Monday, February 16, 2009

Thinking JUNE

If you weigh all the strategic considerations, you can make a strong argument that June is the optimal time for the Liberals to force an election. There's a downside to every scenario, for the Liberals a sense that time is on our side, the more we have to improve fundraising and readiness, the better. It's quite true, it takes time to "rebuild" a party, particularly in areas of the country where the Liberals organization and appeal is currently weak. I'm afraid that sense will lead many to look to the fall "probation" update, as the earliest possible window for forcing an election. I would submit, that what the Liberals may gain on the readiness front could be offset by other factors that could erode the longer we wait.

Ignatieff is riding a pleasant wave, emerging from the budget/coalition debate in a strong position. Ignatieff has positioned himself as a believable PM in waiting, the Liberals have a credibility they haven't had in years, a fickle media generally on side. I see nothing on the near horizon to fundamentally change this dynamic, no bigger tests immediately apparent, than the one's just concluded. Given the primary focus on a cratering economy, which will surely continue through the spring, Ignatieff merely has to stay out of the way, and let events dictate.

I can't remember seeing the Harper team look so unbalanced and in flux. Internal issues, the frame of "strategic genius" now a distant memory, sagging fortunes, principles abandoned, coupled with governing during this economic mess, the Conservatives seem entirely vulnerable. However, to assume this condition is permanent fails to acknowledge the ability of your opponent to adapt. Politics are forever fluid, and with an unknown economic future, there is a risk for the Liberals thinking they can simply bide their time and pounce whenever they choose. If some of the forecasts are correct, the economic numbers may start to flatline, even hints of recovery come the fall, which will surely put some wind in the Conservative sails, a sense that they're coming out the other side. If the Harper government is allowed to hit bottom, and then be able to point to indicators showing the worst is over, that reality is dangerous for the Liberals. Things don't have to be "rosy", they merely have to convey some confidence that it's about to get better. The markets are notorious for being ahead of the economic curve, if there is light piercing the gloom, we could well see some optimism and this will affect the media coverage. Waiting until the fall, is a risky proposition, because nobody really knows where we'll be, so you couple economic uncertainty, with giving your opponent ample time to retool, and you might see an opportunity passed.

June is attractive because you are fairly certain that the economy will be in the "ditch", any campaign rife with poor data, a circumstance which guarantees the government is on the defensive. The Liberals have successfully distanced themselves from the budget, and these "probation" updates provide opportunity to bring the Conservatives down. However, these updates are a double-edged sword, because while they allow control, they also have the capacity to forfeit culpability. Letting the Conservatives live on in March is a given, the budget barely out the door, nobody will expect the Liberals to move, and nobody will really blame them for that decision. Currently, the NDP attacks on the Liberals, this idea of a Con/Lib alliance are feeble and remote, mainstream thought doesn't really entertain the concept, the media largely ignores as nothing more than politics. That said, should the Liberals keep allowing the Conservatives a "pass" on the updates, there is the possibility that these attacks gain steam, because Liberal criticism is eroded with every rubber stamp, on subsequent judgements. March is a given, June is somewhat more intriguing, that is where the narrative can change and we start to "wear" the Conservative budget, or at least we absolve part of the responsibility.

Electorally, the Liberals desperately need to improve their fortunes in British Columbia. Unless the Liberal convention is a historical anomaly, Ignatieff will get a bounce out of the love-in, and it just happens that this event allows a terrific opportunity to showcase the party in a key region. This convention provides a vehicle to sell the Liberal message and Ignatieff's stature will surely rise. The fact it occurs in May, just prior to the June update, means the Liberals could well be riding a wave, some serious momentum.

Parliament isn't in session during the summer, which means if the Liberals did choose to move in June, they can make the argument that this action doesn't impede ability to deal with the economy. An election during the "pause" can be framed as responsible- we can't support the government anymore, we're on the wrong path, a summer election is the best time, if we must have any "uncertainty". I'm not sure that's a powerful argument, but it may help appease a public who wants no part of any election, at anytime for that matter.

I suspect fundraising is on the uptick, we already have some evidence and soundbites to show that things are improving. It will take quite some time for the Liberals to compete with the Conservatives, in terms of money and organization, waiting for that moment seems a far away goal. While the downside of June might be optimal "readiness", one needs to counter-balance that facet with the other issues at play, many of which clearly work to our advantage, many of which might be temporary. When you have your opponent somewhat demoralized, so consumed with merely keeping afloat, coupled with relative "good times" for yourself, it doesn't really get much better than that in politics, and you would be wise to pounce, because the moment may be fleeting.

14 comments:

Big Winnie said...

Very good post and I agree with your assessment.

One other point to mention is that public perception will be critical to the Liberals. The NDP is "saying" there is a LIB/con coalition, which I know isn't true. However, unless the MSM is convinced of this, the Libs are in trouble. Also, the shortcomings of the "action plan" need to be revealed/hammered home to the public masses so they can make an informed opinion about the government.

If the Liberals can expose the government for what it truly is (a scam), they will stand a bnetter chance of defeating them soundly.

Anonymous said...

If there is a June election, it's Harper who will have forced it. Why would Iggy want it this soon, with the Liberal party barely having paid off its debt, and only a month or so away from their Convention?

Steve V said...

"However, unless the MSM is convinced of this, the Libs are in trouble."

Nobody is really taking the characterization seriously at this point. Like I said, that could change if these probation periods keep passing by, and the government still stands.

Steve V said...

anon

After the convention is the perfect chance to strike, I can't think of a more positive public relations exercise.

Mushroom said...

There are two things about the recession.

1) It may get worse after June. This is a pretty long one.

2) Canada is riding this recession due to the weakness in the manufacturing sector and low oil prices.

Unless Iggy has a better solution to 2 than Harper, then he will emerge as an opportunist. It would be prudent to see how Iggy can force Harper to call an election. This can be done by either by demanding another stimulus package that would cripple Harper's political base if the Cons support it. Or promote more protectionist policies using environmental targets that would be used to goad Harper.

Steve V said...

Mushroom

Ignatieff will always risk the opportunist tag while the economy is tanking, the only way to avoid it, wait until we start to rebound, and that's not exactly a positive.

JimmE said...

.. this would have to be an exceedingly well crafted & masterful Confidence Motion, as the Block & Dippers are needed for it to pass.

burlivespipe said...

Asia is just beginning to be rocked seriously (at least being shown in the media) from the economic tumult, and that is just going to slam us again this time from the pacific side. With the Cons still sticking to their 'we'll match but won't spend unless there's a big benefit to us' policy re. infrastructure spending, there won't be many jobs created in the immediate future.
The CONs are aware of this so they are still trying to stoke the 'coalition' boogeyman; they've been making cold calls to fundraise with that as the overall message. They are worried; sometimes, there's nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal.

Anonymous said...

It can take YEARS before people start to see a light at the end of the tunnel from a recession. The recession of the early 90s was over by the end of 1991 - and yet two years later people were angry enough to reduce the Tories to 2 seats and by 1995 people were still mad at Bob Rae - even though the Ontario economy had already been recovering for over two years. Remember also how Bush Sr. was defeated in 1992 even though the recovery had begun six months before the election. Harper is going to be damaged by the reverberations from this for a long, long time. It can take years after a recession ends before unemployment starts to go down again etc...

Steve V said...

True enough, but if there is a sense that worst is behind is, then Harper has an opportunity to argue his policies are working. Why take the chance?

Anonymous said...

Nothing will be evident all that quickly - by the time the economy turns a corner (if it ever does) we will get all kinds of apocalyptic talk about a possible double-dip recession or of a dreaded "jobless recovery" etc... Even if the GDP starts to grow again - there is always a delayed reaction before the unemployment rate and family incomes start to recover. There will be PLENTY of ammunition for all the opposition parties to use against Harper for YEARS to come.

Steve V said...

anon

That's crystal ball stuff, which has no place in the nimble world of politics. I say you move when you're in the KNOWN, rather than playing future odds. I'm not sure I necessarily disagree, this downturn seems worse than what the pros have acknowledged to date, but nobody really knows. And, what you're failing to incorporate, the longer we allow Harper to govern, the more we take responsbility, if it goes on YEARS, you won't be able to distinguish. That's the big downside.

Anonymous said...

Rest assured Steve if Harper thinks the Libs are gonna pull the plug and he's not doing so great in the polls at that time, he will prorogue. GUARANTEE IT!

Harper could close the House up in May and just release the June interim report when the House is not sitting. Then he'll go on a summer tour in a desperate attempt to reboot his popularity. Or he'll just resign and the Cons will have a new leader in the fall. Depends how far Harper is down in the polls at that time but I'm sure many in his party are hoping he's not around for the next election because he is their biggest albatross.

Mushroom said...

"And, what you're failing to incorporate, the longer we allow Harper to govern, the more we take responsbility"

You take responsibility when you provide no alternative solutions. This means allowing Harper to spend his way out of the recession while accumulating large deficits. Or propose major government cutbacks by laying off many civil service jobs.

One more thing. The Grits must think hard about raising taxes and saying this on the campaign trail. Economic prudence through manageable debt levels, is what I will call it.