This afternoon, it’s expected that Jack Layton will hold a press conference. He hasn’t been seen in days, and with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff withdrawing his support for the Conservatives on Tuesday, all eyes are on the suddenly reclusive NDP leader: when he emerges will he declare that the Conservative winter is over for Canada, or will Jack see his shadow, and doom us to (at least) six more weeks of Harper government?
I wrote the other day about how Ignatieff has changed the dynamic going into the fall session of parliament. Is there any greater evidence of that than the fact Jack Layton, a man who never met a camera he didn’t like, hasn’t been available to the media some 48 hours after Ignatieff’s announcement, when the question on everyone’s mind has been: what will the NDP do?
While Layton’s reclusiveness is out of character, it’s perfectly understandable. Whereas before, he knew he could just reflectively declare he’s voting no and leave the Liberals to hold the bag, now he has a decision to make, and it’s a decision with consequences. So taking some time to consider his next step is prudent and advisable.
He has a few options. First, he could say Harper has to go and he will vote no to defeat the Conservatives at the earliest opportunity. This is possible, but not likely. He’s going to want to show that he at least made an effort at getting something from Harper, whether he’s optimistic of success or not. So, he can either enter into negotiations with the goal of extracting meaningful concessions to keep the government alive, or he can enter into negotiations with no real intention of making a deal, but just for cover to paint Harper as unreasonable.
There is a final possibility, of course: Layton could decide the Liberals are bluffing, and bet that Ignatieff will back down in the end, and prop up the government. Frankly, those are pretty long odds. If he won that bet, the payoff for the NDP would be huge: having left themselves no credible outs from Tuesday’s statements, Liberal credibility could be fatally wounded. But that’s why it’s unlikely to be a bluff. Ignatieff can’t back down from this, so if Layton made that bet it would be risky indeed.
I wrote previously about why a deal could make sense for both Harper and Layton, and why it could prevent challenges for the NDP as well, so I won’t rehash those argument in length. I will, however, offer this: when Layton was promising to vote against throne speeches and budgets he hadn’t read, he made clear there was a reason for that: it didn’t matter what Harper says at this point, the Conservatives just can’t be trusted.
We Liberals have tried to work with this guy and, sadly, we’ve come to the conclusion that Layton was right: the Harper Conservatives cannot be trusted. We gave him chance after chance, and we learned that the hard way. The EI panel shenanigans were just one of the final straws that made that abundantly clear.
So, if Layton does indicate today that he’s willing to deal with Harper, I think the question I’d want to ask him is “what makes you think you can trust Stephen Harper? What has changed?”
He fooled us once, Jack, so shame on me. But fool us twice? We shouldn’t get fooled again.
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“If you oppose Mr. Harper and you want to replace him, I urge you to support the New Democrats -- now and in the next election.”
(Jack Layton’s response to Liberal’s decision to support the 2009 budget, January 28, 2009)
“If they're taking the wrong direction for the country, then I think a political party has to stand up against a government like Stephen Harper that leaves so many people behind and I think people expect you to stand on your principles.”
(Jack Layton, CBC-The House, August 15, 2009)