Monday, June 15, 2009

Ignatieff’s presser: The verdict is still out

Well, I didn’t get the answer I wanted this morning during Michael Ignatieff’s press conference (bring ‘em down) but I didn’t get the answer I feared either (a dose of cod liver oil). Instead, it was option C, a demand for concessions from Stephen Harper that, if not delivered, will force an election. It will either prove to be an impressive strategic gambit, or a mistake. We’ll know soon.

There’s still many ways the scenario could play out. I liked the messaging I heard today from Michael: we don’t want an election, no one does, we want to make this parliament work, but Harper needs to work with us here. We need action in these four specific areas of importance. Deliver, and you can keep governing. Don’t deliver, then hey, we tried to be reasonable and give you a shot.

In a sense, it’s trying to shift the blame back over to Harper if a summer election is triggered, by painting him as unreasonable if he doesn’t give in. I think the blame for elections thing is overrated, but its an interesting play nonetheless. And if he does give in, then, in theory, we can claim credit for the concessions, and perhaps continue to extract more until he finally bucks at some point.

Now, a few issues with this approach, though. One, are the demands both a) reasonable enough that Canadians can expect a reasonable government to accede, but also b) tough enough that we’re not seen as wimping-out and just trying to cover a capitulation.

In essence, what we’re asking for is to know what his plans are for EI and to have action advanced by possibly sitting into the summer, we want to know what stimulus has actually been spent (not just flowed) and what will be spent in the next 120 days, we want to know their timeline and plan for eliminating the deficit, and we want a clear plan on alternate isotope production.

Now, I’ve been reading from some Conservative commenters that all Harper has to do is answer the questions. Not at all. He needs to answer them, but we need to like his answers. It we don’t, bye-bye.

I think the four “demands” if you will certainly pass the reasonability test. Are they tough enough? I’m not sure. We haven’t really defined what we’d accept as answers. That can be both a plus and a minus, giving us both space to maneuver and to back down.

Having now thrown down the gauntlet, if Harper rejects it entirely we need to act. There’s no room to back away with any credibility. But Harper can also still flip this back on us, by offering some kind of borderline compromise that we both risk looking weak accepting and opportunistic rejecting. That’s one of my concerns.

In short, if we have the moxie to back our threats with action, then this is a good tactical gambit at better framing a likely election call. But if we’re lacking moxie, then it’s a kabuki play we should have avoided. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt for now though.
As I see it, there’s a few ways this could play out.

One, Harper rejects the Liberals out of hand, and we vote non-confidence with the other opposition parties, summer election.

Two, Harper rejects the Liberals out of hand, we back down, Liberal credibility shot. No summer election.

Three, Harper rejects the Liberals but cuts a deal on other terms with the NDP of the BQ. No summer election.

Four, Harper gives the Liberals everything we want. We claim victory for making parliament work and getting concessions while avoiding an election. NDP and BQ call it a surrender, but Canadians don’t buy it. No summer election.

Five, Harper offers the Liberals a compromise. We reject it, vote non-confidence. Cons try to paint us as opportunistic. C’est la vie, summer election.

Six, Harper offers the Liberals a compromise. We accept and support the government. We try to spin it as victory, BQ and NDP try to spin it as surrender. Who succeeds depends on the compromise, but no election.

So, only two of six scenarios as I see it lead to an election this summer. Still, I wouldn’t bet against it at this point. We have succeeded though in pitching the ball back into Harper’s camp. The next move is his, and whether or not he a) really wants an election, or b) thinks Ignatieff is bluffing. So it’s a good strategic move in that sense.

At least we can say we tried to make parliament work. BUT if it comes down to it, we better have the moxie to back it up. I hope we do.


Western Grit: Check... And Mate?
Pierre Trudeau is my Homeboy: It's a trap
Liberal Arts and Minds: Ignatieff says...
Confessions of a Liberal Mind: Looks like the ball is back in Harper's court
Impolitical: Ignatieff Press Conference
CanPolitico: Will he or won't he?
Calgary Grit: This time we mean it
Scott's Diatribes: Ignatieff: Conditions for avoiding an election
Runesmith's Canadian Content: Iggy Lobs the Ball Into Harper's Court

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penlan said...

Just watched Harper on T.V. What a joke. And he is giving in to nothing. He will not answer Ignatieff's questions. So the Libs either vote non-confidence as they said they would or they capitulate & look terrible. What do you think now, Jeff?

A BCer in Toronto said...

I couldn't find Web video of the presser, so I'm relying on David Akin's tweets and Kady O'Malley's live blog. And it seems from them Harper did indeed offer no wiggle-room.

So, assuming that's the case, then the Liberals have little choice but to say we'll vote them down, and emphasize the fact we trued to be reasonable and they wouldn't play ball.

Of course, a Harper deal with the BQ or NDP is still possible.

Ted said...

These guys have commented too.

penlan said...

I think Layton will make a deal with Harper to keep them all afloat - no matter what Jack has said in the past he has left the door open a crack in his statements over the past week.

Barcs said...

Another.. press conference... to set another ultimatum deadline.... all the while slagging the performance of the government that he continues to support....

If he has the cahonies to finally follow through with the threat. there still will not be an election.

No party is actually prepared. The Bloc isn't going to gain anything, the NDP isn't going to gain anything (and don't have any money to fight with). It is just not going to happen based purely on the self interest of the players.

for example:

"a Harper deal with the BQ or NDP is still possible."

A deal? A NDP capitulation is more like it. With current polls Layton (the NDP golden boy) will lose 1/2 the seats that the NDP hold. Cash strapped as they are do ya think they would risk losing 10% of their $1.98s let alone 20 MP's??

Barcs said...

That is of course unless Iggy capitulates again and gets scared away from his ultimatum and the resulting election.

A BCer in Toronto said...

It's spelled cajones, I believe.