I find it hard to defend the Liberals decision to let the 3 billion "slush fund" pass, given our voluntary and unprovoked rhetoric. I would classify our "climb down" over this stimulus as the first potentially major gaffe of the Ignatieff reign. I remember well, the Ignatieff scrum, full of provocative language, entirely confident in saying Harper must "walk back down the hill", there will be no "blank cheques". I also recall many of us bloggers defending our stance, dismissing any suggestion that a Dion redux was on the horizon. In the end, all the bluster looks unnecessary, the strategy questionable, the frame entirely unproductive.
In the budget aftermath, the key challenge for the Liberals is projecting this idea of a government on "probation", don't confuse letting the budget pass with complicity, a real opposition holding Harper to account. Up until this point, I've been entirely impressed, no real sense of Harper walking over the Liberals, in fact Ignatieff very much looks like the defacto Prime Minister. However, with this obvious cower, the Liberals have reminded everyone of a past pattern- threats and tough talk, to be followed by double speak and submission. I'm sorry, but a toothless motion, introduced prior the vote, which the government has already laughed off and pledged to ignore, doesn't distract from the central theme of the bully winning the day, AGAIN. This issue of false bravado is the Liberals achilles heel, we have desperately tried to shed the previous image, with great success to date, which makes this self inflicted wound all the more puzzling.
Harper began this debate with typical partisan threats. The Liberals reacted with their own line in the sand, which meant that a compromise was essential, to avoid the appearance of cowering. What amazes me, the Liberals failed to extract ANYTHING from the government, even the slightest concession to save face. No, the government didn't budge and we simply let the stimulus pass with a wimper, and weak rationalizations. It's one thing to let your opponent best you, quite another to create your own poison pill, that you will later swallow. It all begs the question- what was the point of this exercise in the first place, if our fate was pre-determined? The Liberals could have easily reacted with amusement, Harper's false confrontation, and merely stuck to our line about future accountability dates. Demanding complete transparency before the fact, set us up for failure, because we clearly weren't prepared to follow it through.
Is Harper this strong at the moment, that we don't have any leverage to extract a concession or two for support? Was there any realistic prospect of having an election, with the central point being Harper's resistance to "accountability"? I fail to see the danger, we could have garnered something in the name of credibility. I'm not suggesting lasting damage, but nobody should be surprised, when we see the next pressure point, that the media and our opponents, react with scepticism when we sabre rattle. If the strategy is to bide our time, while still looking relevant in opposition, no sense of "weak", "dithering" or the dreaded "waffler", then this whole affair undercuts our central thesis. A very confusing sequence of events...