Monday, December 08, 2008

Do we want this coalition to succeed or not?

I want this coalition to succeed. I would like nothing more than to see the Harper Conservatives out of power yesterday. But we need to be realistic and reasoned in how we proceed. We don’t need to put our cards on the table six weeks before Parliament returns. And we must get the public on our side.

And we don’t have the public onside yet. Conservative partisans say it’s a coup. Liberal and NDP partisans say throw Harper out on his ass. The non-partisan majority are confused. They don’t understand the parliamentary system. They may or may not like Harper, but they know we just had an election and they wonder just what the heck all those idiots of all parties up in Ottawa are doing farting around during an economic crisis.

We need to make our case to the public. We need to do a little education to warm people up to the fact that, if the Harper government loses the confidence of the house, a majority-led progressive coalition is a perfectly legitimate option. We need to make clear that Haper has been playing political games when he should have been focusing on the economy.

Now, sure, we could just defeat the government in January, no matter what the public says, and petition the GG to turn the keys over to the coalition, no matter what the public opinion is. That would be constitutionally legitimate. But it would be a mistake that would well doom the coalition to failure. It would give the anti-democracy messaging of the Conservatives credence. And it may well precipitate an election we’d lose: while it shouldn’t technically be a consideration, when the GG has to decide coalition vs. election, don’t doubt for a second that public opinion may well play a role in her decision. If opinion is majorly anti-coalition, an election is more likely.

If we want this coalition to succeed, we need public support. And if we’re to get public support, the coalition can’t be seen as simply a naked and partisan power grab. The public will not accept that. They will not see the means as justifying the ends. Most Canadians aren’t partisans, they don’t share our strong feelings. They just want government to work and stay out of their way.

This needs to be about the economy. It needs to be about ensuring Canada has the economic policies and leadership it needs in these troubled times. Canadians want and expect all parties to work together to that end. That means we need to be willing to consider what the Conservatives will bring forward in January.

We need to make the case that the coalition so far has been a clear success. We have succeeded in getting Harper to back down on campaign finance, on the public sector strike ban, and he moved up the budget. Those were concessions he wouldn’t have made without a strong and united coalition holding his feet to the fire. He has failed to deliver immediate and serious economic stimulus, and he has yet (to my recollection) to back down on the regressive changes to pay equity.

We need to make clear that we expect real, serious and meaningful action from the Conservatives in this budget. If he has genuinely gotten the message, if he has taken the action needed for the economy, then we’re open to considering it. If it falls short, the coalition is ready to vote it down and form government itself to give Canada the leadership it needs.

Now, I have my doubts that Harper is genuinely willing to compromise. And I don’t see how we can ever again trust a guy who has repeatedly lied to Canadians, called us treasonous coup plotters, and questioned our patriotism.

However, Canadians expect us to be reasonable, and they won’t consider it reasonable for us to be dismissing out of hand a budget document that won’t be presented for six weeks, and hasn’t even been written yet. That will turn the public against us in a big way.

And that brings us to Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff. Bob is touring the country, having appointed himself as the chief coalition booster, giving fiery speeches saying we’ll bring down Harper in January no matter what. And his supporters are making this a leadership wedge issue, saying because Ignatieff isn’t saying let’s vote down the budget before we see it, that he isn’t committed to the coalition. That he’s ruining our chances of taking power. This is a load of crap.

First of all, those fiery speeches of Bob’s sound great to Liberal partisans. Dump Harper, ra ra. But to Canadians it’s the worst kind of crass political opportunism. It shows us as nakedly hungry for power, and sends the message this isn’t about the economy. Now this strategy may help Bob gain some Liberal delegates for the leadership. But it will cost this coalition public support, and makes it less likely to succeed. It may help Bob, but at the cost of the coalition.

Despite the attempts to distort his position on the coalition, Michael has been quite clear: the coalition has succeeded so far, let’s see what Harper does on the budget, if it’s not good enough we vote it down. That’s a pragmatic, principled position that Canadians will accept and support. Maybe it doesn’t satisfy the rabid firebrand partisans hungry for blood. But it’s a position that satisfies mainstream Canadians, that puts the interests of the country ahead of leadership politics, and gives this coalition its best chance of success.

Remember, a majority of Canadians voted for progressive parties. They’re naturally inclined to be supportive of a progressive coalition. But we need to win then over first. Let’s be smart about this.

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Robert said...

Spot on Jeff.

I've been speaking with a lot of people who may have voted Liberal in the last election, but don't think the coalition is a good idea.

Mike said...

I can understand Michael's position. It does seem clear the way you explain. I don't like reading in the G&M that MI has turned "solidly against the coalition as of Saturday" but I'll wait to hear that from his mouth before I believe it.

But my biggest problem is the inconsistency with how our party is managing our own leadership. The caucus (mostly Ignatieff supporters) want Dion to resign THIS WEEK and lots of calls were placed demanding that.

If Stephane doesn't deserve another chance to lead for a mere 4-5 weeks why should the Liberal caucus give another chance to Harper?

I'm struggling to think how Stephane deserves a vote of no confidence while Harper deserves another break, doesn't seem justified at all. Why keep him out when the leadership race is due to be wrapped up in 30 days.

If you say Stephane resigned this week on his own accord I know you can't possibly believe that, he was pushed if this is how things play out.

The Pontificator said...

Angus Reid yesterday...40% of Canadians support the coalition...67% of liberal voters

If you are correct that Canadians want the colaition sold to them and not shoved down their throats, how do you think they will respond to having a leader of a major party shoved down their throats

UWHabs said...

We need to do what's right for the country, and what's right for the party, both in short and long term.

For me, bringing in a coalition government would be great. But not if we're going to lose to a Harper majority 6 months down the road. I'd rather have no coalition come in to power and then get a Liberal government (be it coalition, minority, or majority) in an election 6 months later than rush into this without thinking and explaining it.

Harper's had his scare, now we see if he'll be willing to play nice. He now knows that he's not up against a weak opposition, who's not going to give up if he wants to play chicken.

Honestly, in any government, saying you'll vote against something before seeing the details in it is a stupid position to take, no matter what's going on. If Harper's willing to be reasonable in a budget, then we don't have to rush to oust him. But if he's not going to pay attention to the opposition, then he deserves to be voted against and ousted.

Andrew P. said...

well said.

The more and more I've been thinking about it, the more I think that while we need to keep the coalition as a viable option, it can't our only option.

Frankly we need to get our house in order, and if we are concentrating on the coalition, I think think we'll ever be able to fix the party. If we can't fix the root causes of our problems, then in the long run we are screwed.

wilson said...

The 'majority vote' thing is very flawed thinking.

You are including a one province party that won 75% of the seats in that one province (with only 40% of the vote).

Reality: 57% of the ridings in the ROC (where Bloc was not an option)
voted Conservative.

That's one hell of a hill to climb,
because the Bloc can't help you in the ROC.

burlivespipe said...

Yes, well said. As a former Rae delegate, I'm backing Michael this time, and was convinced on his performance yesterday on QP.
It's time to make the Liberal brand the choice to replace Harper, that we have the plan and the man.

The Right is Where it's At said...

The problem with this so called coalition government is this:

If we look at other countries that do have a coalition governments,they do run on that promises during their election campaign in which if elected they would form a coalition government. So their people automatically know what to expect.If you remember during the election campaign Mr.Layton brought up the possibility of a coalition between the Liberals and the NDP. It was refused by Mr.Dion saying that there were too big of a difference between the two parties.

We don't form a coalition government by denying the voters to choose if they wish to have one or not.Especially just after the current government was just sworn in. So when I hear that 62% of the Canadian people supports the opposition on this issue I have to laugh. It is grossly misleading and undemocratic.

Another misleading information going around is this:

1) Harper didn't prorogue parliament the GG did!

2) It wasn't prorogued until the end of January it was shut down a week earlier then normal,they were going to get their Xmas break anyways until the end of January. Just take a look at the HOUSE OF COMMONS CALENDAR!

ALW said...

I would like nothing more than to see the Harper Conservatives out of power yesterday.

See, Jeff, that’s precisely the problem the entire concept of a coalition faces. It’s essentially saying “Harper was mean to us!” ergo, you’ll be booting him out of office weeks after he got a strengthened mandate.

The fact that a large plurality of Canadians who don’t even support the Conservatives are nonetheless opposed to their removal and to the concept of the proposed coalition government should be telling. They don’t want any more games, and while many of them blame Harper for causing this mess, they also believe the punishment proposed by the opposition doesn’t fit the crime.

Which is why you people should be paying close attention to John Manley instead of casting stones at the guy. So what if he comes out in the G&M calling for Dion’s head? 90% of caucus was thinking it anyway. At least Manley has the balls to say what so many other Liberals weren’t. The reason the Liberal Party is such a mess right now is precisely because, rather than stopping to think “maybe he has a point”, people like Manley have been excoriated as disloyal! (If anyone bothered to read the rest of Manley’s piece, he’s certainly not singing the praises of Harper and the Tories either. But no matter, he said bad things about the worst leader the Liberal Party has ever had. How dare he.)

Just how on earth do you plan to “get the public onside”? By proposing what precisely, that has not already been proposed? Assuming Harper comes back with any sort of middle-of-the-road plan, what plausible excuse will the opposition have for taking him out then?

And can we please do away with this 62% nonsense once and for all? Nobody voted for a Liberal-NDP coalition propped up by the Bloc. Zero. None. Nada. Lots of Dipper voters don’t want to get into bed with the Bloc or the Grits; even more Grits don’t want to get into bed with the NDP or Bloc. Aggregating all the numbers and declaring the resulting combination as legitimate might be constitutionally fair, but as a practical matter of realpolitik it’s crazy, and would only hurt the Liberals in the long run - which is precisely what is already happening.

The fact of the matter is that we have no way of knowing whether a majority of the public would prefer the Harper Tories or the coalition to govern, because that option was never presented to the public in the first place, and the only way to tell for sure would be to ask them in the form of another election. So if the answer to the question “would the public vote for this at the ballot box” makes you or any other Liberal nervous, you should ask yourselves why you’d try and impose such a creature on the public without an election.

Sean S. said...

that's assuming that the NDP will let the Liberals string them along with a "will they/won't they keep the coalition" meme of Iggy's. I don't think they'll wait around forever.

ADHR said...

As NBC Dipper points out here, though, Iggy's basically only got one shot at the coalition. If the Libs under Iggy (or Rae, for that matter) prop up Harper in January, then it's highly unlikely the NDP will come back without at least a renegotiated agreement.

janfromthebruce said...

Good post BCer. Folks I talk to my neck of the woods, including liberal supporters, really like the idea of Harper gone and the coalition. And more importantly, they prefer that to another election.
It has actually created lots of talk and excitement. Considering that it had one week to get off the ground, and with Dion gone (which he was a milestone around the coalition neck), it should get more positive attraction now.
Who ever the interm leader is of the libs, will require them to embrace it or not. The partners are not there to left in waiting, depending on whether Harper provides them with a better deal.
As you well should know, Harper will say anything and provide just enough to get some lib support, and as soon as that window of opportunity to form a coalition is past, he will come back to take the boots to the libs. And I will suggest that the libs will have to take it due to the very iffy $$$ situation. Harper will tangle and play the libs like a fiddle. It will not be pretty.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Mike, I read the Globe today to, and I find it hard to believe Michael turned against the coalition as of Saturday when he was on TV on Sunday supporting it. Who knows. Like you, I'm going to believe what he says over unnamed sources until he says otherwise.

Pontificator, I outlined my views on leadership selection processes in the post below.

wilson, not everyone who voted BQ favours separation. The people of their ridings elected these people to represent them, and we can't treat them as second-class MPs. Ironically, the Conservatives need Quebec for their majority, and their messaging on the BQ is making that very difficult, if not impossible.

I'll just add that, with a first past the post system, your argument would be stronger if you used popular vote totals rather than seat totals to make your case.

the right, maybe in some countries the parties run as coalitions. Not in all. Probably not in most. Sure, you can probably guess which parties are likelier to join up and give it a try, but in most cases parties run on their own platforms and banners, and negotiate after.

Also, the GG prorogued at Harper's request, and the prorogation wipes-out the parliamentary calendar. He could have had them return whenever he wanted. If he chooses the previously scheduled date, that's his choice. What was moved up though was the date of the budget.

Aaron, yes, I want the Conservatives out. That may seem surprising, but then, as you may or may not know, I'm a Liberal. I understand you might be a Conservative, so I don't think it would be offbase for me to postulate you would prefer a Conservative government. Which we have, for the moment, so I imagine you're happy about that.

Now, while I do want the Conservatives out, I don't want them out at any cost, or without respect for parliamentary and democratic procedure and principles. Which was the point of every paragraph after the first one.

Sean, I'd hope the NDP would want to adopt a strategy that would give a possible coailtion government the greatest chance of success.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

I could not agree more with this post.

I attended a rally in support of the coalition because I think it is only responsible to attempt to form a different government from the duly elected parliament when an existing government loses the confidence of the House so soon after an election. But I was concerned about much of the rhetoric I saw there, which basically amounted to, as you say, "Harper needs to be thrown out on his ass." Deserving as that result might be, that cannot be the reason to form a new government.

The Right is Where it's At said...


"the right, maybe in some countries the parties run as coalitions. Not in all. Probably not in most. Sure, you can probably guess which parties are likelier to join up and give it a try, but in most cases parties run on their own platforms and banners, and negotiate after."

I agree with you abc,but you don't try to form a coalition after you say during the campaign that you wouldn't. Especially one that would be supported by a separatist party that doesn't have the best interest of the country in mind.

How many countries do you know around the world where they have a coalition government supported by a party that wants to break up the country? Do you actually think that the Bloc wouldn't have strings attached to it for their support?

Mr.Gilles Duceppe has said that a coalition government supported by the Bloc would actually advance their cause.

I could see it right now if a coalition government were to come about. The Bloc would propose something where all the federalist parties wouldn't be able to support it thus the government falls and Mr.Duceppe would be able to turn around and go to Quebec and say "you see english Canada has once again ignored french Quebec!" You don't think that something like this wouldn't happen?

Well remember back to Meach Lake the way the Bloc did their spin when it was rejected by Canada. Why do you think the PQ party here in Quebec is all for this coalition? Even Mr.Jacques Parizeau is for the coalition! Does anyone really think that these people care about Canada? We made a mistake with Meach Lake. Lets not make another one. These people never do anything unless they think it advances their common goal. I don't think I need to mention what that is,do I?

This is why I think our situation in this country is far different than the other countries across the globe.This is why I personally believe if they do want this coalition they should first go to the voters. Is that too much to ask for when it concerns our future?