Sunday, January 03, 2010

Sound and fury signifying what, exactly?

I share the displeasure of my Liberal and progressive brethren with Stephen Harper’s decision to prorogue parliament. And going back to the first leadership race, Michael Ignatieff does have a definite history of taking vacations and going on media blackouts at the most inopportune times. I think there was a week in 2006 his staff couldn’t even find him. And it happened again last summer until he launched the Hiding in Plain Sight Tour. Opposition leaders don’t get vacations, Michael.

So it’s been left to the likes of Ralph Goodale and Bob Rae to go in front of the cameras and provide the obligatory clips of outrage about how upset we are about the decision to prorogue, how it’s an affront to democracy, how he’s hiding from his incompetent and duplicitous handing of the Afghan detainee, thwarting the democratic will of parliament and its order to produce documents, and so on. And they've done that well. But it was certainty a missed opportunity for Ignatieff to have been front and centre in the media spotlight.

My question though is still what it was a few days ago: to what end? Whether it’s Rae and Goodale or Ignatieff up front providing the outrage quotes (probably more so if it’s the leader and not a surrogate) I’m still left to wonder “OK, you’re pissed off. Me too. Now what are you going to do about it?”

Putting Ignatieff up on this issue would have made that question even more pointed, and I’ve yet to hear any credible suggestions on that front. Short of forcing an election which we’d most likely lose (although the Conservatives may want to precipitate a spring vote anyway, is the latest speculation) our options are decidedly limited. Apparently some folks are planning protest rallies for Jan. 23. And Coyne wants opposition MPs to hold their own unofficial parliament in a bowling alley or something; interesting, and theatrical, if a bit (lot) of a stunt.

I’m all for raising the issues that need to be raised, and for calling attention to grievous injustices and perversions of democracy. And I'm open to creative suggestions on that front. My bigger concern though is that we’re in no position to actually do anything about it. Even if people were ready to turn on the Harper Conservatives, even if this could be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back, four-plus years of farting around as a party means it’s very unlikely we’d be able to capitalize. We haven’t done the work needed for Canadians to turn to us when they’re displeased with Harper.

That’s because for far too long now long (going back multiple leaders) we’ve been focused on the tactical. We’ve hungrily lept at every scandal and Harper miscue and bitten-in hard, wanting to believe it was our ticket back to our rightful place in the seat of power.

Yet, at every turn, we’ve been unable to capitalize on each of a litany of Conservative scandals, faux-pas, screw-ups, miscues and arrogant decisions. No bump in the polls. No lasting increase in support. Why is that? It’s not because Harper is so dammed loveable. It’s because, compared to the alternatives, he still has more appeal to most Canadians because a) he’s the devil they know, and b) we haven’t given them a reason to vote for us.

Until we do, until we finally, at long last, stop looking for the easy home-run, but instead re-build our brand and develop our leader and start giving Canadians a reason not just to vote AGAINST the Conservatives, but to vote FOR us, then we’re just spinning our wheels. And all the Conservative scandals in the world won’t help us. He gets away with it time and time again not because we won’t fight, but because we’re too weak to stop him.

I want Harper gone as badly as anyone. That’s why, while we can get rightfully worked-up over this prorogument, I’d much rather we ALSO finally move past the tactical and do the strategic heavy-lifting around policy, vision and leadership (like finding some) so that when Harper pulls crap like this, we can call him on it and be in a position to actually do something more about it then provide soundbites of outrage for the political magazine shows.

It’s all well to fight and die for the noble cause. I’d rather fight and win.

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Gayle said...

I certainly agree the liberal party has to give voters a reason to vote for them, however I also think it is important that all opposition parties be vocal about their criticism of this prorogation.

Apparently there is a poll out there that says half of the country does not care about this. I believe that. They are not going to care unless someone out there tells them why this is such an affront to democracy.

I think the opposition can be critical of the government without it always having to end up in a "so vote for me instead" scenario.

Jennifer Smith said...

My dad asked me recently why it was that he was always seeing Rae or Dryden or whoever speaking to the media on behalf of the Liberal Party and hardly ever Michael Ignatieff.

Almost without thinking I said, "Because people don't like him".

It may be as simple as that.

Jeff said...

Jennifer, I do believe he's on vacation. And secondly, I wonder if it's really a positive to put the leader front and centre on every attack you launch? It feeds the perception of them being nothing but a negative attacker (particularly when you're not offering much of anything on the positive vision front) and dilutes the value of their appearance when it is a really important issue: they're always attacking so its tuned out. Now, granted, this could well be one of those issues where you do bring out the gun. But it comes back to my question: ok, you're mad, watcha gonna do? If the answer is jack and squat, probably better to leave it to the surrogates.

Gayle, even with Jack and Michael not doing much media on this, I certainty think the opposition parties have made their criticism quite vocal and loud.

As to how Canadians can be made to care or not, I think the only hope there is to move it beyond just this one issue. Paint a narrative of now this is just the latest in a long strong of incidents that show Harper's disdain for parliament, for the democratic will, and so on. On its own it won't resonate. Put it in a pattern, develop a narrative, then it might.

Mark Richard Francis said...

When subordinates do the media work, it's usually because the leader doesn't want to be the one delivering the news.

I think that the Liberals currently running the Party don't mind Harper's new and improved PMO-centralization scheme "Now with Extra Prorogation(tm)" and look forward to adopting it whenever they make it to power. So, why overly criticize it?

The purpose to going to town on Harper's abuse of power is to continue the narrative that he is a dictator in all but name. Narratives are deeply important.

Certainly, narrative is what keeps Harper going. It's not as if he's passing useful legislation or is presenting Canada with a vision.

James Curran said...

I'm only going to say this: The Leader of a political party in Canada is not in a postition to be "on vacation". Government is a 24/7 job. Period. Full Stop!

lyrical said...

PM Harper took his Vacation Tour before Christmas. Then he made some big announcements during the holiday break when many people, including MPs, were off spending time with their families.

With Harper's prorogue announcement it made the MPs look like 'lazy fat cats' because they had to respond when they were away on vacation, while he chose to stay close to home. (BTW, President Obama vacationed in Hawaii over the holidays.)

Barcs said...

"(particularly when you're not offering much of anything on the positive vision front)"

"ok, you're mad, watcha gonna do?"

I keep wondering Jeff, every once in awhile the reality seems to break through, but then you go back to declaring support for the people and ideas.... who seem to have none.

Removing Harper is a goal, not a policy, but the liberals seem to be treating it as their policy.

I am glad people are starting to come to the reality tho. I still see alot of comparing Harper to the ideal PM. But more and more I see people comparing him not to perfection, but to the alternatives that are presented. (Iggy's libearls and Layton's NDP)

Because that really is the question we are faced with when we go to the election. These guys or the other guys. Not some mythical super PM who can tailor every policy to make each and everyone happy.

But it comes back to your question: "ok, you're mad, watcha gonna do?"

What are the policy's that differentiate you from the Tories?? What would Iggy have done (and now do) in the Afghanistan file? What programs and services will he cut in the coming budget? (we know that massive spending projects are pie in the sky given the state of or finances). What will he do with taxes, what will he do differently about isotopes/climate/jobs/my leaky kitchen tap.... anything...

All I have heard so far is that Harper is wrong in the way he is doing it.... (but oddly still support on the confidence bills) OK, Harper could do things better. So what is the alternative?

"It's not as if he's passing useful legislation or is presenting Canada with a vision."

Most of the useful legislation was passed decades ago, much of what Harper/martin/chretien etc etc. is pass legislation to justify their jobs. A good part of it just causes 2 problems for solving 1.

Prorogued? Just means that they are on a break from thinking up ways to put more red tape into my life and my business. Ban the lightbulb?? ....oi.

The Mound of Sound said...

What is to be done with Ignatieff if Harper jumps him with a snap election in March before his Thinkers' Conference conjures up something resembling a policy platform? Harper knew precisely when to exploit Dion's vulnerability and he's plenty shrewd enough to do in Dion's successor the same way.

Ignatieff never had the luxury of 15-months worth of breathing space before forumulating party policy. The mauling Dion suffered left that in no doubt. Yet his approach has been positively and consistently lackadaisical since he took over the levers of Liberal power last December.

With his approval numbers trailing even Layton's, it's astonishing that Ignatieff has acted so disengaged, almost indifferent to his and the party's fortunes. Has he ever been down and had to battle his way back to the top? What sort of adversity has he faced in his previous careers and how has he fared in hard slogging?

I'm just trying to discern whether Ignatieff has the aptitude and instincts required to succeed at this level.

tdwebste said...

Democracy works when an educated public votes in fair elections.

The problem is Canadian people are not actually very well educated and as result don't vote. The message is not getting out. It doesn't matter what Harper does to damage democracy, if the message does not get out. The long list of measures Harper has applied to weaken democracy include; removing the independence of the judiciary selection process, disregard of electioneering spending guidelines and intent, abuse of national security clause to hid politically damaging information such as excessive military speeding and waste, abuse of government information services to provide public placement of Conservative Party members and the Conservative Party “pictures of government officials and party emblems do not belong on government web sites or information”, complete disregard of the mission in Afghanistan to mentor in the good governance of Afghanistan by a transparent government mostly free of corruption, able to win hearts and minds of the Afghan people, ...

If we cannot and will not mentor the Afghan Government in good governance, then we have waste the lives of every Canadian who has died trying to bring peace and security there.

Harper has wasted the lives of so many Canadians in Afghanistan. Worst still, this was our only chance to mentor the Afghan in good governance and make the world a safer place. Instead Harper with his support of torture and legal corruption within the Afghan government, has shown that the west supports a corrupt Afghan government.

Harper has ran away from the fact he cannot hid that he does not believe in good governance, transparency or fair justice system free torture other judicial corruption. And as long as we let him do it, he will get the majority we deserve for our apathy and ignorance.

CanadianSense said...

Another excellent post.

I suspect the failed strategy in 2004-2009 will be repeated.

The March Ado About nothing conference is just an attempt to buy more time.

The current gov't has been steady at their 33-37% POP since 2000 (add PC+Alliance)

The CPC scary 40's (for opposition) is a result of the opposition playing political games.(Coalition, Unwanted election)

The LPOC have been consistent in falling farther to a new historical low as normal.(26%-35%)

The other political parties since 2000 have adapted, recovered, grown their base support. In 2000 the NDP (8.5%) Green 0.5% earned.

The voters have left and have not returned. Looking at the Polls for years including studies show key demographics (visible minorities, Catholic, rural) have left.

Look at the Polls and the metrics over the last six months. Over +45, Seniors clearly CPC (key voting blocks)

Worst Demographic > 25 years old led by Liberals. (Anyone ever see participation rate at student election on campus?)

Female Vote (Soccer Moms) is now CPC.

The advantages and myth of the natural governing party is over.

Jeff is bang on again.

The Call to Action, what action?

After you are done venting and complaining about the latest outrage...and than?

The failure in COP15 did not lack the protests, marches and publicity. Follow through?

Who were the spoilers?

Talking vs Action.

Jeff has alluded to having the party prepared and in a position to fight/win an election.

Jean Chretien was masterful in exploiting the weakness in his opposition. Timing and a massive attack campaign of his divided opponents.

Compare the two leading parties.

Are you prepared?

1)Warchest - $ 15-20 million
2)Membership, active riding, grassroots
3)Platform - Detailed, supported
4)Leadership Politics - Metrics

Voters are cynical and will decide if the alternative is better. Another Pink Book, another get together to talk strategy?

Barcs said...

really "socially active"?? really?

Harper really took time out of his day to go over to Afghanistan to demand that the leader not only allow torture but that he immediately implement it on all detainees the Canadian military turned over to their own government??

I think our government and our military has done a pretty good job in some very difficult circumstances over there. What with schools, roads being built etc etc. Not to mention the freedoms that have been gained. Yes there has been some hicups, but where do you get off expecting absolute perfection?? It isn't perfect, but I will settle for better.

While you are whining and crying about how bad things are (in your eyes).... making up pseudo scandals, people are doing things to make things better. (like the Afghanistan mission, like Pandemic programs, like infrastructure). Put a smile on your face and go help your neighbor.

Barcs said...

And one more clue to being away....

A pro forma Christmas message from Iggy on twitter. (if it actually was put into the computer by him, its pretty generic). Is dated Dec 23.

He hasn't even had that staffer put in a new year well wishing in week and a half since.

... another holiday... How hard is he willing to work for Canadians again??

RuralSandi said...

Well, I got a Happy New Year email from Iggy.

Perhaps he's been advised to get out of the public attack eye for a while.

And, his vacation was probably planned a long time ago.

I find this vacation whining a bit much.

There's nothing he can do over the holiday season without sounding like a whiner - no one pays attention over the holiday season.

Get a grip.

At least the Libs have MP's that can comment and think all by themselves. All Harper has are people that can memorize his PM approved talking points.

archivist said...

We were all on vacation when they pulled this stunt! Hence, the timing.

tdwebste said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tdwebste said...

Barcs, please understand the separate roles of the military and government.

Harper and the Conservative Party has made Canada complacent to the on going torture and corruption within the Afghan justice.

Harper finally realizes he can not deny the facts any longer and ...

Our military has done a good job of providing security, but it is not the role of the military to dictate political policies. The Canadian Government has NOT stood up and told the Afghan Government that torture and corruption within the Afghan justice are unacceptable.

Without the Canadian Government lead by Harper performing its required political role, our military has been crippled.

tdwebste said...

Sorry Barcs,

You and I, we all are at fault for not holding our government accountable. But not holding our government accountable we have implicitly supported undermining of our military and all the work they have struggle to achieve.

Blaming others for our own failings does NOT cut it in my books. Canada under Harper has been complacency towards corruption and it is the reason Afghan is the tactical mess it is today.

The Afghan mission was about tactical exigencies created by the strategic realities. The decision to mostly ignore the drug dealers and other corruption has been a strategic blunder.

To quote news from Afghanistan.

FOB Jackson is currently home to Battlegroup headquarters for 2 Rifles. The area around the river is called the “Green Zone,” but just as appropriately could be called the Opium Zone. During season, the area is covered with colorful poppies, whose 2009 products are probably showing up by now on the streets in Europe. European money flows back here and buys fertilizer in the Sangin Market, which can be used to make bombs, produce more opium, get more money and make more bombs and grow more opium and make more money and bombs and grow more opium. Sangin is at once an ATM and weapons bazaar for the enemy. Nearly all fatalities in this unit have been caused by fertilizer bombs. The decision to mostly ignore the drug dealers has been a strategic blunder.

Tommies said...

MP's work harder when they are home in their ridings than they do when they are sitting for hours doing House duty and accomplishing nothing in the House of Commons.
It's 24/7 when they are in their ridings. People should really know what they are talking about-this is the only time the constituents can meet their MP-is when they are at home.

Unknown said...

Michael Ignatieff is very good leader material and shouldn't be blamed so much. Not enough people are considering the fact that Stephen Harper is not as unloved and hated by so many Canadians as they are. Check the leadership polls if you think I'm crazy.

A vocal minority seem to simply hate Harper and are almost in a panic to see him go, notwithstanding the good shape that Canada is in. Canada is coming out of this recession in better shape than any other G7 nation!

Canadians are rightly peeved with the unethical, to say the least, conduct of previous governments and the spiteful shenanigans that occurred even with the Liberal Party itself.

Ignatieff knew that he had a difficult and long challenger ahead when he accepted his role. Continual infighting is only perpetuating this challenge.

Where are the Liberals weak? Well, west of Ontario there are eight (8) Liberal MPs, the same number as in Nova Scotia and PEI together. Two little provinces with just over 1 million people.

What Ignatieff has to do, if he wants to be the PM is to look for votes out west, as he's been doing. He has to convince Albertans, Saskatchewans and BCers that he is not partaking in the cookie mentality of Ajax-Pickering MP Mark Holland and saying that the oil sands might have to be shut down. In fact he should probably expel Holland. This kind of talk will not endear the Liberal Party to westerners or other Canadians that know the value the earnings from energy extraction bring for ALL Canadians. Environmentally controlled YES but shut down? I don't think so!

Another think Ignatieff might want to consider if he does indeed wish to find more support in the west-of-Ontario lands is some agreement on reforming the Senate. This could be a good time to do that since the Liberals are about to loose their divine right to a majority there.

Canadians, even progressive and liberal minded ones, are becoming comfortable with Stephen Harper. We do not have troops in the streets and gay marriage lives, as well as the right for a woman to choose. We also have a well run country when compared to almost all others. It's not all Iggys fault.

marie said...

I'm only going to say this: The Leader of a political party in Canada is not in a postition to be "on vacation". Government is a 24/7 job. Period. Full Stop!

Thank you James for saying that. That statement is so true and I hope that we can all send that same message to the inept governments we currently have in Canada.

Jennifer, if people don't like him its because he hasn't shown Canadians what he can and will do as a PM in waiting. The media has promoted as unlikeable and that's where we all get our info from.