Monday, October 12, 2009

Admitting You Have A Problem...

It's a challenge everyone faces, particularly when you're so invested- the ability to recognize and accept your own failure and adjust accordingly, without the drag of stubbornness disallowing the necessity. When you are responsible for cobbling together a strategy, it's tough to acknowledge the "folly", because you essentially undermine your own credibility, you say you were wrong and rebuff yourself. Human nature tends to work against objective reason in this regard, so it's not a isolated criticism. With the above in mind, I hope this "mood" reported is inaccurate:
A top Liberal told The Hill Times that he's concerned that despite the fall in the polls, Mr. Ignatieff's top aides seem to be in denial and don't think any adjustments in the leader's inner circle, or strategy, need to be made.

"The office is relatively certain that there's no problem there. They're doing what really needs to be done, and the people who think otherwise are living in a state of ignorance. They just don't understand.... Give it a few days and we'll be back on track," said the Liberal.

Sound advice:
Pollster Frank Graves said the Liberals must put out their policies and explain to Canadians why they should vote for them.

"They obviously have to rethink what they're doing and there's no quick rebound available for them. They're not going to bounce back, they're going to have to crawl back, and that will be by trying to tell Canadians what is it that they specifically have in mind for the country and for individual families," he said.

In many respects, I believe we are starting from scratch now, no quick fixes available, strategy a "months long" consideration, rather than any realistic hope that we are in the midst of a soon to be self-correcting "blip". A good first step, a "rethink" as it relates to parliamentary posture, because our blanket rejection of the government is clearly a loser (something which I didn't expect, at least not the degree). This "tweaking" essentially means there is no election on the horizon, between our stance and that of others, the most likely scenario is the government lasts until at least the next budget. This probability allows the Liberals to completely reaccess their thrust, because the short minded election readiness posture has led to narrow consideration.

Things aren't going to turn around soon, as Graves says we must "crawl back". That translates to some sobering realities- to my mind it means the OLO and advisors need to essentially turn on their own ideas. There is no comfort available, there is no stay the course mentaility that offers a reasonable turnaround. The political landscape has changed, it is imperative that we now "attract" voters, rather than relying on the former deluge of bad news to "repel" in our direction. The Chretien scenario is entirely inapplicable, a "kick the bums out" mentality never exists, at least not to the degree needed to bring a red wave to the land. Liberals are wrong to look to the past for lessons, for a calming context, because the dynamics today are so entirely unique that history is just that, OUTDATED.

There has been an elephant in the room for months, that was mostly ignored, but forever present- the CHIEF liability of the Liberal Party of Canada is that it no longer resonates with ordinary Canadians, they see little in terms of identity, they see an empty vessel, more "natural governing" than compelling direction. IMHO, we've never addressed this main problem, we even made the herculian mistake of delaying this "thinking" conference, in the name of expediency. Part of this understandable, the constant threat of impending election tends to disallow slower ferments, favors the quick fixes and traditional "readiness" angles. Liberals now need to resist the immediate and develop a coherent plan to re-connect with voters.

To be frank, a two-stage rebound is the most prudent path. By that- and this was true even when fortunes appeared more promisiing- we need an approach that recognizes more than one election may be needed before the Liberals return to favor. You look at the seat distribution, you look at the regional dynamics, a betting man never gave odds on immediate victory (I believe I offered a 60/40 proposition, in favor of the government, even when polls put us ahead, the math was there). Not a defeatist stance, because it can be done, but if you take a long view, an incremental path, this will lead to more substantive reform. You can't rework a brand overnight, you are confronted with your past and all the negative perceptions this entails.

We now a semi-reprieve on the horizon, which allows us to gut our current mindset. There is a "problem", admitting it is half the battle.

18 comments:

Omar said...

A two-stage rebound notwithstanding, I think a very good place for Ignatieff to start would be to articulate accurately why he has decided to withdraw confidence in the government. And for fucks sake articulate something other than their poor stewardship of the economy. As it stands now the Conservatives have framed the Liberals as only wanting to defeat the government in order to force an unwanted election. If indeed that was Liberal thinking these months past I can't believe with the recent poll plunge it is their thinking now. Mr Ignatieff needs to outline clearly WHY he can no longer support the Harper government and if that lack of support sees the government fall and an election ensue, well that's the way the cookie crumbles. Ignatieff does not have the luxury of returning to a position of supporting this government as his acquiescence would be laughable. He is stuck between a rock and a very hard place.

RuralSandi said...

People forget when Harper lost, disappeared for a few days (apparently to reflect)...short memories.

Media - single minded and lazy. Headlines "again" about Ignatieff and none are checking out and looking at Harper they way they should.

Lizt. said...

There is only one problem. Harper may bring out the HST regulation before long, knowing him..... if Ignatieff should change his mind, because of Ontario votes.

Joseph said...

I think the truth lies somewhere in between. I don't think this is "an all is lost" moment, entailing that it will be a horridly long slog before the Liberals regain their footing. The reality is this article may well be part of the strategy now. You can express that you're not worried and still adjust the trajectory.

I do think a big part of the move was to get Liberals back to being a true opposition. Continuing to be the blank check for the government was a long-term killer. I think shifting to a case-by-case basis while laying out an independent vision of the future is a good idea, whether a campaign is in the offing or not. But being able to stand up and state a willingness to go into an uncertain battle was necessary. That threshold has been crossed now.

I agree with Omar, however, that the Liberals really failed to get the word out as to why they were pulling the plug. There was no lead-up - or follow-through - on the excellent points made in the actual confidence motion speech. And since the precipitation of this act was the EI discussion, how could the Liberals have sat by and let the conservatives (and NDP for that matter) claim the changes that fell far short of the modifications the Liberals and other parties had proposed?

I still think the Liberals are acting as if they can work outside the media, but they really can't. If it means sending out the foot soldiers with talking points to talk to any and every media outlet they can, then they need to do that.

And there does need to be meat on the bones of policy ideas. "I believe Canada can compete" type musings aren't quite enough . . . by a mile.

The reality is Harper is getting a bit of a free ride at the moment because his government is not coming forward with anything. They are in holding motion while they let the rough patch fester. But as things come out, I have no doubt their poor trajectory over the past 3 years will continue.

When it does, and they began moving forward with their 'vision' of Canada, the Liberals should be ready to pounce.

On that note, regarding the Afghan soft-extension, the Liberals need to define exactly what they think now - early and often. The NDP already has gone on record. I haven't heard a peep from the Liberals. The response on that could be a beginning of the new era of opposition, or it could be another lost opportunity. The next couple of days will tell the tale.

Gayle said...

I think the biggest problem is not Ignatieff's inner circle - it's the anonymous liberals who keep complaining to the media. Shut up already.

That, and the inner circle.

You cannot discout the effect it has when these anonymous idiots whisper behind the scenes. There are enough of them now to justify the media pile up. The story has long been dissent within the ranks. These guys just keep on feeding it.

Joseph said...

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.

Steve V said...

Not an all is lost scenario, just a recognition that we have to have a long term vision, that doesn't get sidetracked by immediate consideration.


Happy thanksgiving!

DL said...

So let's say that some time in the next few weeks, Harper brings in a bill to implement the HST and it is ipso facto a "confidence" vote since any bill dealing with taxation is. What does Ignatieff do? It seems very likely that NDP and the BQ would vote no to the HST, but the Liberals would be stuck having to bring down the government over something that they actually agree with the government on - the HST. Would the Liberal caucus be willing to run like lemmings over a cliff if Ignatieff told them to? If so how would the Liberals explain that they were causing an early election over an issue where they see eye to eye with the Tories??

Joseph said...

The Liberals have already said they will vote against all confidence measures brought forward in the House. Until that stance changes, I don't see that being much of a discussion.

How will the NDP handle voting against the HST if the changes to EI aren't yet implemented?

I mean, everyone can play that game.

Personally, I'm just thrilled the conservatives are thinking about bringing down their government on a tax measure. Go for it!

DL said...

I guess we will see just how long that "stance" lasts. I have a hunch that if there is a vote on the HST the Liberals will somehow contort themselves into voting for it. They will find some loophole to claim that when they said they would vote against the government on all confidence votes they really mean any votes that are about an explicit confidence motion where the word confidence is in the motion - or something like that.

I can't see the Liberal caucus pulling the plug when they are 14 points behind the Tories and in total disarray and if Iggy tried to force them to there would be some sort of palace revolt. Harper must be thoroughly enjoying watching the Liberals squirm.

ottlib said...

First, ignore anonymous sources. There is a reason why they are anonymous. If they actually identified themselves they would be laughed at for the insignificant bozos they are. The recent brouhaha over Mr. Kenney's assistant spreading rumours about Liberal defections should demonstrate that. Remember he was described as a "senior Conservative" when that story broke.

Second, ignore the damned media and their pollsters. For the love of cheesecake, when will Liberals finally realize they do not have the Liberals' best interests at heart? They have been hostile towards them for almost 5 years and there is no sign of them changing their tune. Any advice they give the Liberals should be ignored on spec.

Third, do not chase poll numbers. I cannot think of a single thing that would waste more time of a party leader than that. Many Liberals seem to believe that now that the Liberals have decided to stop supported the government Canadians would fall all over themselves to support them. That was never going to happen especially since the media likes to portray everything as election speculation and Canadians really do not want an election a mere twelve months after the last one.

The only poll number the Liberals should be chasing is the one that will be published on the evening of the next E-day. At the beginning of September they appeared to launch a strategy that does just that. The decision not to support the government was not taken on a whim or at random. There was a method behind that decision and it is part of a broader strategy. Continue to pursue that strategy and ignore the political white noise the media prefers to report on. To do otherwise really is to lose.

Fourth, I cannot see the Conservatives wanting to have their government defeated on the enabling legislation for a tax that is very unpopular in Canada's two most populous provinces. I wrote a whole post on this at my place if anybody would like to see that statement expanded upon. No election this Fall.

RuralSandi said...

Happy Thanksgiving and thank you Liberal party for giving this day for families to be together.

1957 - PM Louis St. Laurent made this a statutory holiday.

Gosh, I know the Con trolls will be polite enough to acknowledge and give thanks for having more time for family - I guess not.

Ian said...

Far too many supposed "progressives" are still holding on to the sinking ship that is the LPC.

Koby said...

1993 election was unique. Two regional parties, the Reform and the Bloc emerged from nowhere and two federal parties saw huge declines. The NDP went from 43 seats to 9 and PCs went from 151 to 2. The PCs went from 43% of popular vote to 16 and NDP went from 20% to 7. The Liberals benefited from all that Storm and Stress. For Igantieff crew to cite Chretien in order to fend off their critics is laughable. The Liberals are in trouble.

Igantieff's strategy was doomed from the start. He talked up the urban rural divide as if the Liberals actually had a chance to pick up rural seats. In the meantime he is quickly loosing his urban and suburban big city base. The Liberals are getting killed in 905 and the Lower mainland and by the sounds of things the same thing has started to happen in Montreal.

The Liberals must forget rural Canada, and they must forget Alberta. They have to focus on their bread and butter before this turns into a all out collapse.

The place to go on the attack is Quebec. It is the one region of the country in which the Liberals have a chance to break out. The problem is that despite it being blindingly obvious -- see the last election for example -- that the Conservatives Achilles heel in the province is their social conservatism, the Liberals refuse push forward on that front under the guise that it may alienate evangelicals in Ontario and rural voters in the country as a whole. The problem is that there is no evidence whatsoever rural Canadians are all of a sudden going to switch to the Liberals. Zip. Nota. Zero. Forget about it. As for Ontario evangelicals, they prefer the Conservatives by a huge margin (20 plus points) and do not seem posed to vote Liberal all of a sudden. The implication that evangelicals switched from voting Liberal to voting Conservative, because of things such as SSM, in Ontario is just not there. The combined PC and Reform vote in 1993, 1997, 2000 elections was more than it was in 2004 and 2006! It is the growth of the NDP that accounts for the down turn in the Liberal popular vote in 2004 and 2006. Finally, when it comes to religion by far the fastest growing group in absolute terms is the non-religious. When stacked up against non-religious voters, the number of evangelical Ontario voters is pretty insignificant.

Jerry Prager said...

I think the party should feature a series of round tables, in which Ignatieff discusses global issues with some of the various retired world leaders and thinkers. He should stop trying to compete with Harper on Harper's level, which is very low, base and malicious. Canadians actually respect intelligent leaders, and the big difference between Harper and Ignatieff is that Iggy has emotional intelligence, ie compassion, insight into human motive and a coherent response to suffering, while Harper is an emotional moron motivated by malice. Let Ignatieff's intellectual internationalism work for him, remove it from the Reform-Con Coalition Party's Bush League mentality. Get away from the mean, the small and the hard-hearted Con game, and liberate
vision from being chained to right wing agendas. And use humour. Harper may be a nasty prick, but he is also a buffoon. Canadians love satire, satirize him, make Canadians laugh at him, and Harper's vicious nature will surface for all Canadians to see.
He's a Mike Harris clone, and he should be tied to Harris' failed Lack of Common Sense Reaction, and laughed out of the room.

DL said...

"Iggy has emotional intelligence, ie compassion, insight into human motive and a coherent response to suffering"

I guess that's why he was such an outspoken supporter of the invasion of Iraq?

Steve V said...

Yes DL, ignore a lifetime of work and just get tunnel vision on one position. I hate it as much as the next person, but I can still see the totality. You don't get the GIGS Ignatieff has had without a level of respect and/or expertise in the field.

If I personally witnessed Kurd atrocities, maybe my viewpoint might be different too.

DL said...

I'm just reacting to all this blather about Iggy's "emotional intelligence", and "compassion" and "insight into human motive" etc... I think its highly debatable whether he posses any of those qualities to a greater or lesser degree than any of the other party leaders. Maybe his wife can tell us how much "emotional intelligence" her husband has - otherwise what do we know?

In any case 98% of the job of PM involves the minutae of domestic political issues and not lofty debates about human rights and peacekeeping. There appears to be nothing in Iggy's resume that prepares him for any of that. And, even in his "strong suit" of foreign policy he manages to screw things up what with backing the invasion of Iraq, one day referring to Isreal's activities in Lebanon as something he wasn't losing any sleep over and the next day calling it a "war crime".