Sunday, February 19, 2006

It's about ideas, stupid

With apologies to James Carville, but this time it really is (I hope) going to be about ideas.

The chattering classes, the reactionaries on the right and even the nervous nellies within the Liberal Party (apologies to the other JC this time) have made much of the number of high profile names opting out of the Liberal leadership race. I, for one, couldn’t be happier.

As I’ve blogged in the past the Liberal Party is in need of renewal. We’ve lost our ideological compass. We won’t find it again overnight. What we need is a wide-open leadership race with a range of intelligent, competent, and impressive candidates bringing new and different ideas to the debating table.

The last thing we need is a coronation. And if Frank McKenna, and to a lesser degree John Manley or even Brian Tobin had run that could well have been what we’d be in for. With the Harper minority off to a shaky start the pressure would have been incredible to push aside the also-rans and get behind the frontrunner, get them in place quickly, slap together a few issues and bring down the government as soon as possible.

That would have been the worst possible thing for the Liberal Party. The world isn’t going to end in the next 18 months. Harper is limited in what he can do, and if he makes the mistake of thinking we’ll swallow anything to avoid an election leader or no leaderwe’ll make him pay dearly for his arrogance, or rather the Canadian people will.

But I’m excited. There is no frontrunner. No easy choice. No clear winner. But there are serious, credible people looking to run, people that will bring ideas and vision and passion to the debate. It's going to be fun, and I can't wait.

As I think Carville would say, it’s about ideas, stupid.

Excellent column Friday by Adam Radwanski in the National Post. He gets it.

For once: a battle of ideas
Adam Radwanski, National Post
Published: Friday, February 17, 2006

Those who haven't worked in politics tend to assume it's at its ugliest during election campaigns. They're wrong. By far the most vicious, hard-nosed, bare-knuckle politics happens during leadership campaigns.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers

1 comment:

CuriosityKilledTheCat said...

Harper, the Bloc and framing the so-called “Fiscal Imbalance”.

While the Liberals turn inwards to consider electing a new leader, they risk being bamboozled by the smartest leader the Conservatives have had for decades. We have seen with the Emerson defection that we have to weigh carefully exactly what Harper says about any issue, and even more importantly, what he does not say. His reaction then speaks volumes: I did not say that. Harper has given Canadians fair warning that he chooses his words carefully.

Bearing that in mind, let’s consider the most downplayed aspect of Harper’s election platform, and its impact on the choice of leader for the Liberals.

It is essential that the Liberals choose a leader who is up to speed in modern political developments. If any aspirant leader has no knowledge of George Lakoff’s seminal work Don’t Think of an Elephant, then his or her name should immediately be taken off the list of possible leadership candidates.

Why? Because such a leader would lose the next election to Harper by a wide margin.

Why do I say that?

Because Harper has already outsmarted the Liberal leaders, starting with Martin. Lakoff’s premise is that the framing of any political topic is the most important part of the political battle. If you can frame it your way, then the dialogue takes place on the battleground of your choosing, and your opponents are forced to address the issue in a way you chose. For example, if I tell you not to think of an elephant for the next 60 seconds, you will find it impossible to do so.

Harper has already framed the debate as a discussion of a “fiscal imbalance.” What does this mean:

He has:

· Dictated that the debate will be about an “imbalance”;
· Imbalance implies that there is an element of unfairness involved;
· Those opposing his ideas can be typecast as opposing a virtue – that is, as supporting something which is wrong, being the “imbalance”;
· He has framed the discussion as one which means that the issue to be resolved is to remedy the “imbalance” by taking away taxing power from the federal government and giving it to the provinces.

What has happened? The Liberals and the press are talking on his terms, using his framing. This is a no-win situation for Liberals and for Canadians.

Harper’s framing is deceptive and extraordinariy dangerous for Canadians.

Liberals and NDPers will need to change the framing to ensure that the public understands that what Harper intends is to dramatically reduce the powers of the federal government by entering into agreements with the provinces which effectively diminish the role of the central government in Canada. He will do so by – to use the words of the right wing Republicans pursuing similar aims in the USA – making the central government so weak financially that it can be “drowned in the bathtub”.

I prefer a different framing: the Bloc Power Grab.

Why? Because the danger is that the only political party which will agree to Harper’s program to diminish the federal government’s role is the Bloc. The Liberals (assuming their interim or chosen leader has any political acumen – something not yet demonstrated on this issue) and NDP will not agree to Harper’s plan.

But the Bloc will, because they share the same aim as Harper’s New Tories do – to weaken Canada’s federal government and create more powerful provinces at the expense of that government.

Is there any basis in my argument? Consider Harper’s own words:

“As soon as he comes to office, Mr. Harper would initiate discussions to solve the problem of the fiscal imbalance. “The fiscal imbalance is not just a budget problem; a lot of money is involved. The functioning and the very spirit of the Canadian federation are at stake,” he declared. The Conservative leader made a commitment to oversee federal spending power, which is the result of the fiscal imbalance, which “was so abused” by the federal Liberals. “This outrageous spending power has created dominating and paternalistic federalism, which is a serious threat to the future of our federation,” according to Harper.” (20 December 2005 Publication: Le Devoir). ““I recognize that the money is in Ottawa while the needs are in the provinces,” says Harper.” “The government will be bound to respecting provincial jurisdiction while instituting a permanent consultation mechanism with the provinces and collaboration with the Council of the Federation. Moreover, this charter will ensure that the fiscal imbalance is corrected and that federal spending power is overseen.”

And also this report:

“The fiscal imbalance problem has allowed federal mismanagement of taxpayers’ money totaling billions of dollars.” (Harper’s Letter from Conservative Leader Stephen Harper to the Council of the Federation 15 January 2006) “We are committed to restoring balance to the fiscal relationship between the federal government and the provincial and territorial governments through a number of means, including such possibilities as increasing transfer payments to the provinces, reducing federal taxation in order to leave more tax room to the provinces, and transferring tax points to the provinces to ensure a fair distribution of new revenues.”

Still think Harper’s New Tories are not a threat?

Liberals should ask every candidate for leadership of the party this one simple question: Do you agree with Harper’s framing of the issue as being one of a fiscal imbalance?

Any candidate who says Yes is not worth considering – Harper will run rings around that person.