A little late to the party here, but a few thoughts on last week's developments. I'll try to approach my analysis from a non-partisan perspective. I don't think there is any question whatsoever that the Liberals completely fumbled their strategy, whereas Harper managed to improve his standing moving forward. I also think the NDP and Bloc have solidified themselves as practically irrelevant and superficial.
Since I was away, my impressions were confined to newscasts and publications, which meant little exposure to the partisan rationalizations and mostly marginal "details" of the final resolution. What I saw, a Liberal Party that boxed itself in on probably the least advantageous issue available. Ignatieff came out guns a blazing, with ultimatums on a few issues. The stance was such, it unnecessarily raised expectations on what would be required for a final resolution. Harper's reaction was steadfast, and although Ignatieff secured a face to face, which ultimately left a few scraps, the climbdown from the initial position to the conclusion was striking.
For the first time, the characterization of "weak" was applicable. What's worse, the Liberal strategy lent itself to self inflicted damage. The problem was the Liberals never had the stomach for an election, and the maneouvers after the initial "tough" stance proved it in spades. If one has that knowledge beforehand, it's pure folly to over reach, because you know a backtrack could transpire. What the Liberals did, is firmly put the ball in Harper's court, but in such a way that he had the leverage. For all intent and purposes, the Liberals were a paper tiger. Posturing without conviction to see it through, all unnecessary and risky.
The "concessions" the Liberals received where really nothing of the sort. Our main tenet on EI reform, the qualification number is off the table, it's dead and to be truthful we've already lost the PR battle on "45 days". What's left, Ignatieff now parroting Harper on EI- the Conservatives already had the self employed inclusion in their platform and Harper is on record saying the different regional standards are a problem. Harper was right to shrug in his post-resolution presser, that really he's agreed to nothing he already didn't want. Ignatieff was left to champion part of the Conservative platform as though his own, hardly a compelling talking point. There won't be a fall showdown over EI, because Harper will give enough to make an election over an impasse look ridiculous. The kicker, what the Conservatives end up "compromising" on will be on ground they already largely own. Harper agreed to this discussion over the summer because he effectively will get a Afghanistan redux, wherein he neutralizes the Liberals by presenting a non-partisan approach to Canadians.
As it relates to the opposition day in the fall, that's a strategic point and I'm glad we have it. However, to Canadians, a big whatever, so it's hard to argue this is a feather in Ignatieff's cap. The Liberals extracted another chance to force an election nobody wanted anyways- hardly something that resonates or matters in the grand scheme.
It's fair to beat up on the Liberals for their game plan the past week, but it sure as hell shouldn't be coming from NDP or Bloc partisans. Once again, knee jerk rejection that really looks more foolish with each successive example. The NDP are broke, their fundraising sucks at the moment, their polling is particularly bad where it matters most- an election now almost rationally absurd. And yet, there we see the toothless lion roaring, chest glistening, all a by-product of marginalization. The simple fact of the matter, the NDP have absolved themselves of all reasonable responsibility to make Parliament work, instead they effectively endorse the concept of 4 or 5 elections a year. That's the NDP stance in a nutshell, using the Liberals for cover, letting them be the adults, while they operate in theoretical land in a misguided attempt to look "strong". If there is one piece of advice I would offer to the Liberals, rather than ignoring the NDP, strategy wise I would make a point of highlighting their voluntary irrelevance to the proceedings.
Harper extracted what he wanted- time and a modest agenda moving forward. Harper actually addressed his chief weakness, he looked stately rather than petty. EI is now the fall benchmark, and I see little difficulty in manoeuvring enough to effectively neuter the issue as a trigger. Meanwhile, the Liberals have exhausted a certain amount of political capital, Ignatieff is left with his first truly below par performance and the media frame is adjusting. I see the wisdom in wanting a fall election, rather than plunging us into a campaign nobody wanted, the threat of voter backlash probably more likely than any recent example. However, if the Liberals had that knowledge in the first place, it's hard to justify the unnecessary posturing, because the conviction was forever lacking and subsequent events revealed that for all to see.