Friday, August 28, 2009

Do as I don't say, not as I don't do

The fall silly season must be just around the corner, as we see politicians jockeying for position and bloggers doing likewise.

Earlier in the week, we had NDP leader Jack Layton hold a press conference where he refused to say he’d vote down the government this fall, said he wants to get things done in parliament, and indicated Canadians aren’t keen on an election.

Later in the week, Liberal campaign co-chair Senator David Smith said they’re unlikely to force an election the second parliament returns, refused to say if they’d bring down the government later, said they want to get things done in parliament, and indicated Canadians aren’t keen on an election.

One of these people was principled and bold. The other was weak and caving. Or so my NDP blogging friends seem to think. I thought both were trying to manage expectations while keeping options open. But the differences may be more subtle to we mere mortals.

And if you’re been paying attention, what Senator Smith was saying isn’t anything new. EI was never the single be all, end all trigger issue. This has been clear since the spring. Throughout the summer, Ignatieff has dampened down the media-created election talk.

In the fall, the EI panel will report back, and the Conservatives will provide details on job creation, infrastructure spending and a plan to balance the budget. All of that will be evaluated in its totality, and a decision will be made.

All Smith said was to repeat EI isn’t the single trigger, it’s one consideration among many. And the timing makes an election the moment parliament returns unlikely. Once we have all the information, an evaluation will be made. But in the meantime, Canadians aren’t keen on an election and they want parliament to get things done and, as we’ve always been, the Liberals are willing to do that.

It’d just be nice if some of the other parties were too.

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northwestern_lad said...

To throw another cliche out there, "You say Po-taa-to, I saw Po-tah-to" (had to spell phonetically to for it to make sense).

Canadians expected a certain thing when they voted Liberal, New Democrat or anything else. They voted for their positions, their policies and maybe most importantly, against those of the Conservatives when they didn't vote Conservative. The New Democrats have stuck to those policies and positions the whole way through and have tried to advance them, while trying to work within the frame of this Parliament. You have to admit that the New Democrats and Conservatives have the least amount of common ground between any two parties in the House right now, so that does make it harder for those two to word together. In the meantime the Liberals have taken positions on policy, backed off, taken another position, backed off again, etc, all in the end to basically support the Conservative position without making any advances of their own.

I'm not trying to be combative here, just pointing things out.
Making Parliament is what everyone wants, but "making it work" does mean letting one party (The Conservatives) have their total way. There has to be some sort of working together in an actual collegial way, not in the bully way that the Conservatives have ruled. Sorry, but if Canadians wanted the Conservatives policies, they would have voted for them in bigger numbers. So, no offence intended here, but what the Liberals are contuing to do is give the Conservatives a defacto majority, which was not the will of the people. The people voted for a minority Parliament and for those parties to actually work together, instead of one party bullying around the others. Right now the Liberals are playing the role of enablers here to the Conservative bully and it wasn't until the Opposition Parties all together stood up at once last Winter that we saw more things get done. That wasn't a coincedence.

But that's nothing you probably haven't seen me write before, so why get bogged down in that. Here's a good question for you: When the New Democrats present a Bill on EI that has a 360 hour limit and a National Standard, what will the Liberals do with their votes? That was what they began asking for, so do you think that if it were presented to them that they would actually vote for it? Or vote against it?

Steve V said...


Hebert is interesting today, especially the part about the Conservatives adopting the Liberals positions. I know the NDP love to say we cave on everything, but if that's true, why are those people saying Harper has abandoned his ideals? Those to realities just don't jive. If Harper is getting everything, how could he have abandoned anything?

susansmith said...

What liberal ideals? Shoveling our $ to corporations? Oh, ok, Liberal ideals of corporate welfare. What I have noted, is that creating jobs for people is not the game plan but keeping big business from falling on their faces is of importance.
The economy is supposedly on the path of recovery, except it will be a jobless recovery - but let's ignore that.
Hebert is not litmus test on anything. There is no differences between Harper and Iggy - hence why the libs keep propping the cons up. It's just not distasteful for them.

Greg Fingas said...

Steve: Let's take one obvious recent example. Do the Libs see it as a victory or an affirmation of their principles that Harper's Senate appointments consist almost entirely of Con hacks?

If not, then it's fairly easy to see that "contrary to the Cons' stated principles" and "consistent with the Libs' nominal principles" aren't necessarily overlapping concepts. And if so, then...well, I'm not quite sure what that would say about the Libs.

RuralSandi said...

Boy this corporate welfare nonsense that the NDP keep spewing is really old.

So, there we have it - don't encourage investment in Canada, don't give a damn about the majority of people who work for the evil corporations - what about union welfare.

Need new material.

Hazel Maccallion is a good example of what giving perks to corportions does - Mississauga boomed because of it - creating a huge number of jobs, etc.

Out where I live this didn't happen because the perks weren't given and there are no jobs, nothing except farmers who are mostly conservative.

northwestern_lad said...

Steve... "Those to realities just don't jive."

Has Harper caved and taken the Liberal position on EI??? When Harper did a stimulus package, was is what the Liberals wanted??? Last time I checked, the Liberals were mad (as were New Democrats) that it wasn't being spent fast enough. So obviously in that case, the Harper Conservatives have dragged their feet and haven't performed at all. I doubt that the Liberals want to embrace themselves in that.

But I did say that you have to stand up to the bully to get them to come to the table a bit. The only thing he has done was a half-assed stimulus package and as I said earlier, when the three parties stood together in December, the Harper Conservative were forced to do something that they didn't want to do. Yes it was half-assed, but they were the ones on their heals and they were obviously shaken.

So what's the lesson here? When all the Opposition does their job and opposes, the Conservatives back off and listen (to a degree), just like any other bully. When the Liberals cave and back down, the Conservatives don't listen at all and ram what they want through.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, here's the critical difference, at least as I see it. Obviously, politicians should never rule anything out (like Iggy did re: the possibility of a Lib-NDP coalition after the next election) and should always be trying to strike compromises to ensure balanced and pragmatic governance.

Both the Iggy and Layton have said that they are willing to work with the Tories, but that they expect the Conservatives to meet them halfway in order for that to happen.

Iggy's line in the sand was employment insurance. But, rather than get a concrete deal when he agreed to prop up the government, all he got was a discussion panel. Still, he go something. Or did he? As summer dragged on, it became increasingly clear that the Tories had no interest in budging even an inch on EI and that they didn't really take the panel seriously at all. So, this being Iggy's line in the sand and all, you'd think Iggy would have to play a little tougher and make it clear that he is willing to go to the polls on the issue. But he isn't. Iggy is now telling everyone not to expect a fall election and also claiming that EI is not the Liberals' key priority (which seems to be a significant revision of what he was saying in the spring and early summer). Basically, Iggy struck a deal to prop up the government and, in virtue of not holding them to that agreement, has given them carte blanche to govern however they please.

Contrast this with Layton. Layton has also refused to foreclose the possibility of working with the Tories. However, he has a clear set of priorities and objectives where the Conservatives will have to compromise in order to secure his support (Canadians stranded abroad, EI, etc.) Rather than demanding a panel that is powerless to force the government to do anything, Layton is demanding specific, concrete policy changes. Unless he gets those policy changes, he won't support the government. That's why, while he won't foreclose the possibility entirely, he does add that the NDP is "least likely" to prop up the government unless there is a "fundamental change in direction".

I think that's the part that's lacking from the Liberals' strategy. They are happy to criticize Harper in the papers and in question period, but given the opportunity to demand a "fundamental change in direction", they go out with a wimper. This means one of two things. The first possibility is that the Liberals simply don't have any of their own ideas to substitute in place of Harper's. That seems unlikely, given how much they pay their policy researches (though, Iggy has been extremely cryptic on every major issue since becoming Liberal leader). The second, and more likely, possibility is that the Liberals are simply too weak as a party and as a caucus to stand up to Harper when it counts. In this sense, the Liberals are a lot like the US Democrats, who were unable to stand up to President Bush even though they controlled the Congress. The Liberals, like the US Democrats, are in a position in virtue of their standing in the legislature to demand significant policy changes from the government. But, just like the Democrats, the Liberals are either unwilling or unable to do so in a meaningful way.

The result of all of this is just as predictable as the Democrats were. "[I]t is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing." -Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5

Steve V said...


That's a pretty weak example actually. You guys didn't even get a non confidence vote on this one.


Remember what the doctors said, no "skipping".

Northern BC Dipper said...

So you are comparing somebody who made a big fuss about an issue and has now has all but given up to somebody who has always made a big fuss about this government, but has consistently, year after year, right around this time, not publicly confirmed anything about voting against the government for the 0.0001% chance that the government might change its style?


Jeff said...

To my NDP friends, it seems you're trying to use past statements and actions to predict future actions. That's fine; time may prove you right or it may prove you wrong. But that's a side argument to my point in this post: going into the fall session, both the LPC and NDP have been talking largely the same: not keen on election, won't make threats, let's try to get things done. Yet you expect threats and tough talk from the Liberals that your own party isn't offering at this point. That was my point.

The rest of the arguments here, and my counter-arguments, have been oft repeated by all.

To try to address a few specific points though...

Cam, the question has always been how far can we push without triggering an election that no one, NDP included, has says they want. You can argue the Liberals could have pushed harder at times. And at times, I'd agree. But it's easy to armchair quarterback from the sidelines. As long as its the Liberals having to make that judgment call, the NDP can criticize all it wants without responsibility, since it doesn't have to make that call. So you can stick to your policies and principles with impunity, leaving the Liberals to make the compromises necessary.

If the NDP was insisting we want an election right now, let's go, that would be one thing, although I'd question their truthfulness frankly. But they're not. They're insisting Canadians don't want an election, yet they leave it to the Liberals to do what is needed to avoid one, and then criticize them for it.

On your specific EI question, I believe there is at least one wrinkle to be ironed out there: the NDP wants a permanent lower national standard, the LPC a temporary one for the downturn. But assuming common ground was found I'd have no problem in principle with supporting such a bill.

A few hiccups though: if it's made a confidence bill, EI as a trigger isn't a good one for anyone. And even if it's not confidence, since such a bill would spend money and private member's bills can't spend money, such a bill wouldn't be binding and would therefore likely do nothing for the unemployed, making it an empty symbolic gesture.

In the current parliament, the government will need to be onside to reform EI. That's why the panel was worth a try. Unfortunately, the Cons didn't take it seriously. I for one, however, don't regret giving it a serious try.

Jan, you mock Liberal ideals and you speak of corporate welfare. Yet during the coalition talks, the NDP was willing to forget the corporate tax cuts, forget Afghanistan withdrawal, and more for a chance at power. So, clearly, even the NDP's ideals are negotiable.

Devin, no lines in the sand were drawn, but if you want to use that imagery, EI wasn't the sole line drawn. As I wrote, there will also be reports on job creation, stimulus spending, and budget balancing projection. The Liberals will take their decision based on the totality of that information, not on EI alone.