Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ignatieff As Dion

There is a point of view making the rounds, that should Ignatieff let the budget pass, he will be well on his way to suffering the same fate as Dion. The "weak" leader narrative, the sense of "cave", "rolling over", the criticisms of "real opposition", all the things that plagued Dion during his tenure, which ultimately made Harper appear much stronger, relative to his primary opponent. I respectfully disagree with that sentiment, in fact I see little in the way of revelant analogies, nor do I think Ignatieff damages himself, in any lasting way, in this instance.

Mr. Dion, for a myriad of reasons, never enjoyed a strong hold on his leadership. Not to rehash, but just as a point of fact, the "weak leader" narrative was entirely supported by the internal machinations of the Liberal Party. I think it beyond obvious at this point, that Ignatieff is, and will be, in far greater control, little prospects for divisions, camps, all the stuff that tends to undermine a leaders authority. That reality is entirely relevant, because much of the Dion frame was media generated, and the seeds of that sentiment were a reflection of party optics. When people sense weakness within, the performance in Parliament only amplifies and cements the narrative.

If, we are sitting here, this time next year, and the Ignatieff Liberals have continually avoided any challenges by the Conservatives, my opinion may change, but as of now, on this particular vote, there is nothing that suggest Ignatieff will be wounded. In fact, if you peruse the media, couple that with public sentiment, a vote for the budget contains little risk. This isn't a situation, wherein Harper "bullies" the Liberals, the suggestion really laughable. As I've already stated, this budget has left Conservatives scratching their heads, so far removed from the initial positions, so removed from the core tenets. Ignatieff never moved, not really one iota, the rhetoric of November identical to the demands of today, and those demands largely met. The universal media opinion, is that Harper has moved to appease the opposition, nobody recognizes him- no sentiment at all, of the Liberals painted into a corner, victim of Harper's strategic prowess. It is for that reason, along with the public want to see politics put aside, and something concrete delivered, that leaves little room for a backlash against Ignatieff, should we support the budget.

Ignatieff is a new leader, putting in place a new team, beginning to articulate his vision for the country. The dynamic of "new" affords Ignatieff some breathing space, no one is entirely surprised, or ready to pass definitive judgement, on a man and party retooling in the early days. "Avoiding" an election isn't a sign of weakness, it's seen as pretty reasonable, given the timing of the last election, given the new regime. Important to separate the musings of those with an agenda, who can say whatever they choose, with how the unaffiliated conduit interprets the maneuvers. With almost universal agreement, the idea that the Conservatives have moved to appease the Liberals, and the Liberals, under the new leader, rightfully want more time. That's the overarching view that I see and hear, so with that in mind, I fail to see DION II. Very different times, very different dynamics at play, very different men to be frank.

There is some sense that the Liberals are on the move under Ignatieff. How much of that is real, or just wishful thinking, remains to be seen. But, there is no question that Ignatieff is commanding a different level of respect, he is not the human pinata. Of course, that perspective can change, but it won't, as a result of this one vote, future events will dictate.

Comparing what appears to be happening, as of tomorrow, with the abstaining routine of the Dion regime, is a useless comparison. As someone who railed against the abstaining strategy last year, primarily because it further cemented Dion's "weak" position, I see little here that re-ignites my previous concern. Nobody is being bullied, Harper isn't forcing his agenda, while we run and hide behind the curtains. Ignatieff isn't under the gun to "stand up", in fact he's pretty much driven this debate, and looked very much a PM in waiting in the process. I will judge the Liberal strategy as we move forward, and it should it appear an overall liability, that hurts the brand or leader, I'll criticize. However, at this moment, on this vote, I see nothing of real substance, to support the argument that Ignatieff is following the same path as his predecessor, with similar risks and downside.


Anonymous said...

I think if the liberals decide this budget has enough of what they asked, they should claim victory and support it. Be clear on what they disagree with, and support it. Or allow a true caucus free vote on the matter with every liberal present.

The point is to claim victory on the matters that have been added on which they agree and to stake out clear difference on what they disagree with.

And should they decide to vote against it - we still have not seen it - then do so in force and prepared to clearly explain why and speak to the Canadian people in their response.

Those are the two options. ANY manufactured "shows" of displeasure or abstaining will be VERY poor. What Canadians need to see is Liberals and Ignatieff will stand behind their decisions. I honestly believe Canadians will respect that - regardless of any silly manipulative polls in the near term. But anything less than taking a position will diminish their standing and hurt Ignatieff's still fledgling impression.

Greg said...

This isn't a situation, wherein Harper "bullies" the Liberals, the suggestion really laughable.

No, the bully needs Iggy until the end of the week (hence the resurrection of "Sweater Steve"). The bullying begins when Iggy is no longer needed. It isn't Iggy's fault per se, that's the way a bully works. Once this existential crisis is in the past, Steve and Doug Finlay, and the rest, will begin the work of assassinating Iggy's character. It's just their way.

Steve V said...


Agreed. I sort of toyed with abstaining on this vote, but the way it's shaking out, that response isn't feasible, or necessarily strong. Point to where Harper moved towards our demands, point to where we think the budget falls short, and tell Canadians we will hold them accountable moving forward, for the good of the economy. I believe Canadians will respect that too.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, in one of the funnier morning shenanigans, did you see the reporting on the "staged" conservative team caucus meeting? Just bizarre. The CBC reporter was showing the chart that had been handed out so they would know when they went in where the team would be "informally" standing and sitting. Day even had a coffee cup in his hand and, with the gig being discussed as they rolled film, I found myself wondering if it even had coffee in it. His sleeves were rolled up though (gag) so I guess they were "working hard" for the Canadian people. (future note to conservative stagers - Day's coffee cup way too weak and effiminate, a little doll-size china tidbit . . . grab a big blue mug or better yet a large Timmies to-go cup next time).

I'm going to go clean up from spewing my coffee at the contrived image . . . I actually do have coffee in my mug.

Steve V said...

"will begin the work of assassinating Iggy's character. It's just their way."

Two points. We have learned some valuable lessons, and to assume the same, really gives no credit. Also, if these characters think they can go negative, and looked overtly partisan, without it reinforcing the opinion of them as mean spirited and divisive, then they're really out to lunch. Ignatieff rises to the moment, then the Cons start with negative ads or framing, it will blow up in their faces. Go for it, I say, but don't expect us to react the same, or the public to see you in a positive light as a result.

Steve V said...


I did see that seating chart? Absolutely hilarious.

MississaugaPeter said...

By supporting the Budget, Ignatieff neutralizes the Budget and thus, the issue of Conservative's response to the current economic situation.

The same thing happened last February, when Dion neutralized Afghanistan as an issue when Liberals supported the amended Conservative motion.

Dan said...

Not sure I agree M-Pete. I've got to agree with Steve on this one, whatever Ignatieff and the Liberals do on this one it will not be from a position of weakness like it was when Dion was still around. I also agree with Joseph, no silly abstaining or feigning anger, and then voting in favour.

Might be some interesting ideas about amendments, but I don't really understand that process.

Anonymous said...

Yes, they neutralize the issue for the time being with a clear victory of Harper having blinked and then moving viciously towards the Liberal point of view.

And so then the discussion becomes whom do you trust to form the next government. No matter what the election issue becomes in the future (budget recovery, social infrastructure, climate change, Canada's place in the world, etc, etc), the question of trust and competence and decency and, egads, policy will loom large.

Harper is wearing thin. The liberals can claim victory and move beyond this. If, as hinted, the only structural tax cuts in this budget are for mid and lower incomes, then that sounds about as liberal a cut as you could find.

Mike said...

MissPeter: Just a few days ago, Steve made the exact same argument.
Though he argued to abstaining not voting against.

Steve I'm not at all worried about this hurting Ignatieff it won't if he supports it, but if the new "consensus" Harper sticks around for the next year I very much worry he will gain a large lead on us in the polls. Jean Charest was once written off for dead and was trailing badly in the polls and he made a comback basically for overhauling his whole way of government. I don't see why we think Harper can't do the same. We count out Harper's ability to rebound at our own peril.

We could finish Harper now though to avoid that possibility as his career would be over with a budget vote loss, but it seems clear now we won't. I think we'll live to regret it. Harper will "appear" to govern like a Liberal until "winning conditions" in the polls appear and call an election to win a majority. If he wins that majority god help us.

It bothers me that no one thinks this could happen.

Greg said...

The problem is the middle class tax cut. If it is big and if Iggy blinks, Harper will own him.

The Jurist said...

Interesting to see at least some response to the likelihood that the Cons will transfer Dion's branding over to Ignatieff.

But if Iggy is relying on party unity as his saving grace, then he'd have to be alive to the factors most likely to actually open up a rift. And surely the most obvious one on the horizon is the danger that coalition supporters within the party will second-guess a decision to keep Harper in power.

Steve V said...

"Harper will own him."

The only thing Harper owns is a tarnished reputation.


"Winning conditions" are nowhere on the horizon, and frankly I'll be shocked if the Cons numbers touch majority status (maybe a small, temporary post-budget reprieve aside).

Greg said...

The only thing Harper owns is a tarnished reputation.

That tarnish will rub off on Iggy if he says one week that he will bring down the government over a permanent tax cut and then let's the budget pass. Harper will make sure of that.

Steve V said...


I don't share your fear of Harper, and it's about time Liberals stop looking for the "boogeyman" everywhere. I'm quite confident our team can duel with the war room, have some faith.

Anonymous said...

A strong start



Ted said...

Don't forget committees.

It is possible to support the budget because it is "close" to what Canadians need, accepts the Liberal platform and in such times we don't nickle and dime our way through political positioning... and then turn it into a fully Liberal or Liberal/NDP budget in committee.

I would love to see the tables turned and the Conservatives voting against their own amended budget. Or trying to claim that an amendment to the budget means non confidence and that we have to have an election... after cutting and running from Parliament in December.

Anonymous said...

I think you make some really good points here. I was concerned about Harper taking a vote on the budget as a sign that he can go back to acting like a majority leader. But it's true that he has already had to back off. I agree that we should see what happens over the next year. For one thing there are a lot of unknowns right now about the economy and any strategy at this point is a shot in the dark. Better to let Harper take the flak.

MississaugaPeter said...

Claims of moral victories and claims that Harper has been wounded mean DIDDLEY NOTHING. These claims have been made before. What did the Liberals get, dozens of seats less in the House of Commons. YIPPEE!

Harper did the exact same thing last year with the Afghanistan file. He sought input from the Liberals. Ammended the motion, and voila, Dion and the Liberals lost an election issue.

BY THE WAY, did NATO provide an additional 1,000 soldiers to fight alongside the CAF force in Kandahar and assist Canada in equipping the CAF force with helicopters and drone airplanes? NOPE! But did 39 more Canadian soldiers die and were 100's of Canadian soldiers wounded since February 2008? YUP!

Steve V said...

"Don't forget committees"

Exactly. As I've said before, it's not like time stops after today, and the opposition is neutered. It's a minority parliament, and we have many levers to hold them to account, or re-direct if necessary.


There was some worry, that Harper would go the poison pill route, but he's clearly in survival mode.

Steve V said...


This isn't our budget, and allowing it to pass certainly doesn't take the economy off the table. It's entirely different from Afghanistan, and your comment on the last election, actually speaks to my point in this post.

Anonymous said...

"There is a point of view making the rounds, that should Ignatieff let the budget pass, he will be well on his way to suffering the same fate as Dion."

There is the fact that Iggy can be Martin II and Layton and Duceppe will carve him along with Harper.

"I think it beyond obvious at this point, that Ignatieff is, and will be, in far greater control, little prospects for divisions, camps, all the stuff that tends to undermine a leaders authority."

The Jurist is right. This is the Grit party. Iggy's opponents are lurking. If the caucus abstains, calls of "nervous nellies" and "better coalition than Harper lite" will appear.

"Ammended the motion, and voila, Dion and the Liberals lost an election issue."

There are Grits like MissPeter who have not forgotten that Iggy undermined Dion by extending the Afghanistan mission. If the interim leader takes the "don't let the door hit our asses approach" then the Grits will pay. Of course, you can argue that the Grits are now at rock bottom. But rock bottom also means that the Grits should be realizing that the coalition may be the only option in the party's survivability.

Critical point in the history of the party. I can only watch, having been away from the machinations overseas.

Steve V said...

" This is the Grit party. Iggy's opponents are lurking. If the caucus abstains, calls of "nervous nellies" and "better coalition than Harper lite" will appear.

Mushroom, I don't see that at all.

Mike said...

Steve be honest, does today's budget not remind you at all of this one?

Steve V said...


You're joking right? No relationship whatsoever, come on.

Mike said...

Seems Zerb and Hebert agree with me

You see Zerb as far left, but Hebert you've quoted in the poast. Read that article and then look back over the last link I gave you in my past comment again. Exact same critcisms and we voted against that budget in 2007 didn't we Steve?

Steve V said...

I heard Hebert, and her argument, which I agree with, is that the budget isn't focused. Money sprinkled everywhere, trying to be everything to everyone, and in the end, not much of anything to anybody. I don't see how that translates to a past budget, we've never seen anything like it, so comparisons are a waste of time. I get what you're trying to do, but it's a weak co-relation.

Mike said...

"This is a shotgun budget," Liberal finance critic John McCallum told the House of Commons Tuesday.

"It's as if the finance minister shut his eyes, held a shotgun into the air, pulled the trigger, and hoped that he hit as many targets as possible."

That's from the 2007 budget and Hebert basically gave the same description today.

How is the quotes above much different from "Money sprinkled everywhere, trying to be everything to everyone, and in the end, not much of anything to anybody."

Much different context of course, much different, and that is a possible justifiable reason for a different result (and I suspect will be the ultimate reason given), but I still think the comparison is quite valid.

Steve V said...

I hate to break it to you, but the calm climate of 2007, is light years away from the reality of 2009. Again, I don't see the value, or merit, in trying to make that connection. Besides, everyone knew the Bloc was on board, so the Liberals were free to vote against, it certainly wasn't a "moment".

Mike said...

Fair point about the Bloc though I recall Dion went to the podium before Duceppe and I remember Hebert saying that Boisclair and Duceppe were still deciding on whether to oppose the budget at the time the Liberals decided to oppose so it wasn't 100% clear to our caucus there would be no election by our vote against.

My main point (that perhaps wasn't clear) was that it doensn't seem these guys have learned much since 2007 despite everything that's happened.

Yes this is light years away from the fall update, but it's still not that far from the approach that put us in the $13 billion pre-stimulus deficit in the first place. I think these times demand better, much better.

Steve V said...


The Liberals knew full well the budget would pass, let's not get into revisionism.

I agree, the times demand better. The question, and this is the reality, how do you balance policy and politics. Harper did address our demands, on a superficial level, so then the math gets more complicated. I expect we will see amendments, how far they go....