the economy and the economy.

If Harper is in a good, better or worse position than our chosen leader, it doesn't matter. That will be the issue, even more than "leadership" was in this one. That is why Deceivin' Stephen is jettisoning all conservative policy and ideology just as fast as he possibly can right now.

How we react to that ballot question will determine if we win the next election or not. Period. Just because we don't like the question or think that none of them have a better argument than Harper doesn't matter. Taking that position is raising a white flag.

Look, with their millions and millions in spending and their government boondoggle spending powers, they may have a couple of tanks in their arsenal pointed at us when we only have a handgrenade.

But that doesn't mean you throw the hand grenade away and pick up a slingshot.