Monday, January 19, 2009

A Sound Strategy

I'm sure this post will be about as popular as a mess of ribs at a vegan conference, but I completely agree with the logic of "liberal sources":
Liberal insiders say Michael Ignatieff would prefer more time to rebuild the party and prepare for an election, rather than possibly topple the government next week by refusing to support the budget.

Liberal strategists see little upside to Ignatieff taking the reins of government at the start of what is promising to be a deep, severe recession.

They'd rather let Prime Minister Stephen Harper take the blame for the economic pain.

We just had an election, which gave Harper a strengthened mandate, although a minority. The Liberals were reduced, and the task at hand is considerable, on every front. The Liberals have a new leader, who has barely had time to get his team together, never mind the required policy work, fundraising, finding new, compelling candidates- rebuilding the Liberal brand. Within that reality, to feel any surprise that people in the party are preaching patience, is well, surprising.

There was nothing worse, than watching the Liberals continual abstain, time after time, during the previous regime. I believe that this routine greatly damaged our electoral chances, it created an atmosphere of weakness and an ineffective alternative. With that in mind, how can one now argue the opposite, the Liberals should bide their time in the short term, wait and pounce when optimal opportunity arises?

For the reasons stated above, the fact we just had an election and the party has a new leader, the dynamics have clearly changed. Couple the challenges of rebuilding the party, with a desire by the public to see politicians "get on with it", and in many respects it makes sense to allow a semi-acceptable budget to pass. If the goal is to rid Canada of the Harper Conservatives, you can make a pretty compelling case that conditions will be more favorable in a few months. I see nothing crass, or an abdication of responsible opposition, to take some time to get our house in order, while simultaneously watching Harper's crumble, as the economic bottoms out. In a practical sense, the economic road ahead is already paved, regardless of any government initiatives in the coming months, so it is a false frame to argue Ignatieff's short term decisions will really matter. Longer term, I completely agree, but government is simply powerless in the immediate, to offset our course. With that knowledge in mind, it is easier to "justify" any political consideration.

I don't want the Liberals to simply forget strategy and just plow ahead, guided only by our idealist want. Politics is necessarily a tension between core convictions and cold calculation- always has been, always will, with every party, every day of the week. To simply scoff at the "gameplan" is perfectly fine, it just shows no relationship to the real world.

One of the main reasons I argued against the Liberals abstaining, wasn't just a policy consideration, but the simple fact that the weakness projected was hurting our fortunes, it was reducing Dion's stature, it allowed other parties to pounce on themes of "real opposition", it made Harper look strong in contrast. I saw the abstaining strategy as a political loser, counter-productive to the ultimate goal of toppling Harper. The wanted "conditions" would never really occur, because the strategy undercut the chances of realizing those "conditions". In this new case, the dynamics are completely different, the landscape decidedly changed, which makes a temporary dodge and weave the best course.

I don't want an budget that meets all the Liberal demands, because then Harper receives a partial pass, through collective responsibility. I don't want to force an election, wherein the Liberals are forced to re-assemble a slate of recently rejected candidates, armed with a thin and hasty platform, lacking the proper planning to make a campaign hum. If conditions demand, then so much for the "best laid plans", but sitting here today, you can see better scenarios.

It is completely reasonable to give the new party leader time, when you look at the challenges, they aren't immediately remedied. Let the team put forth an agenda, let Ignatieff attract some new blood, let the party rebuild where it has too, let all the various parts begin the work, until there is a sense we can reasonably achieve our goal. Maybe we're better prepared in late spring, maybe the fall, maybe next budget, but if you detach yourself from personal want, focus solely on "when" constitutes the optimal opportunity to send Harper packing, next week isn't top of the list.


ottlib said...

I cannot disagree with you or the insiders.

As I have argued here before, this recession is going to be a government killer and if it is all the same to you I would prefer that government to be Conservative.

If the Liberals can rebuild themselves while the economy slowly destroys the Conservatives so much the better.

That is why I would prefer not to see a coalition unless Stephen Harper leaves the three opposition parties with ABSOLUTELY no choice. In other words the budget would need to extremely bad for me to call for a coalition.

Which is not to say the Liberals should abandon the idea of a coalition just yet. It still needs to be a realistic possibility until the budget is tabled. It is the only way that the opposition will be able to keep Stephen Harper remotely honest. Which is a sad testament on Mr. Harper's handling of this Parliament.

Cliff said...

Two considerations you missed:

The Liberals have coalition partners. Agreements were made, plans drawn up. Coalition politics are now part of the Canadian scene, as no party can muster the votes for a mjority now or in the forseable future.

The Liberal Party will be judged as a potential coalition partner by what it does in the next few days. If they show themselves to be an unrealiable and self interested partner that will be factored into any future coalition negotiations.

As Scott Reid put it clearly and baldly, Harper needs to be taken out and he needs to be taken out immediately if not sooner. He wants the Liberal Party dead and he wants to be the one who kills it. Let him survive this budget vote and sooner or later the scorpion WILL strike again. It's his nature.

You got yourselves a new leader, you got a honeymoon poll bounce and as a party you've grown some beer muscles. But if the Liberal Party chooses not to stand together with their coalition partners when push comes to shove they'll hang seperately on their own.

I actually still think that Iggy might be faking out Harper now. 'No new tax cuts' is virtually a poison pill demand from this Prime Minister - we might be swearing in the Coalition after all.

Mike said...

Congratulations, Harper just won.

Thanks for coming out, the list is on the door.

Steve V said...

"Harper just won."

Just compare the fiscal update with the budget, and then tell me Harper "won". Harper already lost Mike.


I omitted the coalition on purpose, because it's remote at present.

Mike said...

Note: Different Mike than the last.

The one thing I find most objectionable is the line about how "we don't want to be in government when the economy is so bad". Then why did we even bother trying to win the last election?
Obama isn't afraid of governing in tough times why are we? It basically screams "we're not up to the job"

In reality the coalition could last 18 months which is likely long enough to whether the storm. The alternative is Harper's tax cuts will drain the treasury dry leaving us with NOTHING to do if we even do when the next election. No Kelowna, no child care, no anything.


Never mind not wanting to be in power during a recession, who wants to be in government when the govt is near bankrupt and will have terribly painful choices to make (see 1995) in order to bring us back to solvency again. We can't let Harper drain the treasury with tax cuts, we simply can't we will regret it hugely.

If the budget is full of short-term measures fine let it pass, but permanent tax cuts NO they would be a disaster that we could not fix without raising them back (which we know would kill us politically).

Steve V said...

Nobody wants to roll over, no matter what, obviously it has to address some of our concerns.

Scott Tribe said...

I agree, Mike. Obama's main point was he was the best leader to be leading during a recession to try to minimize the damage and to get us out of it sooner - yet here we have some Liberals - anonymous and publicly -trying to strategize that it's better to let the country suffer under Harper.

Playing politics ahead of the good of the country... Harper has done an art form of it, and now we have some Liberals apparently wanting to do the same thing.

MilitantLiberal said...

Instead of writing long posts trying to convince people that defeating the budjet is a bad idea for the Liberal party why not just be honest? Why not say what the post really means? I hate socialism more than I hate conservatism. I would rather stay in opposition and bend over for Harper repeatedly than get in bed with the NDP. I would rather alienate the other opposition parties and what's left of the tattered left-wing of my own party than get in bed with the NDP. I would rather Harper kept on appointing judges and senators and doing all the other major damage he does on a daily basis than get in bed with the NDP. I would rather let Harper wear the economic mess than actually try to fix it.

Steve V said...

`Why not say what the post really means? I hate socialism more than I hate conservatism.``

Go away silly man. Get a clue while you at it.

MilitantLiberal said...

" Go away silly man. Get a clue while you at it.

Boy you sure told me. Next time I'll know better than to dare disagree with you.

Steve V said...

"Next time I'll know better than to dare disagree with you."

And, next time I'll try to care.

Steve V said...


We had an election three months ago. We lost.

Susan said...

Steve, aren't you just agreeing with harper then that there is nothing to be done in the recession except stick it out. It seems you are implying that the Liberals would not govern any better as far as the economy is concerned, and I completely disagree. I have to agree with Mike, we should be rising to the occasion.

Steve V said...


I`m saying, that for the immediate future, there is little a government can do to stop the slide. A stimulus won`t pay dividends right away, and other measures will also take time. EI is one area that provides immediate help, but most other initiatives are more about late 2008-09.

It`s a simple question for me, with the caveat of no coalition. Can we force an election now, and what would be our chances in that election. We JUST had an election, and we`re not in prime shape for another one.

Even Rae admitted today, this isn`t December anymore, the GG decision gave Harper a reprieve and the Liberals must respond to the new reality. That`s my view, had the GG not prorogued, full steam ahead. Jean did prorogue, Harper was able to regroup and the population has no appetite for more machinations from Ottawa. People need to be pragmatic.

Steve V said...

BTW, people are free to disagree and I generally respect other points of view. But, please don`t put me down as a craven, principle less partisan, because I see a different path to achieve the same goal. Harper gone, just a matter of how we get there, what`s the best strategy to ensure that.

Anonymous said...

"that for the immediate future, there is little a government can do to stop the slide."

Let's consider the coalition alternative with Iggy at the helm.

Instead of tax cuts, we can implement a cap and trade emissions market as proposed by Layton in the last election. This can be done within the first 100 days. Then we can save some jobs in the forestry and manufacturing sector by demanding that we re-negotiate the softwood lumber and NAFTA.

We can increase the child benefit substantially and possibly prevent a deficit by taxing the rich. Yes, the Grits will be governing on Layton's policies since the Dion carbon tax has been rejected by the voters.

wayupnorth said...


The most important thing the Liberal party needs to do is to put together a long term 25 year or more vision of where they want to steer this counry. The other parties would be forced to follow which would be deadly to Harper as he would have to articulate what his party really stands for and would lose much of the support he gained in the last two elections.

Even more important is a detailed 5 year plan dealing with todays reality and how they will change it to reach the long term goal. The fact they are making up a shadow budget like I suggested a few weeks ago is a positive sign they may be heading in this direction.

Now if they can just enter the twentieth century and switch from a top down to a bottom up party even an old pcer like myself may be persaded to join. Maybe that is the plan to go after the million or so strong pcers in the next election? Unlike many Liberals I am starting to admire how Iggy is trying to seperate his party from the last version which was a failure.

Steve V said...


A cap and trade system is going to take quite some time to pay any dividends, so I'm not sure how that addresses the "immediate" argument.

up north

I did Ignatieff make mention of where the party can best harvest new voters. According to our own polling, the thought is appealing to centrist voters, old PC'ers, offers the best opportunity.

dalestreet said...

Perhaps I'm being naïve, but I thought that since the current thinking is to "spend our way out of a recession", progressives would want to hold power and the purse strings, not leave them in the hands of conservatives.

Steve V said...


The only problem, that spending really does a whole lot of nothing until next year at the earliest. If the Liberals are going to sit on the sidelines for a year or two, then I'm offside. But, if we're talking next fall, possibly late in the spring, or at the latest next year, then it's a different reality.