Sunday, June 06, 2010

Ignatieff clarifies Liberal position on coalitions

I was very pleased to wake-up this morning and find two things. One: it's not raining so I can hopefully go watch some Maple Leafs baseball this afternoon at Christie Pits. And two: Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has brought some much needed clarity to the Liberal position on coalitions. Indeed, the position he outlines in this CP article today seems exactly what I've been asking for:

Michael Ignatieff says coalition governments are "perfectly legitimate" and he'd be prepared to lead one if that's the hand Canadian voters deal him in the next election.
"Co-operation between parties to produce political and electoral stability is not illegitimate. It's never been illegitimate, it's part of our system,'' he said, noting that coalitions have been formed in parliamentary democracies around the globe.

"But the right way to do it is to run your flag up, (opposing parties) run their flag up, you fight like crazy, you put your choices clearly to the Canadian people, they make their choices and then you play the cards that voters deal you.''

Ignatieff insisted he still believes the Liberals can win the next election. But should no party win a majority and the numbers make it feasible for a Liberal-led coalition to provide ``progressive, stable, compassionate, good government,'' Ignatieff said he'd ``make it work for Canadians.''

"I can make all kinds of electoral arrangements work and people should have confidence that I can. I'm a unifier, I'm not a divider.''
I think Ignatieff has it exactly right here, and it's as I've been arguing for some time now. Don't get bogged down in pre-election coalition speculation. Run hard to win in all 308 ridings. But don't rule out a post-election coalition or other arrangement. If we don't make the point now that it's a legitimate possibility then it won't be on the table down the road, and we're limiting our options. And he was absolutely correct to rule-out any sort of merger or pre-election arrangement, and also signal working with the BQ wasn't in the cards.

Now that Ignatieff has finally brought clarity to the official Liberal position, the question is where do we go from here? Where does this issue go from here? That will be interesting to see. My advice to Ignatieff would be, now that he's make his position clear, whenever asked just reference back to it and move on. "My position on this issue is clear. We'll play the hand Canadians deal us, and in the mean time we're working hard to earn their trust." Then talk about policy, and why we deserve a strong hand.

Of course, the Conservatives won't want to let it end at that. They see a coalition as the best shot right now at costing them power after the next election. That's why they're hell-bent on de-legitimizing it as an option, despite meeting recently with coalition leaders from England and Israel, the latter of which leads a "coalition of losers" by Stephen Harper's definition. There's no need for us to let the Conservatives shift the narrative though, no matter how much they'd rather scare-monger on coalitions instead of answering for their billion-dollar G20 boondoggle. Deprive it of oxygen by shifting the conversation to issues negative to the Conservatives, or to issues of policy positive for us.

While we can predict the Conservative go-forward, what will be more interesting is to see what comes from within the Liberal camp. For a great many Liberals, myself included, Ignatieff's interview was exactly what we were looking for and we're happy to move on. For some others, I suspect it won't be. Some legitimately believe other options -- be they merger or pre-election cooperation -- are necessary. I think they're a minority, but I respect their views. I think that's a debate that can happen amongst the grassroots, nothing wrong with that. Clearly though, it's not on the table officially.

For another group, I suspect it has been less about mergers or coalitions and more about taking advantage of the issue and current party and leader weakness for leadership positioning. For that group, I have no time. They're continuing the cycle of stupidity, they're hurting the party, and deluding themselves into thinking the ends justify the means when really it's just about personal interests. We have a leader, everyone gets at least one election, and they should get on board or get the hell out of the way. You're part of the problem, or you're part of the solution. Your choice.

There's work to be done, and we need everyone on board.

Other takes:

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


Oxford County Liberals said...

Don't forget the 3rd group of Liberals: those who were publicly rejecting any coalition talks outright. I'll be interested to see their take now that Ignatieff has made the pronouncement on coalitions that he has.

Jeff said...

Scott, while some might be annoyed, I would guess most would be content to consider the matter settled and move on. There's nothing to be gained for them to continue arguing against it now that the position is set; they'd be better off arguing against it if and when the time comes. They don't want the issue to get any more oxygen either.

JJLib said...

I too like what I heard from Ignatieff. It would be a tragedy to have ruled out a coalition if in the end Liberals end up with only a few seats less than Conservatives. And electoral cooperation could backfire.

HOWEVER, as Rob Silver noted, just saying you don't rule out a coalition doesn't guarantee the conversation ends. The main problem is that Liberals will face accusations that their platform isn't worth the paper it is written on because they will re-write it to "suit the interests of the anti-business NDP". Fear-mongering yes, but there is a hint of validity to it. In the UK, Cameron's Tories obviously severely watered down their platform to suit the Lib Dems.

Now of course, it is true that you could say the same thing about Harper's platform - if he gets a minority, he still has to compromise with the opposition if they don't agree with everything in it. But Harper I think would have an easier time answering that, because he could point to all the things he passed with no opposition support (one party abstaining) just because they wanted to avoid an election.

So unfortunately, I don't think it is prudent to think the conversation ends here.

Every day of an election campaign, each time a platform plank is released we will see Conservatives ask something along the lines of "can you really trust they will do as they say or that they won't sell out this idea to the NDP? Who knows what kind of policiies Canadians would get with Jack Layton at the cabinet table."

If we aren't prepared for that we are foolish. So as much as some Liberals might hate to hear it, I think there needs to be some MORE clarity. And during the campaign (or if a platform is released before then), Ignatieff should be explicit about what would be completely non-negotiable platform planks.

Anonymous said...

If the party that doesn't win the most amount of seats doesn't get to govern, can someone explain Harper's 2004 letter to the GG?

Was he not seeking to govern with support from the NDP and Bloc whether through a formal coalition or not?

Why is nobody pointing out this double standard.

Soch said...

Ignatieff is exposing exactly why he'd be a terrible leader. He doesn't understand what it is to lead or what a representative government is at all. It is not the roll of an elected representative to propose choices to their electorate - a leader must make decisions and LEAD.

The whole LPC has become like the French radical, saying, "There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them."