Friday, April 03, 2009

On "Alternatives"

It's become a common refrain in Parliament, the Conservatives complaining that the "opposition", namely the Liberals, have failed to provide an alternative, detailed policy position on how to deal with the economy. Today's Hebert column picks up on that theme, although in a broader sense. I confess, I would like to see more meat to the bone, so we could get a better sense of where the Liberals are going. However, some broad strokes aside, it's almost amusing to follow the Conservatives logic to its rightful conclusion.

Last time I checked, the Conservatives are the government. If I have my history right, no opposition party has ever offered expansive detail, to the extent that their ideas parallel the position of the government of the day, in terms of substance. What the Conservatives are really saying, we need your help to govern, we lack ideas and the opposition is obligated to fill the void. The complaint is actually a recognition of incompetence, and if the Conservatives really believe the rhetoric, then they should simply resign and offer to let the Liberals govern, Ignatieff become Prime Minister.

The simple fact of the matter, in our parliamentary tradition, the onus is NOT on the official opposition to guide the government. Ignatieff has been quite vague to date(although a four month reign allows for some latitude), but that doesn't translate to legitimate criticism, in terms of acting as though Prime Minister. It's a nonsensical demand, the government asking the Liberals what they want them to do on the economy. When the parties face the voters, then we must provide a clear, detailed alternative, and we will have the debate, the contrast. To hold the view that the Liberals are derelict by not releasing an economic red book NOW, is an unrealistic demand, not to mention a dishonest protrayal of the opposition role in our parliamentary system.

If the Liberals flesh out their direction, I see it more as an attempt to define ourselves to the public. It really is nothing more than a theoretical presentation, based on the IF, should we become government. The Conservatives are arguing a practical application, and in so doing, all they project is a sense that they are incapable of fulfilling their responsibilities. Why anyone would support the "alternative" criticism as legitimate escapes me. Not only is it bad strategy at the moment, it's also a unrealistic expectation, given our current system. Do your "job" Conservatives, and we'll do ours, as it always has been, as the current PM did when he was in opposition, as his predecessors did before.


Big Winnie said...

From March 24th's QP, Harper announces that the Libs didn't bring any proposals forward regarding EI.Here is Ignatieff's response:

"Mr. Michael Ignatieff (Leader of the Opposition, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister keeps asking me for proposals. It is as if he wants me to do his job. I would, of course, like to do his job when the time comes."

I think the Cons will try to blame the Liberals for their own incompetence during the next election.

Steve V said...

That's a great response.

northwestern_lad said...

Steve.... Basically your premise here seems to be "I we don't win government, we don't have to do anything". Every opposition party is supposed to put forth ideas if they don't agree with what's going on. That's not doing the government's job, that's doing a parliamentarians job. And the onus is on every parliamentarian, opposition or otherwise, to offer alternatives especially in a minorty parliament when no one controls the whole shooting match. That's why we elect MPs.

Basically saying nothing and voting for things that you say you oppose is not doing what the people who voted for those MPs voted for. Just because that's Liberal tradition doesn't make it Parliamentary tradition ;)

Steve V said...


If the Liberals have offered no substantive alternatives when the writ is dropped, you might actually have a point.

Sure, we know more about Layton's NDP, but I seem to recall it took him some time to put his stamp on the party direction, so why do you use a different standard, just because it isn't you party of preference?

Has it every occurred to anyone, that there's a reason the Conservatives WANT the Liberals to define themselves more? Think about it, and then ask yourself what's the best response.

Steve V said...

BTW, nice to see you back in the blogging saddle :)

northwestern_lad said...

Thanks.... it's good to be back :)

RuralSandi said...

If I recall correctly, Harper didn't bring out any policy until the 2006 election was well underway - he made announcements on a daily basis and no one complained.

Also, I think the Cons are stuck. They keep bringing up the carbon tax which is yesterday's news and ignatieff himself said they presented it to the people and the people didn't want it - end of story.

You know darn well that if the Libs brought any policy, the Cons would pick "one" item and trash the sh*t out of it with cartoons, etc.

northwestern_lad said...


It had occured to me that maybe the Conservatives want that, but at the same time that's part of being a political party. Personally, I'd rather have someone try to label me for having an alternative than label me for having no idea at all... At the very least when I have an idea it looks like I have an opinion on the matter.

The other part of this though is that if this were a majority government, I probably wouldn't have as much of an issue here just because in that majority circumstance, the government controls all. But because we are in a minority situation, those alternatives hold much more weight because they have a much better chance of being enacted. Also, given the dire times that we are in right now, people are suffering and need new ideas. Holding onto truly good ideas for months to wait for a possible election and party gain wouldn't look that good. Yes, in bringing out ideas now you do run a risk, I admit that, but I believe that the reward outweights that risk.

And as for Ignatieff just taking over, I'm not assuming that he has a whole election platform hidden somewhere in his Toronto condo that he brought with him when he took over, but at the same time we are into month #4 of his leadership and I don't think it's unfair to assume that he would have some ideas to offer. Is that really unreasonable? Count Iggy has been an elected politican now for going on a few years and has officially done the leadership contest thing twice, I refuse to believe that he didn't have policy ideas there that were flushed out beyond the point of quick thoughts. That has nothing to do with my party of preference, that has to do with general expectations for any politician. :)

Jesse said...

I wouldn't even bother refuting the Conservative claims.

Everyone who's paying any attention to politics right now is pretty tuned in; once the Liberals release a platform, they won't be saying (or voting because) the Liberals didn't have a platform in April.

And everyone who tunes in for the election campaign will see... wait for it... the platform, and won't really care about whether the Liberals had a platform in April.

This Con line of attack is an even bigger waste of time than usual.

sjw said...

As Rex Murphy noted last night in his 'Mulroney isn't a Conservative any longer' piece -- "Still, even now, this Conservative government is not quite ready for prime time".

How true.

Big Winnie said...

The Liberals have already started to announce policy...they want to reform EI.

The Cons have had 2+ years to reform it but have failed to do so.

Steve V said...

I think Jesse's point is the relevant one. Any potential problem in perception is merely temporary, because it will all be forgotten once a campaign begins. If the Liberals were in some difficulty, Ignatieff wasn't resonating, then you might want to get more specifics, but that isn't the case now, so broad strokes will do.

wayupnorth said...

I believe Ignatieff already pointed out a broad policy statement recently when he said it was past time where Canada started selling furnature instead of wood, steel instead of ore and refined all oil before leaving the country.

If this is the Liberals true position I am sure many other PCers lke myself will be lining up for memberships as I have been saying the same thing for years.

Right now this is the kind of hope people are looking for and the Liberals need to keep sending this same message every day to indicate that they have a plan but there is certainly no need to provide details before an election is called.

cls said...

An election was held mere months ago and since then the Liberal party has installed a new leader. At no time can I ever remember opposition parties presenting detailed alternatives to what the government is doing a mere 5 months later. This is especially true when there's a new leader of the opposition so I find it rather odd that folks are clamouring for the Liberals to present detailed policy alternatives.
However, allow me to observe that Harper's government is feeling very old for one that's only 3 years old. It seems to me that this government feels like it's been in office for about 6 battered years and getting close to the end of their time in office. When this happens in a 'normal' situation that's often when people start looking at what else is on offer.
Oh, and after listening to the At Issue panel last night I can't help but think that when the Tories want the Liberals to come up with 'alternatives' it really is because they intend to steal whatever policies they think might keep them in office. Both Coyne and Gregg said that Harper's Tories are no longer interested in ideas but only want power for the sake of power.

Miles Lunn said...

I don't see lack of policy as a problem right now, although I think the Liberals should be at least privately meshing out it now and if they are not that is bad news. The reason for not revealing it is if it's a good one, the Conservatives will steal it and if a bad one like Dion's carbon tax they will spend a fortune in attack ads trashing the whole policy.

It is true that as a minority government parties need to cooperate and certainly in most countries where minority governments are the norm, usually a group of parties form a coalition and combine elements of all their policies. However, also in most countries where minority governments are the norm, their leaders are less dictatorial and more cooperative than Harper is.

I think the Liberals would be more competent on the economy not so much because Ignatieff is alone strong than Harper, but he has a strong team with people like McCallum and Brison whereas Harper has no equivalent and he is also willing to listen and work with others as opposed to Harper who is running a one man show. Off course saying any political leader could prevent the current recession is nonsense is we leave in global economy, so no one can prevent it. We can only cushion the impacts of it so fewer people are harmed by it.