Wednesday, January 28, 2009

If this is probation, maybe we really are soft on crime

If you read my last post and compare it to what the Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals announced this morning as the party's plan of response to the budget, needless to say I'm not overly pleased. It's not an entirely bad strategy, but it almost strikes me as too clever by half.

Yesterday I posed some budget judging questions. Let me answer a few of them now. We don't want an election, and I don't think this budget was bad enough that the public would accept our triggering one. Nor was it bad enough that we could make a salable argument to go the coalition route. Is it the budget we'd write? Clearly no. But we're not the government. The public don't want political games, they want cooperation. And the delay in stimulus action that a coalition or election would mean isn't worth the price.

So, we were going to let this budget pass one way or another. The question was only how. Given that the Conservatives don't want an election either – that's evidenced by a budget that tosses money at every group under the sun – I thought we had some room to negotiate, to move a few meaningful amendments that wouldn't break the bank but would make this a much more effective budget, and would show Canadians that, just like the coalition threat that made Harper budge in the first place, the Liberals are continuing to work seriously to get real results for Canadians. I'm disappointed we didn't take action in that regard. I think we could have gotten meaningful action.

I do like this whole reporting and probation thing. It's compelling strategy. Don't buy Jay Hill's “we were totally going to do this anyway” shtick. This is embarrassing for the Conservatives. It calls them out on their lack of accountability, a concept they campaigned on and abandoned in government. Frankly, like Jack Layton, I don't trust Harper either. But, rather than force an election or a coalition Canadians don't want, a move I believe would backfire, this shows Canadians we're giving Harper a chance and if he blows it (and I wouldn't be surprised if he does), if he doesn't follow through on his commitments, we're in a better position to take him down. And if he does follow through and do what we wanted, then that's good too.

It also forces him to own this budget, and to take responsibility for it. This may also be the strategy behind not moving any substantive amendments. Doing so would give us more ownership of the budget. By not doing so, we can say Canadians don't want an election, and since he did listen to many of our concerns we'll let an imperfect budget pass, but if he doesn't keep his promises, and we'll make him report on them regularly, he's gone.

While I can see the politics of it, and admire it on a level, I'm still disappointed. I'm disappointed because I believe we could have gotten some key amendments that would really have helped Canadians. Like EI changes. Like not requiring the cities to match infrastructure funds.

In a sense, it's almost like we're setting the Conservatives up to fail here, and it makes BCer the citizen a little sad. Of course the infrastructure funds will be underused, the many cities will be unable to match, and tap the funds. So they'll report that in a few months and we'll say ha! See, you guys suck, we knew you wouldn't keep your promises!

Nice politics, sure, if rather cynical. But you know what would be both good politics, and good for the economy? Forcing changes to make sure cities CAN actually spend that money. Then we can take credit for changes that actually made the thing work, rather than just predicting its failure. And we'd get a few shovels in the ground at the same time too.

So, I see the strategy, but I disagree with the call. We're making an ammendment, but not the amendments I wanted. We'll see how it plays out.

As to the predictable reaction of the NDP and the BQ, frankly, I'm not concerned. Frankly, they're misreading the mood of Canadians. The Conservatives come out of the budget having alienated their base, and on a Liberal leash of sorts. The Liberals look better for having listened to Canadians and acting responsibly, while setting-up election triggers down the road on better terms. And the NDP and the BQ, frankly, they look a little childish in my view. And power hungry. I agree with Wells here. Not the statesmanship Canadians are looking for in these times.

The coalition was right for the place and time that it was proposed. But a long has changed. Like ships in the night, we've sailed on. Strategically, I think it's better at this point for the Liberals to be charting our own course. And so we will.

So the NDP and BQ will try a reprise of the Liberal, Tory, same old story refrain they used against Stephane Dion. As much as I love Stepane though, Michael ain't Stephane. Also, we're in an economic crisis, and we just had an election a few months ago. So that dog just won't hunt. It's leashed too, so we can tune-out the annoying yippiness.

At some point, though, that leash may begin to fray.

But for now, let's take one day at a time.

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Steve V said...

I have a hunch, that the EI amendment was dropped because someone calculated the political cost of having a hand in a growing deficit, we wanted to leave no fingerprint for future use. Cynical stuff as you say, and I agree, we had room to get more, amendments that would have helped Canadians. Disappointing on a personal level, but in political arena, these guys look shrewd, cold, but crafty.

As for the NDP, well I think Canadians are getting sick of the same line 45 times too. These talking points today, dropping Dion's name, the new coalition, yadda yadda, come join our team, it's just background noise. I think they've completely blown the mood of the country, and I'll note even the former NDP finance minister in Ontario says the budget is good enough. Predictable, but diminishing returns, on a tired line, used during the wrong mood.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Steve that seems a likely bet, I had the same thought when I heard Ignatieff's comment about not wanting to increase the spending envelop during the presser this morning. The infrastructure amendment, however, would not have cost the feds any money.

As for the NDP, their new/old coalition meme is interesting, given how we were both taking pains, oh, last week, to stress we weren't really in a coalition with the BQ, we were just friends. If the NDP things we're in a coalition with the Cons now, then by their definition what we were both doing with the BQ is probably illegal still in some states.

WesternGrit said...

Good observations Jeff.

Gayle said...

Good post, and I agree.

I wonder if they did not demand the EI and municipality amendment because they think they may have to bring Harper down in the next few months, and want to keep those as election promises.

Still cynical though.

Eugene Forsey Liberal said...

Wells re. Iggy seems to be forgetting his second rule of politics: If everyone in Ottawa knows something, it's not true.

ohnoes said...

What happens if someone on the Ways & Means Committee were to propose a 'clarification' that amounts to an amendment to the budget?

Oemissions said...

I don't totally agree with you about the mood of Canadians and not wanting a Coalition. I believe that Canadians reacted to the Conservative reaction calling the NDP and the Bloc, separatists and socialists. The press played it up. There was misunderstanding of the parliamentary process.There was misunderstanding of the Coalition agreement.Had the three reps for the NDP, Bloc and Libs gotten together and explained themselves well after the Ignatieff appointment and during the prerogue period, Canadians would have warmed to the idea. And seen the advantages of this type of cooperation.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Oemissions, I think we could have brought Canadians around on the coalition if we'd been able to trigger it after the economic update. This time, given that the budget wasn't the cluster**** the update was, I don't think Canadians would have come around. They have seen it as a power grab that would have delayed action on the economy even further. At this point, I don't think we were able to make a good argument.

WesternGrit said...

We made a FUNDAMENTAL error in judgment in framing the coalition as one which included the Bloc - by putting them on stage for all the world to see. Had we simply signed with Layton, and kept the tacit support of the block a secret from the media, we could have swung it...

Iggy is repairing the damage done by that move. I think it's pretty obvious he has succeeded. The coalition DID pave the way for this moment, however. Dion had the right idea - just the wrong tactics. Playing his cards so early gave Harper a lot of time to organize a multi-million dollar response that we could not counter.

Oemissions said...

A secret from the media?
No! Outfront about eveything. The Bloc is made out to be some kind of threat. They are progressives. They are looking out for Quebec just as Danny boy is looking out for Newfoundland.
The Bloc are concerned about EI, the environment, women, children, human rights, the war in Afghanistan. As I said before, there is too much xenophobia about the Bloc and the Cons played on that.
I am more afraid of Albertans than Quebecers.

Tom said...

I am more afraid of Albertans than Quebecers.

That kind of comment and the prejudice implicit in it is unbecoming of anyone who calls himself or herself a Liberal. I urge you to retract it.

Oemissions said...

Well Tom: is it just the part about the "Quebecers" or is it the part about the "Albertans" that bothers you?Or is it both?
Not sure if I identify as a Liberal, altho I do have a membership with that party.I identify myself as a Coalitionist of progressive minded people.