Friday, January 30, 2009

Tough Call

It will be interesting to see how Ignatieff reacts to Newfoundland MP's voting against the budget. You have to balance the need for party discipline, unity, with a genuine concern. I'm inclined to say that Ignatieff should let these MP's vote their conscience, because this issue supercedes the general party position and strategy. I confess, complete confusion trying to decipher all these various side deals and such, but if these MP's feel strongly that Harper is trying to "screw" them, Ignatieff might be better off letting them express their view, and pledging to undo any negative effects in the future.

The reasoning, that forces everyone to toe the line, is more a question on optics, rather than a practical threat to the official position. In the grand scheme, nothing will really change, should these MP's vote against the budget, the political reality remains in tact, while these MP's maintain their credibility with their constituents. Danny Williams isn't blaming the Liberals for their budget stance, but he clearly is pushing for a statement:
“I know they're in a tough spot,” Mr. Williams said.

But even if the Liberal MPs vote against the budget, it would pass with the support of the other Liberals.

Mr. Williams is also looking for support from Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and other premiers to delay budget changes that affect revenues from the equalization formula and the Atlantic Accord.

But it remained unclear Friday whether Mr. Ignatieff would back Mr. Williams's proposal.

“This is not a matter between myself and Michael Ignatieff. Michael Ignatieff is doing his best to try and remedy a very terrible situation,” the Premier said.

“I lay this squarely on the shoulders of Mr. Harper and his cohorts.”

If the concern is one of optics, I would suggest a counter view, that has an upside. While the obvious presentation of division in the ranks isn't necessarily advantegeous, having a group of Liberals vote against the budget, also sends a clear signal that this isn't our document and we do have genuine reservations. The decision to support, is one made on balance, but that doesn't preclude criticism or pointing to problems. The simplistic, and quite silly, suggestion that letting this budget pass is tantamount to full endorsement of the Harper Conservatives, isn't necessarily a real concern, but allowing these MP's some latitude does highlight the real disconnects.

There is also the danger of precedent, and Ignatieff will surely have to field questions about a "divided" caucus. However, isn't that reality already in the public domain, everyone knows how these MP's feel, a censor or "toe the line" doesn't remove the perception? In letting these MP's vote against, it allows these people to stay true, without crippling the overall Liberal position moving forward. Everyone has problems with parts of this budget, it's really a decision made in totality. Liberal MP's showing their displeasure, is actually symbolic of a real tension, and I'm not sure it's necessarily negative to present a budget vote, which speaks to the lack of universal approval.


Jay said...

I think they should be allowed to vote no. I think of it as more of a provincial stance on part of the MP's from Newfoundland and Labrador and nothing to do with them being Liberals. I hate the budget and would prefer the rest of the caucus stand and vote no in solidarity against the blatant attacks on the province but politics is politics unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

it doesn't look any better than having everyone run out before the vote.
this is Stephan Dion all over again.

Steve V said...

"this is Stephan Dion all over again"

Of course.

Anonymous said...

who is the leader of the liberal party of Canada

Michael Ignatieff or Danny

think of the optics


Anonymous said...

We criticized the Conservatives for kicking out Bill Casey for voting against a budget he felt was unfair to his province so if we did the same we would be complete hypocrites.

I expect they will be allowed to vote their conscience, the optics would be poor otherwise, especially when you have articles like this out already (I have to admit to cringing seeing Ian Davey say "it worked for Harper").

We slammed Harper again and again for muzzling his caucus, Chretien even going on to say that if Trudeau treated his caucus like Harper treats his he would have resigned. We can't down the same road regardless of whether it makes our leader look momentarily weak. We do have some principles to hold to I would hope.

More discipline than under Dion? Sure, we've lacked that in the past, but even going remotely close to the way Harper manages his caucus would be a terrible shame.

Anonymous said...

I never really understood party discipline. I know it has its origins in Britain. But it doesn't really make sense to me. The MP's are supposed to represent their constituents. How can they if they are just yes-men/women?

Steve V said...

Good question.

rgl said...

I agree that this makes sense and will only make the Liberals stronger for allowing a vote of non-confidence from a number of MPs. You are right about this sending out the message that the budget is indeed a Conservative budget.

rgl -

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it's a temporary strategy, given all the garbage/secret sourse stuff that has come out in the last few years.

Flush out the problem people

Anonymous said...

Why not expel these dissidents and then look forward to the next election when danny Williams launches his ABCL campaign (Anyone But Conservatives or Liberals).

Steve V said...

The Liberals will forever have "dissidents", it's part of the anatomy for a big tent party. What would be nice, if the media didn't jump on differing opinion as evidence of weakness, because last time I checked, debate makes you stronger. Canada isn't a monolith, why do we expect a "natural governing party" to conduct itself like the borg? I've never understood that, but I very much understand why people want discipline, within this tabloid climate. Juicy.

gingercat said...

I know this will sound simplistic, but do the math. Even if every NFL MP votes against the budget the budget still passes. Why make things difficult if you don't have to.

Steve V said...


Maybe that's why it's not that difficult, in the end. These MP's maintain their credibility, we express our displeasure with this deal, but the overarching decision remains.

Anonymous said...

I can understand why Ignatieff doesn't want to vote against this budget. But is he totally devoid of ideas on how to improve it? Can he not think of one progressive amendment to put forward? The whole 'you're on probation' is childish. It doesn't help someone who doesn't qualify for EI. Bring forward an amendment to improve access to EI. Show some leadership and put forward ONE friggin progressive idea.

Anonymous said...

Put forward ONE and forget about the other 49? First it would almost certainly cause one of two outcomes: trigger an election or simply not pass and make the opposition look weak. In either case, it doesn't help any Canadians. Second, if the Conservatives accepted it, it would tie an extremely flawed budget to the Liberals. Better to make it clear this flawed budget is Harper's, let the money flow which will help some who need it, and then watch like a hawk to see how things progress. Otherwise Harper is likely to win the next election, too, and then even more Canadians will be out of luck.

It is possible something could happen in committee or in the updates/reports. At this time, trying to get one change is more likely to cause further damage and not help anyone.

Anonymous said...

Proposing amendments that get defeated happens all the time and I do not recall one time it made the Opposition look weak. And you think the Liberals are not tied to this after voting for it without one amendment, that's the definition of being tied to it. If they think there is something wrong with it they should propose an amendment. If you don't propose any amendments it means you can't think of anything better.