Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rapid Response

It's easy to criticize from the cheap seats, but then again you might just have a better view of the entire arena. One of my ongoing beefs with the Liberal Party appartus is the lack of "rapid response", a tendency which leads to deferred positioning, and consequently allowing the moment to pass and/or providing opportunity for more fleet footed parties to seize ground. I must say, in recent weeks I've noted a decided improvement, whether real or imagined, more assertive and timely, more aggressive and nimble.

On the heels of Lucien Bouchard's stunning statements on the prospects for seperation, Ignatieff has quickly come out with his own comments, aimed at filling any political void which may well come. It's just a letter, and somewhat vague at that, but it puts the Liberal foot in the door, within a discussion that is sure to rage on in Quebec:
Like manna from heaven for the Liberal Leader, Mr. Ignatieff has seized on Mr. Bouchard’s remarks to lay out the Liberal vision for Quebec in Canada, where Quebeckers participate in every aspect of the country’s culture and decision-making.

“Mr. Bouchard had the courage to say what many have been thinking deep down,” Mr. Ignatieff wrote in a letter distributed by his office this afternoon. “Instead of passively waiting for a so-called ‘historic night’ [a yes vote in a referendum], it is crucial that Quebeckers actively participate in the changes happening within Canada.”

Mr. Ignatieff writes that Mr. Bouchard, who is not known for “mincing his words,” has made comments that “are far more important for advancing the debate on the nature of our country and the role Quebec should play in it.”

Indeed, the debate provoked by Mr. Bouchard’s comments, Mr. Ignatieff argues, will resonate more than the debate over the lack of French at the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games opening ceremony.

“His statements will surely prompt further discussion on whether sovereignty is attainable or not,” Mr. Ignatieff writes.

In the meantime, however, the Liberal Leader says that the “new dream Quebeckers should be part of is a dream shared with their fellow citizens in other parts of Canada.”

Part of the Liberal problem in Quebec, apart from obvious past scandal, is that they have yet to re-position themselves outside of the old federalist/seperatist debate. With the immediate threat waning, the Liberals have failed to find a rallying cry to bring people into the fold. Ignatieff is being pro-active here, because Bouchard's comments will ultimately challenge the intellectual necessity of the Bloc and ask a simple question- is their presence protecting Quebec's interest or serving as an ideological obstacle to progress within Canada? Very premature to say where the discussion will lead, but with a Conservative Party under Harper having a past it's "best before date" feel in Quebec and a very unproven NDP, the Liberals do have the best opportunity to capitalize.

The Liberals would be wise to push this debate, and Ignatieff's quick letter suggests the OLO senses an opportunity. Curious to see how the Liberals follow up, hopefully not a one off, because we must make a major push in Quebec if we have any realistic hopes for the future.

Others have a more intimate understanding, but I would describe Bouchard's statements as seismic. Those advocating near term separation are now on the defensive, and will have to rationalize their existence and energy designation. The Bloc wall looks a little less formidable, what is required is an alternative that can respect the "nation", without getting drawn into outdated debates. I have a feeling, Ignatieff's letter is a first salvo, which hopefully is followed by a sustained campaign to reposition the Liberals as chief beneficary should the Bloc's hold on Quebec federal politics fade.

Great move, and perfectly timed.


Steve V said...

Robert Silver:

"3. Grab hold of Bouchard's message to Quebeckers and run with it. Enough with the divisive politics. Put aside the separatist project for the foreseeable future. Let's focus on the real challenges facing Quebec and Quebeckers. If Bouchard's comments are a game changer (and look, its been 48 hours, who really knows at this point how this plays out), try to put a sail up in the air and capture some of the wind that Bouchard has generated or identified. "

Tof KW said...

Not sure I fully agree with you on the Grits getting much better in the rapid response area, however I will admit Mr. Ignatieff’s letter is coming pretty quickly on the heels of M. Bouchard’s remarks, and very well written and measured. Quebec’s once strong voice in the direction and governance of this nation has drifted, and les Quebecois really only have themselves to blame. Thanks to nearly two decades of voting for the Bloc they’ve become increasingly irrelevant in national politics, and soon to be even more-so when the ridings are redistributed in a few short years. M. Bouchard has really only stated the obvious, sovereignty may not be a dead issue but it is close to being placed on life support. With all the hard-core PQ separatists now in their 70’s and 80’s, the movement is dying with them as the youth in the party have very different views of sovereignty-association. Mr. Ignatieff’s letter is quite correct, with the raison d'ĂȘtre of the PQ (and by association the Bloc) becoming more and more immaterial, what role does Quebec wish to play in determining the nature of our confederation?

And really the other federalist parties should be on board with this, except Harper would rather go the ‘scorched earth’ route (destroying both parties chances rather than allow the Libs to gain back old strength in La Belle) rather than play the traditional PC role in Quebec. And the NDP have always sucked up to PĂ©quiste supporters, more so with Thomas Mulcair’s latest remarks denouncing M. Bouchard’s statement (this long-time posturing of the NDP in Quebec is part of the reason I despise the dippers). I think you are correct Steve that the Liberal party (at present time) has the best chance to place themselves into a new role of engaging les Quebecois into a greater role in federal politics. This has to be played slowly and carefully however, as Quebec sovereignty may be seriously ill - but it is far from dead.

Getting back to M. Bouchard’s statements again, I’m still waiting to hear any comments from Jacques Parizeau on this. Especially the part about the PQ being too radical and xenophobic, and courting the racist vote.

DL said...

I think if you read the full text of what Bouchard wrote - Liberals should be very wary of being too supportive and i don't blame the NDP for being somewhat critical (I think its a vast overstatement to say that Mulcair "denounced" Bouchard).

But getting back to what Bouchard said. Most of his comments went on about the evils of social democracy and "statism" and how Quebec needs a neo-con revolution with big hikes in tuition, telling Quebecers that they don't work hard enough, more privatization and a rolling back of the state etc...Good people can agree or disagree with Bouchard's ADQ-lite agenda (remember that Bouchard was a Tory cabinet minister at one time) - but if Ignatieff wants to start hitching himself to Bouchard's wagon - he may be identifying himself with more than he bargained for and you can't blame the NDP for criticizing someone who unveils a political agenda that is the antithesis of what the NDP stands for. Maybe Bouchard is planning a comeback as harper's new Quebec Lieut.!

Northern PoV said...

The separatist movement has always been an awkward coalition of backwoods & urban types, right and left wingers.
What Bouchard has done (me hopes) is that he has yanked the right/left debate firmly back into the federalist arena.

If he was appearing to be winning an election as a ADQ fiscal conservative*, a lot of votes could migrate from the Liberals to the PQ (or even the other way in some scenarios, god-forbid) much like the NDP and Libs trade votes when trying to prevent a Con-catastrophe.

From what I can see, Iggy is endorsing the framework (ie federalist) of Bouchard's idea without touching on the ideological aspects.

*At 71 with his health issues, Bouchard is not likely to get back into any politics at any level and would NEVER serve as any ones lieutenant ever again.

Northern PoV said...

of course I meant:

a lot of votes could migrate from the PQ to the Liberals (or even the other way in some scenarios, god-forbid)


Omar said...

Manna from heaven? Lucien Bouchard? Pierre Trudeau rolls in his grave while I type.

Tof KW said...

Eugene Forsey Liberal is absolutely spot on in his assessment of the NDP’s position in Quebec with this post:

Bouchard Rightly Criticises PQ Extremism AND NDP BACKS PQ!

…though I wouldn’t use his harsh language. However our family is now all out of Quebec while he still lives there, so probably a tad more sensitive of Mulcair’s history of selling out the anglo-, and allophone communities to shore up PQ votes.

DL, have you ever lived in Quebec or know anything about internal politics there? It was bad enough you were trying to say that Layton wasn’t trashing the carbon tax idea in the 2008 election, but now to deny 30+ years of the Quebec NDP wing pussyfooting with PQ voters is pathetic. If you want your party to hitch its wagon to separatist aspirations that fine, but don’t count on my sitting by silently while you deny that fact. Or maybe you are not aware of how the Quebec-wing of the NDP operates over the past few decades?

Also DL, what exactly is wrong with being a conservative? And I mean a real old-school Tory in the tradition of Benjamin Disraeli …not a Reformatory yahoo. Being a conservative is to be a realist. It means not switching traditional institutions of stability for some trendy worldview pie-in-the-sky quick-fix. That being rich is not evil, and the uneven distribution of wealth is not inherently wrong, so long at the privileged class contributes to the ongoing prosperity and probity of society. It means the common man be given equal and unhindered access to the economy (as opposed to the neoliberalism of the Reformatories), support for individual rights, a strong belief in the common good, and for peace, order and good government. Most Canadians are conservatives, and I don’t mean that politically or in socio-religious ways.

You exaggerate his remarks, but M. Bouchard’s comments about the province needing to scale back is the correct one. Quebec is an economic backwater thanks to the stranglehold of the trade unions and past PQ government’s socialist nature. Premier Charest (another Tory) has been trying to do what he can to help bring investment back, and his actions are nothing like what the ADQ or Reformatories would propose if they were in charge.

Steve V said...

If Mulclair said what Ignatieff said, DL would be telling us all that he got it right.

xyz said...

Why does it not surprise me that once again the holier-than-thou NDP comees down in favor of doing the politically opportunist thing rather than doing the right thing? Tommy Douglas must be rolling in his grave to see what has become of this once great party

DL said...

FYI, I was born and raised in Quebec.

DL said...

You can speak for yourself if you want, but don't speak for Tommy Douglas. When he was NDP leader in the 60s he was one of the first anglo political leaders to try to build bridges with the Quebec nationalist movement through people like Robert Cliche and the NDP was in favour special status for Quebec and the "deux nations" theory of Confederation back then as well when such policies were widely considered heresy in English Canada.

Tof KW said...

Nice little article in the Globe:
Why is Mulcair defending the PQ?

Some of the comments in there are worth reading too. Most people know why Mulcair is defending the PQ - the NDP is courting the soft-nationalist vote to become the #2 pick after the Bloc. But there are some choice words there, and I especially like the ones like this…

You watch the NDP's numbers in BC drop like a stone when they catch wind that the NDP supports an asymmetric federalism.
The NDP supports the PQ.
Mr. Mulclair?
Could you be any more daft?

Or this…

Let's hear more about this asymmetric federalism.
Let it fly.
Tell us more NDPers.
Tell us how an unequal Canada is in the West's best interests.
Speak slowly and clearly.
We in the West want to hang onto every nuance of your desire for inequity.

Not sure Layton understands the full implications of nodding while Mulcair screws over the NDP out west, all to hold Outremont &/or attempt to win a second NDP Quebec seat.

DL said...

First of all, the NDP has supported "asymmetrical federalism" since the 1960s. This is nothing new and this long predates Mulcair being elected. In fact Layton himself has long been a big proponent of that. This is why the NDP (and the Liberals and the PCs) supported the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord.

If people in BC were the least bit concerned about Quebec getting any special treatment - they would have dropped the federal Tories like a hot potato after they gave Quebec a seat at UNESCO and passed a law recognizing Quebec as a nation. But they didn't seem to care.

I think its a bit misleading to link to a hyper-partisan Liberal rant by Robert Silver and refer to it as an "article" as if it were a news story.

Steve V said...

What's particularly entertaining about this positioning, the NDP has a remote chance of winning additional seats, and Mulclair will have the fight of his life to keep his lone one.

DL said...

Its a principled position. The NDP has supported asymmetrical federalism and self-determination for Quebec since the 1960s and that was true during all those years in the 70s, 80, and 90s when there were no winnable seats in Quebec and when no money or time was being spent there. This is nothing new.

Now, I would like to see Harper and/or Ignatieff start fear-mongering in English canada that the NDP is too pro-Quebec and would give "the French" too much power and then see what kind of a backlash Liberal and Tory candidates in "La Belle Province" have to contend with.

xyz said...

haha it is hilarious to see NDP partisans spinning what is clearly a case of cold hard political opportunism as "adhering to principals". This is why so many people hate the NDP. No other party stands up in the parliament and act as pure, as holier than thou than the NDP. Yet when no one is watching they are as big political opportunists as this country has ever seen. NDP has sacrificed principal for politics time and time again including in 2006 where they completely went opposite of everything they believe and were responsible in making Harper the PM, this latest stunt is no different. Hopefully the voters will see through this and NDP will be completely destroyed next election

DL said...

The Canadian electorate made Harper PM. Do you hope to see the Canadian people destroyed as punishment??

Meanwhile, we could have been rid of Harper a year ago, but Ignatieff decided to prop him up rather than form a coalition with the NDP.

Stephen Harper - the house Iggy built!!

Steve V said...


You'll note that you hear little about Darrel Dexter these days from NDP supporters. That's because golden boy now lives in the practical realm, WARTS and all, as opposed to the purist never never land that federal NDP supporters cling to.

DL, if you guys want to cling the coalition nonsense, despite the fact it had no public support, a complete and utter disaster in the making, given the last election, that's your delusional prerogative. A simple counter, what happened when Iggy stopped "propping up" Harper? Oh ya, the NDP RAN to do the same, under the guise of the most pathetic rationalizations I've heard in twenty odd years following politics. Please.

DL said...

who ever claimed to be "pure". The NDP makes its pragmatic strategic decisions just like anyone else. I'm sure that if Layton wanted to be principled to the point of suicide - he would have had the NDP caucus try to filibuster raising the age of consent from 14 to 16 and he would have whipped everyone in the caucus to vote against scrapping the gun registry. We already know that the NDP was willing to make huge compromises on policy in order to negotiate a coalition with the Liberals etc... so tell me something i don't know.

This thread was about Bouchard's comments etc... and my only point was that the NDP has been in favour of asymmetrical federalism etc...for about the last 40 years and this has nothing to do with Thomas Mulcair.

Steve V said...

You're talking in circles again. Big surprise.

You brought up the "propping up" crap. The Libs decided we didn't need an election every other day, and you guys used this to come up with some asinine vote tally (which your braintrust actually tried to pad, by bring in nonsensical confidence motions, only because you knew the Libs would have to support). THEN, the one time you were confronted with actually MATTERING, you caved in a heartbeat and did the exact same thing you chastized.

As I said, the most hypocritical series of events I've ever seen in national politics. No rationalizations from the NDP will ever change that, and I'm comforted in the fact that every single non-partisan observer, scholar, agrees with my interpretation.

If your now admitting that the NDP makes strategic decisions, fine, just remember that come budget time ;)

The best part about the contradiction for me, at least we don't have to listen to the holier than thou pontifications from people who merely confirm their irrelevance with each jab.

DL said...

Who ever denied that the NDP makes strategic calculations. We all know that. I think that the difference is that the NDP weighs strategic considerations and principles - sometimes its 60-40 one way or the other. The Liberals don't face this dilemma because they have virtually no principles whatsoever to begin with - on a good day, Liberal decisions making is about 95% strategy and 5% principle - more often its just 100% strategy - and for the past few years it was mostly bad strategy at that.

Steve V said...

" I think that the difference is that the NDP weighs strategic considerations and principles"

Do you buy the koolaid by the crate?

Once again DL, you're about as stimulating as a documentary on road salt.

Fuck, get a clue guy.