Monday, February 02, 2009

On Justifications

My friend The Jurist analyzes the Ignatieff rationale for budget passage, gleamed from comments made by Liberal MP Glen Pearson. Pearson:
He argued that if he brought down the government by voting down the budget, certain short-term goals would be achieved. We would be government. He would be Prime Minister. We would be able to more correctly invest those kind of monies. All of this is true.

Then he challenged us to think of a larger dynamic, one that eventually won the day. A coalition, he offered, would be the final nail in the coffin for any hopes of national unity. The West would want out. Quebec would be an unknown factor. And Canadians as a whole, excepting those constituency groups that would have been served by the coalition, would be ushered into an era of great national uncertainty again. The markets, so requiring of stability right now, would respond with alarm and alacrity. His arguments continued for a time yet.

I realized in an instant that he was correct, and powerfully so. We all recalled what the threat of coalition did to the emotional state of the country back in December - remarkable division and alarm. “I didn’t sign on to this job to split this country,” he stressed. “We are the party of national unity and we break our vow with Canadians as Liberals if we ruin our cohesiveness by grasping at immediate power.”

The thrust of The Jurist's post, which I've heard elsewhere, Ignatieff is merely repeating Conservative talking points, as it relates to national unity. I believe that the reality on the ground was much more than a mere talking point. Further, a talking point is only relevant if it resonates, if it speaks to a genuine manifestation in the real world.

I must confess, one of the main reasons I find Ignatieff attractive is his sense of country, the way he articulates his vision for how a federal party can be a vehicle for national unity. Now, I don't doubt that political decision making was part of the budget acceptance process, but it is also true that the same dynamic applies to EVERY party involved, so the notion of portraying anyone as craven, another pure, absolute and utter nonsense, that requires leave of one's senses.

Given what I've heard from Ignatieff, since he became leader and prior, it is hard to question his perspective on national unity as anything but genuine. People can disagree, whatever, but the philosophy of the man is his own, and he comes by it honestly. It just so happens, that I agree with the notion, that one of the central roles for a federal party is too highlight similarity, attempt to cultivate a better environment for tolerance, one that binds, rather than agitates. I believe that Michael Ignatieff has the potential to be a great "national" leader, because he is able to articulate the viewpoint of various regions, without sacrificing the strength of Canada as a whole. National cohesion is a pet concern for me, because I see the federation slowly drifting apart, too often we talk past each other, rather than moving forward with common understanding, that accepts compromise as a mutual benefit, rather than a winner/loser proposition. There is much latent resentment in the land, old wounds and patent misunderstanding, this country needs a voice of clarity, I believe Ignatieff has the capacity to fill the void. Time will tell.

With past musings in mind, it really isn't surprising that part of the Ignatieff rationale for rejecting the coalition, accepting the Harper transformation in the short term, was borne of a genuine concern on unity. There is no question, the coalition concept presented real regional challenges, to say it was merely a talking point, fails to recognize the honest sentiments. Nobody questioned Ignatieff when he first criticized Harper for turning an economic crisis into a national unity crisis, primarily because it was true. Whether or not the Conservatives fanned the flames is irrelevant, when one looks at the reality it created in the aftermath. The simple fact, in many parts of this country, the coalition was seen as an eastern power grab, that attempted to usurp the election results, it fed a pre-existing sentiment, it was a point of division. No matter the measure, there was a disconnect, and it wasn't the product of normal circumstance, Canadians more engaged than any time I can remember. Were reactions rational, were they fair, were they informed? In many respects no, but they were what they were, and no calm, detached view could reconcile itself with visceral reaction.

I have no doubt, had the Liberals plowed ahead with the coalition, the prospects for a period of intense division was real. When you consider just how far the Conservatives have moved (no doubt the budget had a conciliatory tone that was largely crafted to neuter counter arguments for defeat), you had a situation where national unity was further threatened. Just imagine the arguments from the other side, pointing to all the concessions, the attempt to address, and yet the eastern power base still moved towards their goal. You want to entertain "enflamed", November well could have looked tame by comparison. The Conservatives have shown they will stop at nothing, what moves would lie ahead, if they were armed with a "liberal" budget, still rejected? To not consider that possibility, is to ignore part of the landscape, to just confine yourself to certain aspects, simultaneously oblivious to obvious dangers.

Nobody is entertaining "separatism", although we would surely hear rumblings, but it is about alienation. The timing of a coalition, which lacked any regional representation, which constituted about the weakest presentation imaginable, on the heels of a just concluded election, led by a resoundingly rejected party, was rife with problems. That Ignatieff was concerned gives me further confidence, because his view is essentially the same as my own.

It was easy to grasp at "immediate power", it was staring us in the face, if that was the prime consideration. Sure, there were issues with the NDP, the ultimate movement on the game board, but again, please don't be so selective to ignore the political consideration of all "partners". It wasn't that simple, and one always needs to consider the ramifications, to fluff off the notion of "legitimacy" is to ignore part of the equation. This issue was real, it had the potential to create further national tensions, with lasting impacts. Maybe the coalition could allay those fears over time, but to minimize the potential is frankly irresponsible. What one calls "rationalization", I call a "principle", and while you can disagree, it doesn't mean you can't respect that point of view, particularly when it came with ample evidence that the fallout was entirely plausible, hardly a fear mongering proposition. Ignatieff believes the Liberals are the "party of national unity", and this decision on the coalition is entirely consistent with all that responsibility entails.


JimBobby said...

Whooee! Lord thunderin' Jayzuz, Stevie, but yer long-winded today. Good boogin', nonetheless.

I reckon fer a gummint to be able to govern, there must not only be legitimacy but also the perception of legitimacy. So many Canajuns is so uneducated about how Parliament works that they couldn't see legitimacy in the coalition. O' course, it didn't help with Harper and his bunch muddyin' the waters with disinformation.

Right or wrong, most Canajuns weren't comfortable with the coalition, legitimate or not. The polls showed that and people on the street said so.

WE don't want the coalition. We don't want an election. Process of elimination...


Northern PoV said...

Ya wrap the flag around this mess.
So noble.

Steve V said...

"Ya wrap the flag around this mess.
So noble."

So oblivious and narrow.


My apologies :)

Anonymous said...

"Given what I've heard from Ignatieff, since he became leader and prior, it is hard to question his perspective on national unity as anything but genuine. People can disagree, whatever, but the philosophy of the man is his own, and he comes by it honestly. It just so happens, that I agree with the notion, that one of the central roles for a federal party is too highlight similarity, attempt to cultivate a better environment for tolerance, one that binds, rather than agitates"

How was enshrining the Quebec nation in the constitution really going to promote national unity (and let's not get revisionist he was proposing recognizing the province of Quebec as a nation, not Quebecois as Harper did)?

Wasn't it obvious that that would have inflamed the west FAR more than any coalition would have?
Iggy dropped the idea fine, but his whole response to the idea seemed entirely based on politics and precisely the opposite of "genuine"

Same on Iraq, carbon taxes, Israel, whether sleep deprivation, hooding and waterboarding are acceptable and so on. It seems he's taken a view clearly just for political reasons and that's a concern for more than a few of us.

And Steve please don't responsd with some derivisve remarks dismiss this, these are real concerns and destined to be Con talking points, best to see them rebutted honestly and forthrightly now as to why I shouldn't have these concerns.

Steve V said...

"Nations within the fabric of Canada", which also included Aboriginals. Liberals can bury their heads in the sand, like it's the 1960's, but the simple fact of the matter, until we "update" our view and bring it more in line with Quebecer sentiments, we do our "nation" no favors.

And, it's pretty funny listening to all these torture references, OVER and OVER and OVER, when if you actually look at Ignatieff's overall record, he's a champion of human rights, an international leader, respected everywhere. People just ignore the totality, and repeat convenient phrases that support their bias.

Carbon taxes? First off, Ignatieff was ahead of the curve. Second, only a colossal idiot would run on it again, a sheer, unadultered FOOL. I say this, as someone who thinks it was a fantastic concept, light years ahead of anything else on the table. Unfortunately, we don't live in theoretical, theoretical world, the idea is now synonymous with higher taxes and complicated rhetoric.

You can have your "concerns", but it seems to me, it's simply selective, and you fail to see anything else, that doesn't support a preconception. Have it at, but I see something entirely different.

Militant Dipper said...

Yah good thing he didn't vote down the budget, people in Alberta and Saskatchewan and Manitoba would have felt alienated and what? vote Conservative. News flash they already do vote Conservative. You think they're gonna change their minds because Ignatieff reaches out to them? Laughable.

Steve V said...

"You think they're gonna change their minds because Ignatieff reaches out to them? Laughable."

Is your world really that simple? I mean seriously... Who has the time?

Anonymous said...

Any blogpost on the fourth quarter fundraising figures?

Some improvement as the Grits did better than the NDP. Cons mobilized the anti-coalition sentiment well. Jack would not be happy to see what NOT having Dion as leader do to his party standing.

Steve V said...


This is somewhat encouraging:

"While the Tories have said that talk of an opposition coalition prompted an unprecedented flood of donations, only the Liberals actually saw their revenues increase in the final months of 2008.

Liberal contributions jumped 23 per cent in the fourth quarter, to $2.3-million from $1.9-million over the previous three months. Tory donations decreased by a negligible amount, to $6.34-million in the final quarter from $6.37-million over the previous quarter."

I think this quarter will give us some indication of progress.

Greg Fingas said...

Steve: If you can square the following two statements, then you're a better spinner than I:

1. Michael Ignatieff's strength as a leader is based on his vision of politics as a vehicle for national unity.

2. A Michael Ignatieff-led coalition government would have inflamed national divisions by appealing only to a limited number of constituent groups and failing to take into account the concerns of others.

If one honestly believes #1, then I don't see how one could in turn accept #2 as an excuse to avoid the coalition. And if #2 isn't accurate, then Ignatieff was being well short of genuine in his explanation.

Anonymous said...

Steve not to quibble with too much of what you said, but Gordon Campbell is running on carbon taxes that are MORE punitive than Dion's Green Shift (as in they ALSO tax at the pump plus everything Dion's Green Shift did) and last checked BC is out west which is where the carbon tax is supposedly least popular.

And last I checked the Alberta oil patch actually favours carbon taxes over cap and trade, as does every single economist, environmentalist etc...., you know the people we are supposed to be listeninng to for how to get out of this economic crisis.

We never go the message through and people gave in to the spin that it would destroy the economy and would cost more than cap and trade but that's a failure of our messaging not the policy.

The idea of failed once and let's give up is horrible and to be honest a pathetic abdication of our principles. By that argument we should toss out EVERY leader after ONE election loss because there's actually a far better argument that a party lost thanks to their leader than to their platform. So I guess the Ontario Libs should have gotten rid of McGuinty in 1999 then. And I guess we should NEVER do anything that doesn't have at least 40% public support. I guess McGuinty's health tax was a mistake too, I remember that was pretty damn unpopular (he was down to 9%(!) approval rating after it), but he won the messaging war in the end and no one talks about scrapping it now.

All of us ran around saying it was the BEST approach to the environment and now we say what exactly? Oh yeah we were lying or the people decided or some other garbage, we lost 3% of the vote from the last election from a hell of a lot more reasons than the carbon tax.

Be honest do you really think we would have done significantly better WITHOUT the Green Shift. And if you don't think so then Iggy has everyone reason to propose a substantially revised more "voter friendly" carbon tax to show she's "learned" from the last election but still wants to go forward with what HE SAID REPEATEDLY was the best approach.

Ugh I don't want a party that will ONLY do what's right if it's already widely popular. Then what's the point? Americans fear public health care but Obama has promised and is currently moving to increase its role dramatically anyway, that's leadership not tepid following of polls.

Steve honest question why DID YOU NOT support the Libs before 2006? Because the Libs of today seem a lot LESS principled than the Libs pre-2006.

Anonymous said...


I believe in your first point. Ignatieff is a scholar on nationalism. If there is someone who can marry Quebec nationalism with national unity, it is him. Most of this is academic claptrap. Selling it to voters remains a work in progress. I don't think a coalition benefits Iggy's ideas, especially when political ideas remain subservient to forging a consensus in getting specific policy through.

Mike, a carbon tax is good policy. So good that I actually prefer the tougher one proposed by Lizzie May than that complicated Green Shift. Not something a pragmatic party seeking political power should do.

BTW, I am NOT a fan of the Chretien-Martin era. I also tend to be LESS interested in politics when the centre left is in power. Compromises need to be made, we sell others out so we can stay in power etc. That is why blogging is more fun now ;)

Steve V said...


You'll note Campbell didn't run on a carbon tax. It's political suicide for the Libs to run on a carbon tax in the next election. Period.


It requires no spin, because it's a false union. You can't foster unity, when you have sections of the country, who feel they've been shut out, that once again, their voice has been terminated, by the will of a party with virtually NO representation past the eastern time zone, small enclave on the coast aside. What you're wrongly assuming I think, that this would all be rational debate, which is folly, because it would be RAW emotion, cooler heads wouldn't prevail, you'd have protests, Con MP's resigning, small separatist groups starting, groups tearing up the coalition daily, relentlessly, just a complete mood of vitrol. Couple that with the markets reacting poorly in the short term, as a coalition gets to the nuts and bolts of governing, you've created this perfect storm of uncertainty. I'm not overstating, because we saw ample evidence of just how irrational it could get in November, the only thing that held it together in the least, the fact it hadn't become reality. That, and more.

Anonymous said...

Correct about Campbell but the point is he wasn't punished for it, nor was McGuinty with his health tax.

So let's say the Liberals win the next election would you THEN call on them to implement a carbon tax? In reality that would be no different than what McGuinty and Campbell did.

I still maintain there is precisely ZERO polling evidence that people would have voted Liberal but didn't ONLY bc of the carbon tax. Find me a single poll that shows that the was the MAIN factor for any voter at the polls in the last election?

Liberals will win or lose based on Ignatieff's ability to sell himself, not his platform. He abandons his principles and comes off like he was lying in the last election by doing otherwise. How can he say with a straight face now that he does NOT believe carbon taxes are still the best approach for the environment?

You've just given in to the media and Con talking points on that issue. There was actually plenty of polling evidence that showed the Green Shift was popular when properly explained, it's not the policy it's the messaging, and for someone who relies on polls so much I think you have little to back up your claim other than "the media said so"

I know you normally don't give in to media and Con talking points but in this issue I fear you have since there is a pile of polling that shows that the public CAN be won over on this issue, particularly when gas prices are FAR FAR below what they were last fall (so even with a carbon tax ppl would pay less) and now using quotes of economists to say it's NECESSARY for the HEALTHY OF OUR ECONOMY (when the economy is the number one issue).

As for coalition and national unity what if the Libs win the next election with ZERO MPs from Alberta and only ONE from Sask and Manitoba. That's quite likely as of now (and was basically the reality when Paul Martin won in 2004), wouldn't that create a national unity crisis based on your logic? What should the Libs do then hand government over to the Cons even though they have less seats, but because they have more broad representation across the country?

The coalition would have had JUST AS MANY MPs in Alberta as Martin did, more from Manitoba and more from BC than Martin did.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...


Let me act as a devil's advocate for the Jurist's points.

"a party with virtually NO representation past the eastern time zone, small enclave on the coast aside."

How about the NDP, who would have representation in Alberta and Manitoba? They do have a Western base, although Jack has consistently had trouble playing to them.

"Couple that with the markets reacting poorly in the short term"

A coalition is one that should NOT be subjected to the whims of the banks and the capitalist market. It needs to be ideologically opposed to them. Business interests tend to support the Cons anyway. Policies devised by the coalition should benefit Main Street and not Bay Street.

I think the risks of the coalition happened to be the ones that scared many Grits and Canadian voters away from it. The party leaders also failed in a way to present it as something that seeks to change the political system forever. Not just a tool to defeat Harper. That is the coalition's shortcomings.

Anonymous said...

As a fan of the green shift I think the problem was a case of complexity that prevented widespread acceptance. A carbon tax could be part of a successful campagn if it was presented as part of a major tax makeover. If the revenue from the carbon tax was the first step in replacing income tax with a dollar for dollar shift then the message would be simple and most Canadians would be harder to fool with lies again.

Susan said...

I sure am sick of hearing how the west won't like it so we can't do it. It's not the west, it's Alberta. Well I'd way rather have a country without Alberta than one without Quebec. Alberta's much more a threat to national unity than Quebec.

Steve V said...


It wasn't just Alberta, actually it was everything west of Quebec, to varying degrees.


If you can't see the problem with running AGAIN on a carbon tax in the next election, well... Some things are obvious in life, this is one of them, feeble retorts aside.