Friday, May 08, 2009

The Politics Of "Green Shoots"

First off, it goes without saying that any evidence of the economy stablizing supercedes political consideration in terms of want. With that being said, there does appear to be "green shoots" starting to show in the economy, whether that is sustained or real remains to be seen, but it's not absolute carnage everywhere you turn.

When we discuss election timing, I've argued there are three chief considerations for the Liberals. One revolves around the issue of "propping up" the government and the potential fallout. Another digests the impact of the looming Conservative attack barrage against Ignatieff. The third, how the economic circumstance will help/hinder our prospects.

I would argue, that only one consideration remains, in any substantive way. With the new dynamics in Ottawa, any danger of the Liberals appearing weak, as they avoid confrontation with the government, has pretty much evaporated. We've already seen evidence of a more robust Liberal opposition, it is clear that we have more strategic latitude, which should neuter any sense of culpability or weakness.

In terms of the Conservative smear machine, we have clear evidence that there will be no Dion redux. The encouraging fundraising total for the first quarter, paying off party debt, and signs that the second quarter will bring even better numbers, the Liberals at least have the capacity for counter. Couple some semblance of improved fiscal health, with the dynamic of going negative actually reinforcing the unattractive characteristics of the government, and I'm less concerned that unleashing the Conservative gutter machine will be devastating to the Liberals.

The one remaining "concern" revolves around the relative health of the economy. Recent days have shown that the longer the Liberals wait, the more risk involved. Moving forward, if a situation develops, wherein Harper can claim partial turnaround, past "bottom", it allows for a more convincing argument. Today, Harper is already seizing on "green shoots":
“We may not be in a recovery, but I think we might be in a position where it’s not getting worse, where it’s truly plateauing,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in an interview, adding he’d like another “month or two” of data before coming to that conclusion.

It's a strange world, when 500000 job losses for April in the U.S. is considered "good news". However, everything now is viewed through the relative lens, not as horrific, is the new "encouraging". Two years ago, if the U.S. reported those job figures the DOW would have fallen 400 points, today it's up 100. In other words, the new frame doesn't require robust recovery, only a sense that we've seen bottom, which then allows everyone to look for those "green shoots". Within that reality, Harper doesn't need to see a return to real growth, only the sense that it's around the corner, we've weathered the storm. Then, the arguments against the government are somewhat weakened, because they can then point to their policies to support this notion of good managers, ably navigating us to the other side. Why turf the government, when things are looking up?

I've contended since the budget, that Harper is merely trying to ride out the economy. Earlier bluster from the government was mostly laughable, because the true strategy is to make it to the break, see a no threat summer and then reaccess come fall, always hoping that the worst would be behind us. You can't say anything definitive at this point, but come fall, Harper might just have enough patchy ammunition to somewhat counter his chief current liability. Liberals should proceed with this knowledge, entertain the possibilities and don't assume our historic "trump" card will be as effective as it seems today.


RuralSandi said...

Well, I wonder now about the economy. Spring is here, summer around the corner and apparently the price of gas is going to go up.

Good for Alberta - not for the rest of the country. Hmmm.....

Anonymous said...

Did you not see the fact that there were 36,000 jobs created in Canada in April, as opposed to lost?

Good news for the country.

Mark McLaughlin said...

Not being a Liberal, I like Far and Wide for the most part. You aren't as hyper partisan as most.

You're article cleverly dances around your point though. You're HIDDEN thesis if you will, that the Liberal party hopes for a further worsening Canadian economy for their own partisan gain.

When there are signs of the economy recovering, that's a good thing for Canada. When it ACTUALLY starts to recover, that's a great thing.

"Liberals should proceed with [the knowledge of a possibly improving economy], entertain the possibilities and don't assume our historic "trump" card will be as effective as it seems today."

That line seems like a thinly veiled admission that what's good for Liberals is not good for Canada, and that is the chief concern most of us non-Liberals have with you're party's whole attitude.

Careful FaW, you're venturing into tricky moral territory and I know you're better than that.

Anonymous said...

Every opposition party is dealing with this moral dilemma, when bad economic news is good political fodder.

I think Steve does a good job of setting the tone at the outset by acknowledging that stability supercedes politics (as you say Mark, less partisan than most).

The fact that the Conservatives will try to claim credit for the eventual rebound is similarly immoral. They have spent the last year deflecting blame and will certainly reverse that position once we start seeing some consistently positive numbers.

Same goes for Ontario where the McGuinty Libs have deflected blame even more successfully. But Ontario will lag in terms of rebound and that could affect his re-election chances in 2011 if the rest of the country is booming.

So it's immoral to assign blame, immoral to take credit and immoral to do nothing. Tough times for politicians.

Steve V said...

"Did you not see the fact that there were 36,000 jobs created in Canada in April, as opposed to lost?"

Apparently, you're blind because I linked to the Harper article that speaks to the JOB GAINS. Good grief.


There's no hidden thesis. I said that good news supercedes political consideration, but the entire post deals with various issues which speaks to Liberal aspirations. The simple fact- bad economy is bad for the government of the day. So, yes, you don't hope for bad news, but when you're in a downturn you also try and capitalize for partisan advantage. I don't think that represents anything new, nor is this strategic thinking solely the domain of any party, they ALL do it. The Liberal don't have any bearing on the economy, but if the situation, such as it is, demands a "timing" consideration, so be it and you try to maximize.

Gene Rayburn said...

Weren't those job gains due to people claiming to be "self employed"? So if I saw "I'm going to mow my neighbour's lawn" does that make me self employed? It sure doesn't increase my bank balance.

I can only imagine what kind of feelgood nonsense is next. Maybe Harper will announce that jobs are out of style.

Steve V said...


It wasn't a good report, and the American figures were objectively abysmal. More a commentary on how we've entered a new phase, wherein people are reaching for everything to show it's turning around. The stock market is hilarious at the moment, you announce another 75 billion needed to keep the banks going and it rallies the market. It's the psychology of bad news fatigue.

Anonymous said...

Did these figures exclude or include students and summer jobs? Full time or part-time jobs?

Steve V said...

It's an April report, so summer jobs aren't an issue. Besides, I'm not an expert, but the stats are seasonally adjusted to avoid distortions.