Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Self Inflicted Wounds

I find it hard to defend the Liberals decision to let the 3 billion "slush fund" pass, given our voluntary and unprovoked rhetoric. I would classify our "climb down" over this stimulus as the first potentially major gaffe of the Ignatieff reign. I remember well, the Ignatieff scrum, full of provocative language, entirely confident in saying Harper must "walk back down the hill", there will be no "blank cheques". I also recall many of us bloggers defending our stance, dismissing any suggestion that a Dion redux was on the horizon. In the end, all the bluster looks unnecessary, the strategy questionable, the frame entirely unproductive.

In the budget aftermath, the key challenge for the Liberals is projecting this idea of a government on "probation", don't confuse letting the budget pass with complicity, a real opposition holding Harper to account. Up until this point, I've been entirely impressed, no real sense of Harper walking over the Liberals, in fact Ignatieff very much looks like the defacto Prime Minister. However, with this obvious cower, the Liberals have reminded everyone of a past pattern- threats and tough talk, to be followed by double speak and submission. I'm sorry, but a toothless motion, introduced prior the vote, which the government has already laughed off and pledged to ignore, doesn't distract from the central theme of the bully winning the day, AGAIN. This issue of false bravado is the Liberals achilles heel, we have desperately tried to shed the previous image, with great success to date, which makes this self inflicted wound all the more puzzling.

Harper began this debate with typical partisan threats. The Liberals reacted with their own line in the sand, which meant that a compromise was essential, to avoid the appearance of cowering. What amazes me, the Liberals failed to extract ANYTHING from the government, even the slightest concession to save face. No, the government didn't budge and we simply let the stimulus pass with a wimper, and weak rationalizations. It's one thing to let your opponent best you, quite another to create your own poison pill, that you will later swallow. It all begs the question- what was the point of this exercise in the first place, if our fate was pre-determined? The Liberals could have easily reacted with amusement, Harper's false confrontation, and merely stuck to our line about future accountability dates. Demanding complete transparency before the fact, set us up for failure, because we clearly weren't prepared to follow it through.

Is Harper this strong at the moment, that we don't have any leverage to extract a concession or two for support? Was there any realistic prospect of having an election, with the central point being Harper's resistance to "accountability"? I fail to see the danger, we could have garnered something in the name of credibility. I'm not suggesting lasting damage, but nobody should be surprised, when we see the next pressure point, that the media and our opponents, react with scepticism when we sabre rattle. If the strategy is to bide our time, while still looking relevant in opposition, no sense of "weak", "dithering" or the dreaded "waffler", then this whole affair undercuts our central thesis. A very confusing sequence of events...


Constant Vigilance said...

Well said.

I find the retreat on the same day that the AG said it was unacceptable for Harper to expect a lack of oversight very puzzling.

Steve V said...

Agreed. All the more confounding, when the AG just BACKED your position.

A Eliz. said...

Did you want an elecction with alll the agony out there?
It seemed nothing else could be done.

Greg said...

Did you want an elecction with alll the agony out there?
It seemed nothing else could be done.

Then stop making threats. It is making your party look weak.

Oxford County Liberals said...

Greg: agreed. Very bad optics.. and the Liberal strategy team should know better by now, after seeing what it did to Dion when the Liberals disagreed with Conservative policies and then abstained.

I'm not sure backing down and then voting for the governments package is much better then backing down and abstaining.

MrvnMouse said...

I agree with Greg, my problem is not with them backing down to the Conservatives at every opportunity (as much as it frustrates me), it's with them putting on a big show of being a big tough opposition and then showing they have no teeth once push comes to shove.

marie said...

Iggy is showing us every day who it was that put pressure on Dion to sit on their hands in Parliment.
For some reason, he is scared to go into an election and if so, IMO should not be the leader of the Liberals. We need someone who has a backbone and not afraid to use it. Bob Rae comes to mind or even Dominque.

RuralSandi said...

Is the show really over? Seems to me it's like giving a kid too much candy - one step out of line on the $3 billion and I think it would be suicide for the Tories. Maybe it's part of a strategy of give them enough rope they'll hang themselves.

And, could they really validate a $300 to $400 million election when things are so grim? Who would pay the price?

Anonymous said...

Good post, Steve. I think Harper succeeded in shuffling the numbers off the deficit for last year, and planting them on the coming year, which is the real way he wins this battle.

The one comfort is Ignatieff won't be seen as weak on this, if only because he made his point clear and concisely - something I add Dion never did. He did point out that the conservatives govern haphazardly and in the dark, and set the stage to confront them on any spending they make that is clearly politically motivated. He also managed to paint the conservatives as haphazard, poor planners who lack the transparency they claim to support. And he managed to do it on an issue that is in public view.

Jack can say what he wants, but Ignatieff did plant the idea that his government, when formed, would be more adult and responsible. Those themes will resonate longer than the specific events of the past month.


As for anyone who thinks this is grounds to go fishing for a new leader, please devote your efforts to putting some other party to pasture. I for one want the Liberals to succeed as a viable opposition and government in waiting.

Please ask yourself honestly how the public would react? I mean really ask that question honestly.

Why don't you just vote conservative next time and get it over with? Because you might as well hand over the reigns entirely if every time there is a single bad moment, you start shuffling through the closet looking for the next leader. I truly liked Dion, but he had many "forgivable" moments. Any leader should have the time to make their mark.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the long comment. But I did want to point out that I say that as someone who was thrilled at the idea of an election over Harper wanting to hide the money bags.

Even so, I have to admit that an election over that could quickly turn into Harper announcing the $3 Billion in projects and running on how the opposition was "keeping" him from doing it.

Politically I still see this as a draw, and perhaps even a net gain for the Liberals for the reasons I outlined above. I can feel that way and still be disappointed. Harper's desire to manipulate a situation, even when it doesn't need to be, is stunning. Does he really think he wouldn't have gained stature if he had just come out and said, "Here's the list of all the things we intend to do to get things moving. We hope the opposition supports our efforts."

Now that would have been a win for Harper, but he is far too petty to have taken that route. Far too petty.

Quixotique said...


I most certainly would not be able to speak for anyone else, but I do not believe that Steve, nor most of the commentators here are proposing that we "go fishing for a new leader". What we may be fishing for is a closer relationship between the Leader and the Party (over and above the Caucus) and the right to have our say: agree, applaud, disagree, warn; to participate and have some influence. The Leader leads, yes and is entitled to (and should) make the decisions, but it is a Party we ultimately support and believe in, a partnership not only a leadership.

We are more than willing to let the Leader make his mark, but in a collaborative and informed manner would be best, because as he does, he is making ours too.

RuralSandi said...

Joseph - well said.

burlivespipe said...

Perhaps he's hoping to choke the bandwidth with CON glock'n spiel in the next month... Truly disappointing, with the small caveat that at least they put forward the motion to have some report on the funds' path. Of course, as noted by Vic Toes, the government won't listen to that vote.

In_The_Centre said...

This aint a big deal. That’s the calculation the LPC has made.

Getting into another round of brinkmanship over $3 billion would only polarize the political environment yet again, a situation in which the public could easily blame the Liberals for not supporting immediate stimulus as much as the CPC for not having any accountability over how the money is spent.

This is what Harper wanted, and we didn’t give it to him. Am I happy about it? No, because it’s a political calculation and even though it’s the right one, the CPC gets to piss away another 3 billion immediately, something the public probably wants to see given how much money and how quickly other nations are stimulating their economy

Notice how this story didnt get raving press coverage across Canada? It was done quietly...and Im amazed by that. The media would have been all over Dion for backing down.

Ignatieff is busy raising $200,000 in Vancouver tomorrow night, along with other fundraisers taking place throughout the country. As a Liberal, Im happy about that.

Steve V said...

"This aint a big deal. That’s the calculation the LPC has made."

Calculation? We're the one's who created this "back down", it never existed until we started with the tough talk. If it wasn't a "big deal", why did we turn it into a friction point. I think the problem here, MISCALCULATION.

In the grand scheme, might not be an issue, but it feeds a theme everybody wants to forget, and worse it was very, very avoidable.

RuralSandi said...

Stupid to call an election right at this point - it would delay monies going out. Perhaps - they're waiting until some does go out.

If they went now - they would be punished badly - because people are worried and want EI, etc.

Patience is a virtue and this situation is awkward at best.

Those who have jobs and aren't worried about losing their jobs may be okay with an election, but I bet others would be very angry.

Steve V said...

You don't bluff, in such a provocative way, if you don't want an election. You make noise, but don't demand the government succumb to our wishes in this way, only to cry uncle when it matters. Maybe my point isn't clear here. I'm not arguing about election timing, or the delicate balance, or future payoffs, I'm articulating a fundamental error relating to expectations. DON'T fall into the previous trap of sabre rattling/climb down, it weakens our credibility. Unless this is part of some grand strategy, to lie down now, so the next time we push hard the government doesn't take us seriously, when really we actually mean it and surprise them on an election, we've made an error.

Travers said it best today, when he said the Liberals are rolling over, but barking loudly on their back, eventually that gets old.

Möbius said...

Of course, when I made this same point, you responded sarcastically about not wanting to force another election.

Nice to see you're beginning to see the light.

Steve V said...

LOL. Who has the time.

marie said...

And, could they really validate a $300 to $400 million election when things are so grim? Who would pay the price?

Rural Sandra,The very same people who have been lied to and cheated in this Harper reign. do you think Harper would even care about who would pay for another election if choice to instigate one if he even thought he had a chance to keep his job He wouldn’t think twice and he wouldn’t care who had to pay for it. My family have been hit hard and you know what? I would say it might be monies well spent to get rid of this moran once and for all. Joseph, as for wanting a new leader, we need one that will stand behind his caucus, hear them out and most of all Canadians. If that means a new leader,so be it. I was beginning to think that Ignatieff was the one but I am having second thoughts of late.