Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sitting Pretty

Does Ignatieff support a coalition or doesn’t he, “dithering” or “pragmatic”? I must say, I’ve been entirely impressed with how Ignatieff has handled the coalition question from the onset. While some have criticized his early hesitation, and pundits like Coyne demand a clear response, Ignatieff has positioned himself within the optimal terrain. It was very shrewd to keep all options on the table, accurately reading an extremely fluid situation. There is no room for absolutes, no need to box oneself in a corner, when you have no idea how future events will unfold. I admit a grin, watching Ignatieff carefully navigate and resist, what some saw as uneven, I saw as political maturity.

As it stands right now, Canadians hate the idea of a coalition. Canadians are so weary of it, they move to support Harper, despite blaming him for the crisis. I’ve seen a lot of polls, rarely have I seen a batch so decisive in their rejection, and this fact is the bottom line consideration. A coalition simply won’t fly, unless there is public support, if the perceptions are negative, the idea is DOA. To ignore public sentiment is beyond reckless, so the fact Ignatieff has left the Liberals a clear path out, without looking entirely hypocritical, is a strategic winner. Things can change, how Harper reacts may well influence future acceptance of a coalition, but it is beyond wise to not marry oneself to a real and potential albatross.

Ignatieff has placed himself at the center of this debate, both Harper and Layton need him, ultimately he will decide the direction. If Harper caves, and the Liberals achieve a budget which reflects many of the initiatives floated in the coalition agreement, then we can declare victory and look conciliatory at the same time. However, having the threat of an alternative, leaving that option on the table, allows for leverage on the one hand, another course if need be on the other. Ignatieff has given himself so much latitude that he has control, no small feat for a party with a ¼ of seats in Parliament.

I watched Layton on CBC last night, and his main argument was the issue of “trust”, no matter what Harper presents, that issue negates any support. I appreciate that point of view, and no Liberal should “trust” the chameleon, but in the minds of Canadians that justification just doesn’t cut it. Fast forward to January, the Conservatives make concessions, essentially adopt many of the demands, and the opposition still decides to topple based on “trust”. The Canadian public, pre-occupied with the economy and wanting Parliament to just get on it, would erupt if a compromise budget was introduced and the opposition still went forward on “trust”. That scenario is a death sentence, and that absolute conviction, could well marginalize any party that ascribes to it. Much better to have wiggle room, because you simply can’t pre-judge future events.

I’m not sure if a coalition is still in the cards. I’m not sure if the public mood can, or will, change. I’m not sure if Harper will adopt the opposition’s demands. I’m not sure if we could be headed to an election. I’m not sure about much, and nobody else is for that matter, which makes the Ignatieff position an enviable one for the Liberal Party.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

If the opposition parties form a coalition government at the Governor General's behest the public will accept that just as they accepted her prorogation decision. The key point is that the public's opinion does change.

Steve V said...

anon

That only happens, if Harper fails to respond accordingly. The public mood could well change, but to make that assumption now is foolish.

Susan said...

Well there is one thing we can all be sure of: Harper is not going to include things in the budget that are really needed, like reformed EI, serious infrastructure projects, no cuts to women's equity, no selling off of billions in assets in a buyer's market, etc. In fact he's not even going to reveal the real numbers to start with.

So Canadians may think they hate a coalition but if it's explained to them properly they'll realize there's no choice.

I may not agree with Layton on much but he and Duceppe are telling it like it is. Harper cannot be trusted, in other words, he's not going to do what he is pretending he might do - he's suckering everyone, you'll see.

Steve V said...

Susan

If he's suckering everyone, and he doesn't come up with acceptable measures, then the coalition is viable. All you laying out is an option, which is completely available, because our stance is NIMBLE.

janfromthebruce said...

So I see the liberals want to play with the devil and think that Harper will provide a budget that the libs can hold their noses and support.
So do you think that the Harper conservatives are better able to manage the economy or do you think a Liberal-NDP coalition govt could? It's a simple question but really that is what it comes to, when one drills down to the fundamental question.

Anonymous said...

Harper doesn't give a damn about public opinion - examples like the climate change conference, the prorogation, etc. He will hold on to power even if everyone turns against him. The opposition needs to understand that you win over people by governing successfully and you have to take the opportunities when they present themselves.

Anonymous said...

I just read that Harper is already on the verge of packing the Senate with 18 Tory hacks. Its obvious that he is getting set to steal all the silverware before getting thrown out of the house!

Ignatieff has said that the Liberals will only support the budget if they think that what Harper is doing is "good for the Canadian economy". That strikes me as a pretty high bar. I find it hard to imagine that Iggy's debut as opposition leader is going to consist of him pronouncing Harper's policies as "good for the Canadian economy"

I predict that the Tories will bring in a budget that will be unacceptable to the Liberals and Ignatieff will surprise everyone by holding off until the last minute, keeping everyone guessing, then voting down the government and being sworn in as PM of a coalition gov't a few days later.

Just my prediction - for what its worth.

Anonymous said...

Good article. The public, will NEVER accept a coalition in any form as a legitimate government. MI has listened and heard that loud and clear. It is not a matter of explaining it so dumb asses like me can understand, it is just so against our grain. We do NOT want to be Canukistan or Canazuela, and would feel humiliated and betrayed by any party that moved forward with this sneaky idea. We HATE the idea. So, best to get off that track asap or the Liberal Party will tank totally.

Anonymous said...

I know that partisan Conservatives hate the idea of a coalition because it means that they and their psychopathic leader lose power - but Canadians are perfectly open to coalitions. Manitoba was governed by a Liberal/Progressive coalition for a generation, Saskatchewan had a NDP/Liberal coalition from 1999 to 2003 and we have seen formal accords between the second and third largest parties running Ontario in the 80s.

More often than not Australia has been ruled by a coalition government of the Liberal and National Parties. In fact, Harper's good friend John Howard would never have been able to form a government in Australia if his perpetually second place party didn't form a coalition with the third place Nationals to overturn the first place Labour Party.

Steve V said...

"but Canadians are perfectly open to coalitions."

That remains to be seen, and the evidence to date suggests the exact opposite. If people think it's just Cons who are against, then they make a grave error.

Let's just see how events unfold, and respond accordingly.

Anonymous said...

The facts speak for themselves - there have been coalition governments in several provinces and there were no riots in the street. Let's have a coalition and let people see for themselves that there is nothing wrong with parties COMPROMISING and being will to work together - as opposed this Russian roulette/"I am the law" approach from Harper.

Imagine if the NDP had 145 seats and wanted to form a government. I'll bet that as quick as you can say Jack Robinson - all those pundits like Coyne and Spector would be begging the Liberals and Conservatives to form a coalition and to do anything possible to prevent a "horror of horrors" NDP government.

Anonymous said...

the only reason the public is polling against a coalition is (1) blind ignorance on how a parliamentary system should work; and (2) the massive conservative media assault against the very idea of a coalition (and the progressive economic agenda it presented). read the signed Economic Accord to see why the Cons and the corporate media are so against the coalition...

to start from the premise that the public is against something given #1 and #2, is to accept right-wing talking points.

typical for the LPC.

the public would warm up to a coalition if the liberals weren't high on themselves and entertaining the dream that they're going to win an election any time soon.

building a centre-left coalition government is the only way to achieve representative and responsible government in canada and to rebuild the liberal brand name.

janfromthebruce said...

I'm sure glad that all of us are not governed by "biased based polling questions" but by principle and doing whats right.
As we got to see in the last parliament, the Canadian public got to see a "Harper govt" in action, and thus for some Canadians voted for local MPs who are conservative in larger numbers, thus giving Harper cons more seats in the house.
Thus, seeing the coalition govt in action would also have the same effect, unless you are going to dispute the fact that some more Canadians felt that Harper Conservatives did an ok job in 2004 to 2006 and thus voted for them in larger numbers.

Steve V said...

anon

You just gave reasons why the public doesn't get it, then you say I'm wrong for noticing. Yes, yes, the public is ignorant, and don't expect it too change. Hello, look who's in power!

Steve V said...

jan

Only a complete and utter idiot doesn't gauge PUBLIC OPINION in decision making. Afterall, it's just the VOTERS. If the public hates the idea, if the coalition can't get broad support, then it's a non-starter. Period.

Anonymous said...

The public doesn't hate the idea of a coalition, it hates the idea of illegitimacy. This view of the coalition can be changed. The GG has the trust of the public and this will help give legitimacy to a coalition government.

Anonymous said...

Since when do the results of opinion polls trump the results of the last election? Does that mean that if (hypothetically) six months from now Harper is extremely unpopular and Tory support is in the low 20s - Harper should then ipso-facto resign? There was about a three year period in the early 90s when Mulroney's approval numbers were in single digits and an election at any time would have meant a Tory holocaust (as finally happened in 1993) - I don't recall anyone saying that on the basis of poll results, the 1988 election null and void and that Mulroney had to relinquish power.

Joyce said...

Respecting the results of the last election is the key. A coaliton government is configured from the results of the last election.

C.Newton said...

Steve,
A very good blog, and I love how you managed to stay neutral and open to all positions.

I really hope that Ignatieff does well, it will add a balance to the house that has been missing for a while. (I voted Conservative in the last election)

with competition comes innovation.

We need to stop looking at this from a partisan perspective and view it as a dynamic whole, one that will best benefit as many Canadians as possible.

Sadly, as with everything in life, there is no one solution to all problems; for every pro there will always be... errr cons?? :-)

Seeing how the situation is always changing, I think the worst thing to do right now is to box oneself into a corner.
I've read that Ignatieff borrowed from King, and if so, it is a good reference to Canadian history for one that has been criticized about how "Canadian" he is.

"Not necessarily a coalition but a coalition if necessary"

I still think that Harper is best to have in power for the moment (Yes the reasons against are many and I acknowledge this fact and many of the points made are valid.)
I am not partisan and if I feel that there is a better solution elsewhere, I will give the courtesy of "enough" time for my current party to respond and adapt. If they don't present a suitable counter, well my loyalty lies with what I think is in the best interest of Canadians and not with a party.

I have no problems with changes in policy and tact, if they are truly done in the interest of Canadians..
Based on new information, I know that I have changed or altered my opinions many times.

CuzBen said...

"Ignatieff has placed himself at the center of this debate, both Harper and Layton need him, ultimately he will decide the direction."

A very clever strategy indeed. Label me impressed, Ignatieff has made Liberal lemonade in just a couple of days. Not bad Mike, not bad.

Jeff said...

The danger: Harper comes back with the usual aggression, assuming that 1) the coalition is not popular with voters, and 2) the Liberals are not election-ready, because they have little money (and with the rejection of the Green Shift, they need policy development as well). That's what I'd bet on: phony outreach from Harper and then defiant hyper-aggression.

Anonymous said...

Jeff,

This is what may be inevitable. The need to have an election in 2009. Why have the Grits dumped Dion that quickly? The coalition will not be popular unless the public have their say and it must be soon. Furthermore, the Governor-General can also grant Harper's request for a new election. So this is what the two major parties and setting themselves to.

Steve V said...

"Label me impressed"

We have buttons you know.


mushroom

Yes, I think we need to look at the warp speed leadership conclusion within the lens of election readiness. Also, Ferguson said that the rebates come in at the end of the year, which means we can finance another election.

CuzBen said...

"We have buttons you know."

I wear my button on the inside of my vest. Ssshhhhhhh.

Greg said...

Steve, I would be careful about saying the Layton needs Iggy. Layton only needs him if the coalition goes forward. If Iggy supports Harper then Layton has a stick to beat the Liberals with and the idea that the GG would let Iggy become PM without the coalition is a better fantasy than Lord of the Rings.

Greg said...

Not that you have made the Iggy alone argument, but I have heard others say it out loud.

Joyce said...

I have a problem with the logic of supporting a Harper budget. 1)How can the Liberals support a budget that's based on false assumptions?2)How does it help the Liberals if Harper can say in the next election that we went along with his budget?

janfromthebruce said...

I don't like being called an idiot. Attacking someone personally rather than their ideas shows that one is not interested in debating ideas.
Considering how Canwest hates the idea of the coalition, along with corp Canada, it's no surprise that it has received propaganda bias and a sellout job.
I have not met one person yet, from those who voted liberal, NDP, or Green who is not supportive. This are mainstreeters, and not the party faithful. That's interesting and perhaps is why neither the right-leaning side of the libs party are reluctant bedmates.

Steve V said...

"I don't like being called an idiot."

Oh well.

CuzBen said...

"Only a complete and utter idiot doesn't gauge PUBLIC OPINION in decision making."

Governing by theory and principle alone IS idiotic. Look at what's happening in the States right now: GOP hardliners killing the auto loan because of 'principle'. If ever there was a time to abandon cock-eyed theories on the left or right, it is now during the most acute financial meltdown in a lifetime. There is a lot of emotional crap out there right now. The Party that can wade through the shit, transcend the tradtional lines and find a balance between long-term economic vision and short-term relief will be the most attractive to results-hungry voters. We cannot afford the luxury of appealing to our respective ideological cores right now. After reading some old and recent Ignatieff speeches, I think he has and will find this balance. (I especially enjoyed his 2005 speech to the Lib convention - short on economics but inspiring as all hell)

Steve V said...

Ben

You must have principles, that's a given. However, in a democracy you need some degree of public support to rationalize your decisions. If, you see polls that show Harper 20% ahead when faced with a coalition, DESPITE the fact voters are angry as hell at him too, then that's a red flag to any reasonable individual. How can you preach stability, when the public overwhelmingly rejects your option? Sure, you can try, but you're bound to fail, and fail badly, so it's much more sensible to react tentatively, because really you're reacting to the people you work for. Nobody disputes the idea of MP's listening to their constituencies, as a matter of fact we encourage it, so if the feedback is hostile, you consider. The NDP love to talk about the "kitchen table", what people are talking about and WANT from their representatives. From everything I can gauge, outside of partisans, the "kitchen table" is saying BULLOCKS to the whole notion. Unless that changes, a coalition can never succeed, practically, it's DOA.

The problem I see, people are attaching their own want, which is fine, but then they error by extrapolating that as representative, because it clearly isn't at the moment. Can that change? Sure, but like I've said before, as a poll addict and one that likes to search around to gauge opinion, this coalition idea, as presented now, is very, very unpopular. It just is, deal with it.

CuzBen said...

Couldn't agree more Steve.

In my experience, a great way to gauge public support/blowback beyond polling is through the petitioning process. It allows a party or Member to float an idea through a private citizen without having the Party officially commit to the idea as in a platform. This could have been done (or could still be I guess)with the notion of coaltion. Get someone independent to create and promote a petition calling for coaltion or not. Either way, if publicized well, there will be a reaction that will be indifferent or in favour. Further, acting on petitions demonstrates a dedication to grassroots democracy and first-degree representation. Petitions are different from polls in that it is a poll of the politically active, those that will go out of their way to vote, or in this case, sign a sheet.