Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Liberals Don't Need to Win

In response to the Liberals deficit cutting pledge, Flaherty responded:
“Imitation is the sincerest form of Flaherty,” the Finance Minister joked with reporters, pointing out that the Liberal and Conservative deficit-reduction plans were essentially identical.

The above is an unintended compliment to the Liberals. There is one remaining trump card for the Conservatives, that of good fiscal managers. The Liberals, to date, have been nowhere on the economic file, the Conservatives enjoy a healthy lead on any question relating to this issue. That Flaherty posits the Liberals have a plan "essentially identical" to the government, represents a net positive.

If the Liberals can successfully neutralize the deficit "slayer" issue, position themselves on relatively equal terms as the Conservatives, then the last government firewall has been breached. Liberals don't need to "win" this issue, they merely need to look a credible alternative. If the two plans are virtually inseparable, in terms of numbers, then voters are left with a blurred picture and we move into the details of each plans. You can see how this type of development should worry the Conservatives. Armed with expensive examples, whatever is thrown at the Liberals on the "reckless" front can be returned in concrete terms. The Liberal commitments overlap the Conservative expenditures, providing fiscal cover.

Flaherty claims "imitation", which represents decidedly poor optics. The Liberals will never own the issue, Conservatives have an inherent credibility (which has no real historical backing, but...) on the fiscal front. However, anywhere near a draw on this file is a massive win from the Liberal perspective, because we then move to other facets which are far more favorable, far more attractive, on our natural terrain. This government can't offer Canadians anything, because they are handicapped by corporate tax cuts, planes, prisons- they've blown the wad, anything more and they look "reckless". The Liberals have certain latitude, should they put out a reasonable fiscal plan that compares favourably to the government, Conservatives should be concerned. "Imitation" essentially eliminates a perceived vulnerability, as well as nullifying the opponent's supposed trump card. Things are finally getting interesting...

12 comments:

Curtis said...

Interesting points.

"favorably" should be favourably in. Canada. Ah, the tyranny of US default spell checkers. :-(

Jesse said...

It amazes me that Liberals aren't attacking on deficit reduction. Run a radio ad, get the free media, start the debate. Unless it's being avid for the writ period...

Steve V said...

Fixed :)

The Mound of Sound said...

Steve, let's get real. The IgLibs have been dead at the switch on the economy since the onset of the recession. When Harper first prorogued Parliament, the Libs had a golden opportunity to craft their own stimulus/recovery platform. Instead their leader treated it like an extended school break and set about writing an enormously valuable book about his mother's family.

When Parliament returned the Libs were empty handed. They had no option but to back the Harper "deck on the cottage" budget while making assinine mutterings about putting Harper "on probation."

That they're now silent on the economy only means they're running utterly true to form.

At this point, however, silence may be golden. The industrialized world, particularly the U.S., teeters on a "double dip" recession. This may be the worst possible moment for an austerity budget. That could backfire. Until the fog clears it might be best if the Libs sat on the fence. If the Tories botch their austerity plan at least the Libs will have clean hands - for once.

Dylan said...

"Liberals don't need to 'win' this issue, they merely need to look a credible alternative. If the two plans are virtually inseparable, in terms of numbers, then voters are left with a blurred picture and we move into the details of each plans."

Bulls-eye! A good strategy on the Liberal's part. Neutralize the "fiscal manager" card by nodding along and showing voters that they are the best alternative to achieve the same goals. Oh, and while they're at it, our standing in the international community will improve, public services will be protected, and management of the public purse more transparent.

Good moves, all around.

Steve V said...

"Steve, let's get real. The IgLibs have been dead at the switch on the economy since the onset of the recession."

Ummm, where exactly have I disagreed? Did I not say the Cons have had a big advantage on this file in the past? That doesn't mean the past dictates the future. I think we are starting to see some distinctions, as well as overlapping here, which will serve us well in a campaign.

Kirk said...

Question: How do the Conservatives plan to attack the deficit?

Answer: With $16 billion dollars worth of fighter jets.


Steve, you really shouldn't have told the Conservatives this, it would take them and their media friends days to figure it out on their own.


But seriously folks...

Steve makes a very good point. I've never understand why the idea that the Liberals had to reduce the deficit in an entirely different way from the Conservatives (or the NDP even) for it to be a viable plan.

However, how many will actually realize this? The media, Cons and NDP seem content to phrase this similarity as a legitimate attack on the Liberals so they do have work to do to get Canadians to see it as an level playing field. But if they can, then along with their actual track record of eliminating a deficit that persisted for decades then it can swing some votes the Liberals way.

The Mound of Sound said...

Is anybody even noticing what's happening outside Canada? Today even the World Bank warned about a looming currency/protectionism trade war that could plunge the developed countries into a recession far deeper than we've seen over the past two years. Geithner found it necessary to pledge the U.S. would never devalue the dollar which probably means that option is very much on the table.

This is no time for the Liberals to peg themselves to any particular fiscal policy. There are simply too many forces in play that we cannot hope to control. Harper is back to his ideology, cornered by the austerity/deficit slashing expectations of his base. I think Furious Leader is finding that the reins of power can quickly turn into the yoke.

Kirk said...

Mound of Sound,

Yes, I don't agree that the Flatherty "tighten your bootstraps" and we'll weather all of this just fine approach either which the Liberal policy somewhat adopts.

Of course Flatherty was saying the same thing, basically, when he did the stimulus spending... knuckle down, spend this stimulus money to keep Canadians working and then deal with the deficit.

It has all been about being tough and hard nosed when dealing with the finances.

Adopting specific policies for a future govt so long before we think an election will take place can have the Liberals tied to something they may want to change by the time that election actually occurs.

However, if they state principles more than policy, and to a degree they have ie. tough choices on spending priorities and delaying the corporate tax cuts, that "brands" them as good financial managers just as Flatherty has tried to do while spending and creating a massive deficit and while supposedly ending that deficit.

However, you can't expect a rational, complex discussion of fiscal policy to occur in any public arena nowadays. It's a sound bite war and when/if the Liberals bring down an actual budget or fight an election one good sound bite can replace an good old sound bite easily if you push it hard enough.

Now the emphasis should be kept as the Liberals taking a responsible approach, focused on the needs of the Canadian (middle class) citizen. I think that's part of the Liberals approach and that can be applied to deficit reduction or to aid to the hard pressed taxpayers from some spending program if needed.

Steve V said...

"This is no time for the Liberals to peg themselves to any particular fiscal policy."

Things can change, but if you don't have a plan for current reality, you open yourself up to easy attacks from opponents. I think it's irresponsible to not lay out a clear, concise target.

popthestack said...

I don't understand why the Liberals are even seen as weak on the economy. Its a strange media meme that keeps coming back just like in the US. Our biggest deficits are always run up by Conservative governments and then reduced by Liberal ones. People should just keep repeating that. Sure, they don't have Paul Martin now, but Liberals have shown in the past they can deal sensibly with the economy without spending more money than we ever have ever on useless military toys rather than actual support for our troops.

Jerry Prager said...

Deficit Jim, from the Ernie Eves government, and his hidden 5.4 billion deficit, because lying comes easy.