Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Appropriate Response

It's a good decision in the end, and the process speaks to leadership style. Ignatieff will allow Newfoundland MP's to vote against the budget, a decision which seems entirely appropriate.

Beyond the most obvious of optics, a party "divided", the usual kneejerk stuff from predictable sources, this decision actually works in the Liberals favor for a number of reasons. First, and foremost, the votes demonstrate that Liberal support isn't a blanket endorsement, the nonsensical notions of coalition and all the other superficial drivel. Having some MP's vote against, sends a clear signal that Liberals are conflicted, a decision made in totality doesn't translate into propping up anybody. There is little room for fallout, because Canadians overwhelming want the budget to pass, so this symbolic expression merely reaffirms our displeasure with the Conservatives. Ignatieff was right to speak with Harper, attempt to force changes, but no one, including Danny Williams, expected that recommendation to be a deal breaker. Nobody, including the participants, are arguing for the Liberals to bring the government down over this issue, they merely want to express their rejection and highlight an unfair, unilateral move by the Conservatives. The Liberal position is different, and a Liberal led government will re-visit and revise as appropriate.

The fact Ignatieff huddled with these MP's, in such a fashion that he was open to listening, rather than dictating, provides a positive on leadership style. Ignatieff could whip the vote, or sanction dissent, but by allowing a "one" off here, on a critical issue to Newfoundlanders, he sends a signal that he appreciates the concerns, in fact he agrees. Compare that approach to Harper's, when faced with a similar circumstance in Bill Casey, and Ignatieff looks relatively positive. Ignatieff allows these MP's to vote their conscience, but maintains the overall position, that allows this vote to pass. The final outcome remains the same, but the Liberals are spared the public spectacle of iron fist submission, fall in line or face consequences.

When the vote occurs tonight, obviously attention will be given to Newfoundland MP's. However, what seems to be absent, the rejection of the Conservative policy doesn't seem to translate to a rejection of Ignatieff's decision for the party. These MP's understand the different considerations, as do the most vocal voices from Newfoundland, the Liberals aren't damaged, it's Harper's decision that is at issue. In the end, I like the optics of Liberals wrestling with their decision, because it speaks to complicated consideration, it demonstrates clearly that we are no fans of the Conservatives, and a Liberal government would operate differently. This issue came up in the aftermath of the initial decision to support, and I would suggest that Ignatieff's handling and reaction have turned something potentially explosive into a net neutral circumstance, that brings little political consequence, and beyond that, benefit to these MP's in question, who stay true, without altering party direction.

Cue the ankle bitters...

32 comments:

Joseph said...

I agree.

What I find interesting is Harper's "absolutely not" response to possibly addressing this. I see some people already see this as signs that Ignatieff has been "played" by Harper.

I just think it re-emphasizes that Harper is a jerk who went out of his way to smack Atlantic Canada (this was not a critical piece of the budget by any stretch).

The contrast in styles is telling, and not in a good way for Harper, about how he and Ignatieff approach issues.

I'm somewhat pleased this all gets displayed on the day of the vote.

Tiny Perfect Blog said...

Everyone know Iggy would let the MPs vote against the budget since they were going to anyway.

The real telling moment of the story comes here:

Ignatieff said he met with Harper on Monday and asked him to "pause" the cut (in transfer payments to Newfoundland) until they can come up with a reasonable solution. He said the prime minister said no.

Yea, Iggy's sure got Harper on a short leash.

Cherniak_WTF said...

Cue the ankle bitters...
Seems that you are admitting that you know you have a weak argument...

Given the response posted here already, it sure does seem that way...

Steve V said...

Joseph

I agree, see the next comment. I actually think it was quite astute to call Harper, because it allowed for another opportunity to highlight that he is a "jerk". I'm not sure any of Ignatieff's handlers honestly thought Harper would change his mind, but it was a good move strategically, because once again Ignatieff looks like a PM in waiting, trying to find resolution, Harper the divisive leader, that doesn't know how to foster national unity. I think we've made the best out of it, which is why it's pretty much a net neutral. Well navigated.

Steve V said...

"Cue the ankle bitters...
Seems that you are admitting that you know you have a weak argument..."

LOL, it's actually an admission of how predictable, and boring, people like you really are. One trick pony, and a LAME one at that. Down poodle, down.

Sean S. said...

How many backdowns will it take until Iggy's Liberals are seen in the same light as the Dion Liberals?

Seems I remember the Liberals forcing the front bench to vote for legislation while allowing everyone else a "free" vote in the not so distance past.

Steve V said...

"How many backdowns will it take until Iggy's Liberals are seen in the same light as the Dion Liberals?"

Sean, given that no one, besides partisans see the budget as a "backdown", this would be the first issue that you could characterize that way. My commentary, is more how Ignatieff handled the situation, this response probably the best course, if not a envious position.

I've already stated, the Liberals have a window, in this instance the public is supportive. If we're sitting here this time next year, and we've seen a host of issues where the Liberals have danced, then it might hurt, some damage. I would submit, that talk of Dion here is meaningless, and I fully expect people to recognize danger on the horizon, pull the plug prior to a narrative developing, or more correctly the possibility. And, this argument that others may not want to pull the plug in the future, well, then we assume the "real opposition" mantra ;)

Greg said...

The Liberal Party is so displeased with the government that it is going to only vote 96% in favor of the budget. That'll show them.

Anonymous said...

"One time only".

And if Quebec MPs do the same when THEY'RE province isn't sufficiently appeased, what then?

Bad, bad, BAD idea. The crack in the door just got wider.

Steve V said...

"The Liberal Party is so displeased with the government that it is going to only vote 96% in favor of the budget. That'll show them."

See my next post :)

Steve V said...

anon

I don't dispute future danger, but given the alternatives, I think this the best course.

victoriabc said...

IMO...(suitable disclaimer here), you are missing the point, and alas Ignatieff is as well...He could have and probably should have left it as a free vote for his bunch, seeing as it was an 'historic time' argument,... and he might have even defeated the government on it and had enough of a 'coalition' left (copted with their own language)to produce a plan for the GG and form a new government...

Steve V said...

A "free vote" on the budget is even more problematic than this situation, that was a recipe for disaster in this instance. Think about a coalition scenario, wherein a handful of Liberals voted for the budget. It would be even weaker than the maximum presentation we have available, which was weak to begin with. I respectfully disagree, that route was nothing but headaches.

Anonymous said...

Steve, despite how appropriate of response you think this is, one thing is starting to become apparent - when Danny Williams says, "jump", Michael says, "how high"; to the tune of six Liberal MPs. Michael saying he allows this is the same thing as giving permission for the sun to rise. The NFLD Liberal MPs were going to dissent, with our without Michael's blessing.

How is that going to read? A provincial Progressive Conservative premier from another party has more control of Federal Liberal MPs from his home province than their own leader does. When Quebec Liberals ever start to complain about Quebec being excluded by whatever with the party's acquesicence, how will Michael respond? "Sorry guys, that thing with NFLD was a 'one time deal'"? Those Quebec MPs are going to start feeling a pinch like times of old. And Duceppe is going have a field day. Its started already.

Steve V said...

"The NFLD Liberal MPs were going to dissent, with our without Michael's blessing."

Exactly, so why not try to make the best of it, rather than a week long story about discipline, reaction and blowback. You just provided the rationale.

Anonymous said...

That is exactly my point. Michael trying to look magnanimous about letting those MPs voting their conscience (when they made it clear they were going to do it regardless) for the same displeasure that HE feels over the budget looks very disengenuous. When a similar situation arises again, how can he possibly save face when he painted himself in a corner by saying it was a "one time deal".

The optics won't register with the average voter, but within in the party, a precedent has been set. This was a very, VERY bad move.

Steve V said...

There were going to do it regardless, so rather than have an ongoing saga, this means its over today. I assure you, Ignatieff has made it quite clear that this isn't a precedent to caucus, so you're just bringing in hypotheticals, that are questionable. I'd rather deal with the known, sanctioning the entire Newfoundland caucus would have turned this into a soap opera, what's the point of that?

Anonymous said...

You say its over today, and yes, it may be for today. But what happens if Quebec MPs ask for the same latitude to protest equalization changes like Newfoundland Liberals have? Do THEY get a protest vote, too? If not as you say, then why not? And if this doesn't set a precedent, what steps does Michael take if or when that happens again?

Sure, we don't want this ordeal to go on any longer than it has to, but now that its already happened, I doubt it will get stuffed back in its box again if or when a similar situation comes back up. Michael may not believe that this has set a precedent, but at that point, it won't matter that he has said it hasn't, because he'll only have two choices to make. And you know what they will be; cave again, or drop the hammer and be a Harper; neither which is very pleasant for us. Yes, for now, they may be "hypotheticals", but no one really expected this whole thing to happen either, did we?

Steve V said...

anon

You're dealing with theoreticals, I'm speaking to the issue at hand. Let's cross that bridge if we have to, but don't presume we will, because clearly that remains to be seen. Every decision brings potential risk, whipping the NFLD MP's came with an entirely different series of those, so you can argue both sides. Under the circumstance, I'm fine with Ignatieff's call, and I don't see any legislation on the horizon that is comparable to this budget vote.

Jack said...

I don't see how this could have turned out well, WHATEVER Ignatieff had decided.

It's the ultimate "rock and a hard place" situation.

I hear people saying this is a short-term solution. Bullshit. Kick them out of caucus and you're basically setting the Liberal party up for failure in Newfoundland in the LONG-TERM with the NDP sitting there ready to claim the spoils.

I also think there are a certain number of reasons that make this a
unique situation rather than precedent setting.

First, the Cons have nothing to lose in Atlantic Canada, especially in Nfld. If there are going to be anymore Conservative poison pills to worry about in the future, you won't see them directed at any other region the Liberals have to worry about. You think the Cons WANT to piss off Ontario? Quebec? Western Canada? I don't.

Second, it's much more difficult for any premier to have as much influence over his province's MPs as Danny Williams does. NFLD has a small population that is virtually united in resentment against Ottawa...whipped up into a frenzy by a one-of-a-kind, populist leader. We saw the effects of this in the last election, in which the ABC campaign worked damn well. In contrast, it WOULDN'T have worked well in most other provinces.

Under this unique set of circumstances, Ignatieff made the right call.

CathiefromCanada said...

The optics: Ignatieff looks like a man who listens. Harper looks like a man who doesn't.

Steve V said...

"Kick them out of caucus and you're basically setting the Liberal party up for failure in Newfoundland in the LONG-TERM with the NDP sitting there ready to claim the spoils."

Exactly.

OntarioHymn said...

"The optics: Ignatieff looks like a man who listens. Harper looks like a man who doesn't."

======================

A man who listens? More like a man who tells the sun its okay to rise in the morning; knowing it will do just that anyway. The optics: Iggy is a weak leader who is already starting to lose control.

Steve V said...

"Iggy is a weak leader who is already starting to lose control."

The party apparatus is more united behind this leader that any time prior to John Turner. That's the reality.

Anonymous said...

The party apparatus is more united behind this leader that any time prior to John Turner. That's the reality.

Who cares? Voters don't see who the "apparatus" is; they see a leader who supports a Tory budget, that allows MPs from a specific region to break away for a protest vote against a budget that he is disgusted with but supports. My God, even DION had the balls to discipline a dissenting MP who wanted to support a Tory budget!

Michael says that Harper is on probation, but when he respectfully asked Harper to change his mind with regards to Newfoundland, Harper basically told his probation officer to piss off. Now this.

The voters may not get the whole gist, the meaning, or the consequences of all of this, but this long term risk for short term gain was a very foolish move. This isn't over yet.

Steve V said...

Who cares?

The comment was in response to losing control, well who the hell is that referring to, the VOTERS?

"they see a leader who supports a Tory budget,"

Yes, yes they do, and they approve overwhelmingly. Get a clue, then you might have a point.

olaf said...

Steve,

I'm not really sure what I think of all this, but Radwanski's post on the topic is worth a gander, if only because he's hardly one of the "predictable sources".

In other words, six members of a 77-member caucus have now been told they can behave differently from everyone else. If you're trying to restore unity to a fractious party, this is not the way.

Second, Ignatieff has emboldened the one-man show running Newfoundland to continue setting the worst possible example of how federal-provincial relations should be run.



And so on...

Steve V said...

olaf

I read that piece. It is a concern, if we see more of this routine, but it may very well be a "one off", that comes with no future ramifications, so for now, it's only speculation... Time will tell, if Ignatieff's move comes back to haunt him. I'm not sure this move will set a bad precedent, because no one can presume the future, and this dealt with the present in the best manner possible- in my view anyways, the other option, would have left festering wounds that just as easily could "haunt". I guess we'll see.

olaf said...

Steve,

I tend to think you're right: Iggy was in a no-win type of situation, and I don't find the "he'll pay for this later" scenario any more likely than "there will be no major consequences" scenario.

Personally, I would have liked him to give the NFLD gang a smack, and make it clear that he - and not that insufferable blowhard Danny Williams - would rule the Liberal caucus. But that's just because I dislike Williams intensely, and pray for the speedy delivery of his comeuppance.

In fairness, I guess I can't expect Ignatieff to base all of his decisions on my personal antipathies.

Steve V said...

I'm pretty tired of Danny's act too.

NL-ExPatriate said...

Liberal, or Conservative whatever it doesn't matter what national party you elect MP's to they are all the same when you belong to a minority prov in this phoney federation. All of the national parties have to work within the same tyranny of the majority system where in order to win power you need to be on the good side of the majority and the majority in this confederation live in Ontario and Quebec. 66% to be exact and further to that some 50%of the canadian population live in the urban cities none of which count from our province. You must be delusional if you think any national party will go to bat for 1.5% of the population and that includes the MP's you elect to those same national parties. Sure we don't even comprise the margin of error in the polls which is usually 3%. It isn't the national parties we need to change as we have seen it is the political system of Democratic Discrimination against the minority provinces by all of the national parties in favor of vote buying in the majority provinces. You could be playing this game till the cows come home of electing one or the other national proxy parties for ON/QU and expecting a different result it is time to stop the insanity. These are all symptoms the real root cause of our place in confederation is our lack of equality. If you really want to send a message to the confederation and have your elected MP's stand up for you tell them to cross the floor and stand up as Newfoundland and Labrador First MP's. As for defeating the budget it can only be done with the Liberals or in the Senate that is assuming Iggy doesn't tell the Liberal senators to pass it Like Dion did. So much for sober second thought. The senate is nothing but an extension of the systemically flawed HOC Per Capita Colonialism.

EQUALITY OR EXIT!

Steve V said...

Good rant :)