“The plan,” a senior Ignatieff strategist said yesterday, “is steady as she goes.”
If there is worry among the rank and file about lack of policy, there isn't at party central. “The game is not policy, it's politics,” the adviser bluntly observed. He noted how Stéphane Dion brought out his Green Shift plan well before an election. Look what happened, he said. By the time the campaign rolled around, the Conservatives had undermined it. “You don't draw a target on yourself. Sure there are many in the party who are upset. I can live with it. We started in January with a plan - and we haven't moved off it.”
But if the Liberals don't change tack now, if they continue to drift, what position will they be in to go to the polls at that time? They would have only a short five-week campaign to turn things around. No big deal, said Liberals at party central. “In politics, things change real fast.”
Yesterday, I spoke about being "nimble", constantly adapting to the forever changing political terrain. With that agility in mind, the "steady as she goes", same strategy we've had since January mentality, appears rigid and dangerous. The final quote about things changing fast in politics is the one to grasp, and it betrays the earlier stay the course mentality. Things are changing, as predicted the government is already starting to crow about the economy, we even see the Bank of Canada declaring the recession over. This ain't January, it ain't even June, this is the right now, projecting forward.
Please, please, don't use Dion and the carbon tax as your reference point to justify keeping your head down. Those were desperate times, which lead to an admitted "hail mary" policy position. The Liberal Party of last year bears no resemblence to our current circumstance, no matter your measure. Using the Dion example as representative is so full of holes I frankly shutter that it's now become the "not to do" template. Ditto for anybody using John Tory, because that speaks more to controversial positions, rather than any debate about putting out substance. Nobody is suggesting Ignatieff come out with some "radical" proposal that is risky by nature.
What is the greatest challenge for the Liberal Party? Ask the pollsters, and I guarantee you they will say a lack of definition, a sense amongst voters that they don't where the party stands. Taken further, that reality is a DRAG on our popularity, it is part of the equation that explains why we see this constant see saw in the polls. People move to the Liberals when they become disenchanted with the Conservatives, other parties, but we don't DRAW them. Big, big difference and one that needs to be considered.
It isn't "risky" to address your chief liabilities, it's called "shrewd". That's politics, as far as my history reads. What liability did Harper and the Conservatives address that helped him gain power? The overwhelming sense that he was a scary guy, a ideological party that would take Canada in a radical direction. The Conservatives confronted this perception by manipulating Harper's image, by portraying him as a moderate, armed with mostly centrist ideas. The Conservatives confronted their chief obstacle to forming government, that's what you do. With that in mind, any sense amongst Liberals that you can just keep to the script- when you see more and more evidence that lack of definition is your achilles heel- isn't sound strategy it's a stubborn refusal to adapt accordingly.
The "game is not policy, it's politics" might be true, but it should be about policy when it's a political necessity. It's good politics for the Liberals to put forth a vision for Canada, with a certain boldness that captures people's imagination. It's good politics when you address your weak spots, perceptions which are holding you back and in turn giving your opponent more reason for optimism than they deserve. Don't get cozy with outdated assumptions and completely imperfect analogies, we're in for the fight of our lives and nothing is coming our way by default.