Monday, March 24, 2008

Winning conditions

We’re a week from by-election day, and about six days from when those few Canadians that were paying attention moved on to other things. In a few weeks, three new Liberal MPs will be ceremonially dragged into the House of Commons chamber, and with this new injection of energy for the LPC it will be back to work.

And the more things change, the more they stay the same. Early on the agenda will be another confidence motion, with the Conservative shoe-horning changes to our immigration law into a budget motion. Which, of course, means more stories of will they or won’t they, namely will the Liberals hold their noses and prop up the government again or not.

It’s a nice bit of strategy for the Conservatives really, as it could well serve to blunt the momentum of three new Liberals in the HoC by moving the media narrative to another edition of Abstention Watch 2008. After all, no one outside of political nerdom will be paying attention to margins of victory or who held the seats, they'll just see three strong new Liberal MPs. One does have to wonder if one day the Conservatives will get too cute for their own good though. After all, the CPC is trying to make inroads into multicultural communities, and these changes don’t seem popular with that community. And one of these days (in theory) the Liberals are going to say enough is enough.

For the Liberals, while it’s like the drip-drip of water torture, on the surface it’s easy enough to say immigration isn’t the issue to force an election over. We’ve always been viewed as the party that defends immigration however, and a failure to stand up for it here could hurt us worth a significant portion of our base. And I'd argue that while you could Canadians probably aren’t paying attention to abstentions (and I'd disagree), I think multicultural communities will be paying attention to this issue.

I won’t get into a debate of this particular issue as the one to pull the plug or not though, there’s a good one happening at Steve’s. And I’m already on the record as wanting to pull the plug some time ago.

But when I talk to friends within the Liberal Party that want us to wait, and their numbers aren’t insignificant, they usually tell me we need to wait until the time is right, until we have an issue.

We need, they might say, the winning conditions. It’s a phrase that has become somewhat loaded with its expropriation by the Quebec separatists, who use it to describe the situation they’re waiting for to hold another referendum on sovereignty, or separation, or whatever they’re calling it these days.

Now I don’t want to equate the sovereignty debate with Liberal dithering on an election call, but for both groups it seems the winning conditions they’re waiting for are just as ill-defined, and just as elusive.

For those that want the Liberals to wait, just what the winning conditions we’re waiting for? Just what is the issue that we’re waiting to appear that will sweep us to victory?

Just waiting for it to appear like a magic carpet isn’t good enough. What are we doing to put those winning conditions in place? Do we have a plan to get there?

If we’re going to keep waiting for our winning conditions we need to have answers to those questions, and a plan in place. Frankly, there hasn’t been much evidence of an overarching strategy other than get through the day.

And to borrow further from the sovereignty parallel, and this is a point I think Stephane Dion of all people would appreciate, we need clarity. This constant building and then deflating of rhetoric and expectations on each confidence issue is ridiculous. If we don't want to force an election until, say, the fall, then let's say barring an unacceptable action from the government, we won't be forcing an election until the fall. It's not my first choice, but some clarity would be better than the present course.

During this parliamentary Easter break, as we prepare to return to the House with Bob Rae, Martha Hall-Findlay and Joyce “landslide” Murray in our ranks, I hope the party leadership takes the time to consider these questions and come back out with new energy, new vigor, and a new plan.

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MississaugaJoan said...

definition of "ideal winning conditions": when you are assured of a victory

Well, that's not gonna happen, so we have another 18 months of Conservative rule until the scheduled election.

Many people (including myself) believe that we could have won an election over Afghanistan. But over immigration, we could not.

And the Conservatives (Jason Kenney) are doing an exceptional job of outreaching to immigrant communities from Europe...

...and the Conservatives are aggressively appealing for the support of first generation Asian immigrants who are much more socially conservative than the average Canadian.

Mike514 said...

Another great post. You're concise, and also critical when necessary.

Two more points to consider:

1- Winning conditions will never materialise. Instead, the Liberals will "run out the clock" and follow (by default) Harper's Oct 2009 fixed election date. This would look good for Harper and bad for Dion in media coverage: Longest minority ever, first historic fixed-election date, Liberals never toppled him, etc etc.

2- Polls showed Harper was supposed to lose the 2006 election. There were no "winning conditions" for Tories when the election was called, yet they won. Your Liberal "winning conditions" friends should be reminded of this.

Of course, this is all fine by me, since I tend to be a Tory-leaning partisan :)

Steve V said...


I really do understand the desire for "winning conditions". However, there is an error in that logic, IMHO. You never achieve winning conditions by reinforcing the narrative that Dion is weak and ineffectual. The Liberals never get real momentum by abstaining, because most of the coverage is negative. Whatever Harper does, it is offset by perceived fear. If we keep on this path, then expect Harper to maintain maximum pressure, because it is the Cons who will see perpetual "winning conditions". I don't understand how you create the atmosphere, within this atmosphere, if you know what I mean.

The only hesitation I have, the mess in Quebec. That said, one thing about this issue, immigration, it may secure our base in Montreal, which is the only realistic scenario this election.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Lest it be misunderstood, I don't support the quest for winning conditions. Actually, I'd like winning conditions. I don't however support waiting forever for these winning conditions to materialize. I agree with both Mike and Steve, with the post I was trying to encourage those that want us to wait for winning conditions to let us know just what those might be, and how we're going to get there.

me dere robert said...

"You never achieve winning conditions by reinforcing the narrative that Dion is weak and ineffectual."


They have to stop the bullshit and vote down things that are bad for the country. Waiting for the bi-elections was one thing.. there's no excuses anymore except being scared of an election.

If they are truly against this immigration bill being stuffed in the budget they better not abstain again. Get tough and go to an election if you have to.

Speaking of getting tough Dion better deal with the bunch of delinquents in the Quebec wing very quickly.

ALW said...

"new plan"? How about a plan?

A BCer in Toronto said...

Such a substantive contribution Aaron, thanks. You're just unable to grasp the strategic genius of the plan though, because you're playing checkers while he's playing chess.

Or so I'm told whenever Harper does something inexplicable which, it seems, is pretty often.