The Oda Ado: Do the Liberals understand their job?

The great virtue of Canada’s political system is that it is dead simple

Feschuk’s been having great sport with Bev Oda and the ridiculous answers being offered on her behalf to questions put to her in the House of Commons. He’s absolutely right – Baird’s behaviour is pathetic, and for us private citizens, incessant mockery is probably the best response. The bigger problem, though, is that the Opposition doesn’t seem to have any better ideas.

The great virtue of Canada’s political system is that it is dead simple. Members of political parties run in local elections. The one who gets the most votes wins the seat in parliament. In parliament, the party that can win the support of the majority of MPs gets to form a government. Government ministers are drawn from the membership of the House. The government stands as long as it retains the support of the House.

What this means is that the job of an MP is itself pretty frigging simple. The House of Commons has two main jobs: Make a government, and hold it to account. It does this Siskel & Ebert style, by giving thumbs up (offering support) or thumbs down (withdrawing confidence). Literally everything else a non-government MP does is either an embellishment of this function (e.g. sitting on committees) or a distraction from it (the much-vaunted “constituency work”). The key benefit of this simplicity is that it makes the lines of accountability crystal clear. The government does stuff, the rest of the House holds it to account. At election time, voters can decide how they feel about it.

The crucial element here is one of the most misunderstood aspects of our system –  notion of cabinet solidarity. Cabinet solidarity emerged as a device to prevent the King from engineering a favourable government by picking and choosing amongst his ministers. It became a defence mechanism: Cabinet said take us as a whole, or dismiss us as a whole, but don’t try to pick us off one at a time. With the full development of the Whig constitution, the line of responsibility flipped – instead of up to the Crown, it now flows down to the Commons (and then on to the voters). But cabinet solidarity remains as the fulcrum of the entire system of responsible government. The government stands or falls as a whole.

In a majority government, Cabinet solidarity is impregnable. In a minority situation, it puts the opposition in a bit of a bind. It has to decide whether the minister’s actions are so egregious that lack of confidence in the minister amounts to lack of confidence in the government as a whole.  And so while what has been going on during Question Period is, on the face of it, absurd, what the Tories are doing is impeccably constitutional. By extending the cloak of Cabinet solidarity to Bev Oda, what John Baird is telling the opposition is: You want to get rid of her? You’ll have to get rid of all of us.

So what have the Liberals done – have they threatened to bring down the government over Oda’s actions? Nope. Instead, they’ve spent the last few weeks engaging in exercises in stunt-opposition: the online petition,  the “Not” T-shirts. This is Degrassi High level politics, with the Liberals wielding the pathetic tools of impotent private citizens, as if the Loyal Opposition has no more powerful instruments at its disposal.

The Conservatives have made their position clear, and they’ve thrown it down. Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals have utterly failed to pick it up.




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The Oda Ado: Do the Liberals understand their job?

  1. I completely agree, but that's because just as we have an irresponsible government we have an irresponsible opposition. Both are more concerned with their own narrow interests than they are with principle or good government. A responsible opposition would say enough to incompetence (G20), enough to ethical breaches (Oda, in-and-out) and enough to whatever-the-heck the census decision was (insanity?). Instead, as you say, we get theatre.

    And yes I know the LPC require support to bring down the government, but they don't really seem to be trying to get it. Instead they are fulminating against the government while waiting desperately for the polls to go their way.

    • That's it in a nutshell : the Opposition has no balls !

    • You could say the situation is complicated by the fact the libs and the ndp are simultaneously fighting both the govt and each other.[ the cons only have one political enemy - everyone] One day it might occur to them to explore [ as principle rather then self interest alone] what they have in common that might outweigh their idealogical differences. But as long as that brass ring is shining off in the distance, i doubt it.

      • the cons only have one political enemy – everyone

        LOL, ain't that the truth!

  2. Ever since Harper brutalized the Liberals and became PM – the former once mighty natural governing party has used the same tactics each time expecting a different result and by definition this is ' insane ' I think it a accurate and reasonable conclusion to diagnose the party as suffering from a form of insanity – a sort of collective delusion that it can arrange everything in secret and behind closed doors and not respond to it's grassroots – the problem of course is that the party is devoid of any reason to be there outside of the incessant search for the faux scandal a day dujour – how often have we seen any policy debate of any kind come from the party = 0 … all we hear from the LPT is evil meanie stevie and his hidden agenda – which is hilarious because if there is one thing Harper does very well is hit his opponent square on and in front of everyone – watching Harper play whackamole with the leadership of the Liberals has been a true pleasure and I look forward to more of the same – the best part is that I know of more Liberals who want an election .. not because they think they can win BUT it is the ONLY way to get rid of their current leader = hahahahahahahaha!

    • There is plenty of insanity to go around. What is also insane is the number of partisan conservatives who take pleasure, indeed revel in, the 'brutalization' of the Liberals by Mr. Harper.

      If a Liberal government did half of what the Conservative government has been doing over the las 5 years, the heads of people like psiclone, wilson, chet, dennis, etc., would surely explode. But, because their hatred of the Liberal party is so visceral, they willingly turn a blind eye.

      I have come to the conclusion that the Liberal party is like Jacob Marley. Mr. Harper and his party are like good old Ebeneezer Scrooge, and their chain is getting ponderously longer.

      I expected a higher standard from the Conservatives when I voted for them in 2006.

    • How about the govt engaing ANYONE [ other then stakeholder who might agree with them] in a little policy debate – that might make a refreshing change?

    • How about the govt engaging ANYONE [ other then stakeholder who might already agree with them] in a little policy debate – that might make a refreshing change?

      • When Michael Ignatieff declares he's going to vote against the budget 3 months before it's even been tabled, or Duceppe demands $5B for Quebec or he won't support it, there's not a lot of room left for engagement. I'd also point out that it was widely reported that Harper and Layton had a long (and apparently productive) meeting about the budget, so it would appear that Harper actually DOES engage the opposition, it's just the Liberals who refuse to participate.

        • Guess we're looking a thehorse from different angles i suppose…i'm looking at it's fine graceful liberal lines, while you're looking up its a$$…:)

          Ignatieff has said he intends to read the thing first, which is reasonable but we all know that's just to cover his ass. As for engaging Jack…that wouldn't have anything to do with a pending budget and the threat of an election now , would it?

          • Harper also engaged the Bloc in regards to getting the crime bill passed, no? And more to the point, does our system not basically force the government to engage the opposition parties via the committee process? I suspect what most of you Liberals mean when you say you want "engagement", is really that you want Harper to somehow concede defeat on an issue. Which, I think he's made clear, will never happen. I think the opposition could quite easily get him to move on most issues a little bit, but they'll never get him to admit that he has.

          • I'd be happy if most conservatives actually conceeded this is a minority govt, and understand what that means.

          • Doesn't it simply mean he needs to win the support of one of the other parties to pass legislation? Isn't that what he's been doing for five years now?

  3. At this point the Opposition doesn't have to do anything as the govt is falling apart on it's own.

    Mostly they're just getting the absurd statements on record for the country to see.

    • If the government is "falling apart on its own", the opposition can't lose. Send them on their way with a non-confidence vote.

      • No, just let it fall apart.

        • Emily has been offering the same wise words for the past five years. The Conservative goverment has been on it's deathbed since the very day it was born according to her well-tuned politcal antennae.

          • And it's falling apart, in spite of it's cult members.believing otherwise.

          • Well Emily, the cult seems to be growing in membership….43% in the polls?

          • LOL only a cult member would believe that

            Especially after we were warned just last week…by both pollsters and Harper…. not to believe the polls.

          • See….poof, just like that….overnight….Cons have dropped to 36, Libs 28
            http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/canada/breakingn

            I'm sure tomorrow it'll be something different again….the polls aren't reliable

    • As Potter points out the Liberals are making themselves mirror the Conservatives as mockers of the institution of Parliament.
      The opposition never has more of a hold on Parliamentary procedure than it does with a minority government. Instead of accountability they are using it to promote bombastic and childish bickering.
      If Ignatieff can't run an opposition with integrity than do we trust him anymore than Harper? I don't.

      • Libs are mocking Harper, not Parliament. They're doing their job.

        Opposition with integrity?? Did Harp ever have that? Does he now, even in govt? No

    • At this point the Opposition doesn't have to do anything as the govt is falling apart on it's own.

      I don't entirely disagree with this assessment, but I think the problem for the Opposition is that the public doesn't seem to have noticed (or doesn't care) that the government is falling apart on its own.

      • I dunno. We keep being told that Canadians aren't paying attention or don't care….but all our top shows ….Mercer, 22 Mins, the old Air Farce…are about politics….and people wouldn't watch them if they didn't understand them.

        • I take your point, but actually, NONE of our top shows are about politics.

          The most popular shows in Canada are Survivor, Grey's Anatomy, Criminal Minds, American Idol, The Amazing Race, House, CSI, NCIS, The Big Bang Theory and I think another half dozen or so American procedurals and sitcoms until you get to the level of your RMR's and 22 Mins.

  4. Andrew, I am pretty sure they brought forward a motion of contempt, which could very well result in her being booted out of Parliament.

    Not sure how you think this is "degrassi level politics".

    • I dunno, I read "Degrassi" as synonymous with "Awesome," so it just seemed kinda non-sequitor in AP's use.

      • McC_ I agree Degrassi is awesome!

        • Me too! In fact, whenever I see the word "Degrassi" it triggers a warm feeling of nostalgia.

    • And it should stop at that, let the motion run its course, no need for shirts, poems, etc. And then they wonder why people tunes off Ignatieff.

      • Just a clarification. The shirts were actually from kairos, not from the libs, no? Or did i miss something?

        • I am not sure, I thought they were from the Liberals and if kairos were the ones well, bad move!

        • I think the LPC copied KAIROS idea, they have Ts that say KAIROS is NOT going away.

          Come to think of it, what was the last idea the LPC had that wasn't someone elses?.

          • Kairos should never, never be involved with little stunts like that, is very inappropriate, I just found it on their website, if I was their PR, I would of never allowed that, big huge mistake!

  5. Politics is a tough sport, and Michael Ignatieff has been bullied, and continues to be bullied. He's tried getting tough (your time is up), but has continually fallen flat.
    I imagine his ego is not used to being outflanked like this, and while his intellectual bravado may have served him well in civilized debate, he is now in a street fight.
    In my opinion, he has to either push all his chips in, or resign. I think he's watched what happened to Stephane Dion and is afraid to face the humiliation of giving it his all, and then being abandoned in his failure. But this is his own personal Bev Oda moment; either he stands up for what is right and faces it with his head held high, or he plays the part Stephen Harper has scripted for him.
    How can he rain down on Bev Oda when he's metaphorically sharing her umbrella?

    • On the whole i tend to agree as far as Ignatieff goes. Fulfill your promise or get out of the way and let someone tougher have a go. Not sure if this is the hill to die on though?

      • Agreed. But which hill is it? Is he awaiting an absolute gift ala Adscam?
        But it doesn't have to be just this hill. A good politician builds a case. Mr Ignatieff has to assemble a cohesive narrative and sell it to the public. I think the pieces are there.
        What I wonder is if the fear of failure motivates MI in the wrong direction? Is he so scared to lose that he simply fumbles his cards and keeps waiting, and waiting….. for what? Stephen Harper will concede not one inch. There will be no inquiries. No release of honest number projections. No admitting any wrongdoing. Absolutely nothing.

        The opposition needs to build a case and present it to the public. Yes that takes money. But if MI's own ego/fear doesn't allow him to stand up for Canada and give his all, then just where does he stand?

        • Agree.

          Just sent him 100 bucks…do you think that's enough to buy me a future senate seat? After all Duffy got one for just being a #$%^&*

  6. The Liberal's chronic inability to offer any sort of real alternative to the current government is enough to make one want to give up on politics all together. And why in the world are the Liberals diving deeper into the centre-left split, instead of holding and expanding their centre-right coverage? It just blows my mind that they wouldn't position themselves as more fiscally responsible than the current government, given the track record of the past few years, and target those socially-liberal and fiscally-conservative voters.

    All in all, the current Liberal party screams of ineptitude.

    • If voters want conservative they will vote Conservative, even if the Conservatives are not very conservative. You don't win by becoming the 'lite' version of your opponents.

      • No, I'm conservative and I'll probably never vote for Harper again (I admit to voting CPC in 2006 and every prior election) because I think he's incredibly unpredictable and frequently irrational. So there's room for a socially-conservative Liberal candidate who seems trustworthy and rational.

        Unfortunately, that does not appear to be Michael Ignatieff, at least at this juncture.

        The frustration of the Conservative Party of Canada, and previously the Reform and Alliance, is that the Liberal Party gets to play both sides of the centre spectrum, depending on who is in charge.

        • Socially conervative Liberal? God no, they'd lose their base.

          • Oops, I meant fiscally-conservative liberal, of course.

          • I wondered, it seemed totally out of character of you. :-)

          • I used to be socially-conservative, and then I realized just how much of a role "luck" plays in a person's success or failure. The role of a well-developed society, in my opinion, is giving a person a second chance when fate works against them, instead of dooming them to a life of misery from which they can never emerge.

            Apparently that makes me socially-liberal.

  7. Two Opposition parties presented ideas this week about how they would reform democratic representation. Both addressed a core issue with the government, in terms of its reluctance to provide documents that are critical to the decisions before Parliament.

    Both pressed questions of privilege related to the refusal to provide documents on the costing of new jet fighters and the consequences of recent "get tough on crime legislation."

    All three Opposition parties spoke in a debate in the House of Commons that compared Canada to other governments including the US where Congressional Representatives routinely receive reports on the costing of bills.

    You must be talking about the Degrassi School News obsession with Oda, because the Opposition has been criticizing the government, pressing motions, and presenting alternatives, as well as critizing her.

    • The current government has flip-flopped more often than a fish out of water, and you'd think that the Liberals would be able to hold them to account.

      Except they can't, because they're equally guilty. As long as Ignatieff and the Liberals keep chasing the CPC instead of building a policy strategy and sticking to it, they'll constantly be forced to bend their opinions just to remain in 'opposition' to the current government. Right now, they can never say "look, the government is pursuing the policies of the Liberal Party of Canada" because they can't seem to stick to any policies.

      • Policy wise, it's difficult to imagine Iggy being anything but very similar to the current CPC's policy, except without the utter contempt for the political system.

        • I agree, but by not writing anything substantial down in advance, the Liberals provide maximum flexibility to the CPC in dealing with any issue as it arises. I'm not advocating for a Red Book or anything, but if the Liberals at least carved out a few policy niches and stuck with them, they'd really begin to restrict how the CPC could react to a new issue.

          As it stands, the current government is free to wander all about the policy plains, dancing and plucking whichever policy flower happens to smell the prettiest that morning. The Liberals really need to throw up some fences.

          • If the Liberals write them down, the CPC, being bereft of their own ideas, will pick up the Liberal ones and after running them through the spin machine to change the proper nouns used, claim the idea as their own. We've seen it before, and while personally I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, I can understand that Liberals would far rather be the ones receiving credit for their ideas.

          • I wish I could disagree with you, but I can't. However, even if they don't publicize their ideas, they have to at least write them down so they can remain consistent.

          • Wouldn't the goverment be more likley to take policy flowers if the Liberals posited more? Chretien was able to take the more palatable parts of the reform agenda and take the credit for putting them in place. And all harper ever really promised before he got the PMs job was a few lousy tax cuts which he didn't even announce until his campaign.

          • You're right, it's inevitable that Harper would pluck good Liberal ideas and use them for himself, and that probably is less than desirable for the Liberals.

            However, at least the Liberals would then not be forced to be in opposition to a good government idea, since it was theirs first and they had already carved out that niche. I'm sure there are ways to spin someone stealing your idea.

            But you're right, I'm being overly naive. We policy wonks really hate not having policies to analyze.

          • "I'm sure there are ways to spin someone stealing your idea"

            Sure. You can always take the high road: imitation is …and so on.
            By not showcasing policy you run the counter risk of appearing feckless and devoid of ideas. This is pretty well been where the libs have been at until fairly recently.[probably because they really have been devoid of new ideas] Harpers strategy of keeping the puck in your opponents skates and staying as close to him as possible has been pretty effective. You blunt much of the critcism simply by giving the public the broad govt it wants anyway. Meanwhile in the corners you do your real work. I don't know what books Harper has read, but i bet he's read Machiavelli.

          • "I'm sure there are ways to spin someone stealing your idea"

            Of course there is ways, I have always said that Ignatieff needs to take a very bold move to change the game because at this point he has nothing to loose, and it is possible.

          • And yet Iggy would almost certainly make the better PM. It's a strange contradiction.

            You'd think a good does of Mulroney's "Don't compare me to perfecttion, compare me to the other guy" would put Iggy 10 points up….

  8. Organized and ruthless beats incompetence every time. The Liberals are incompetent.

    • In what ways do you consider the government to be "organized?"

      • No one says anything without a sign-off from the PMO. No one talks to a reporter or makes an announcement without a MEP. The government is as organized–and more inefficient–as it's ever been in history.

        • The traditional feed back channels to the public aren't open anymore. Little or no foot in the mouth ministers stuff or breaking scandals or outing of simply bad policy. Not just because there aren't any but largely because the infomation is so tightly controlled. In a way its pure genius; cut off the flow of oxygen to the media and the public, just make sure your positive spin gets out there.It's an understandable instinct in a new and inexperienced new govt. Except now it's working so well, why bother changing anything? The media try to do their best, but they are always hungry so eventually they'll begin to accept whatever scraps are tossed them – however putrid they are.

          • I agree. The issue is that they become more and more insulated from the public with this approach. I hate the word 'sustainability' because it's lost all real meaning in our world, but I definitely believe that they are on an unsustainable path if they keep controlling information like this.

            In the policy area in which I work, I've seen no new ideas coming out of the current government. Since they are also actively stifling the voices of various NGO's, industry groups, and consumer advocates, they're really not listening to anyone. This is fine for a few years, but such a level of policy protectionism is bound to end up biting them sooner or later as they're caught flat-footed on an issue.

        • true

  9. This scandal is pretty difficult to follow unless you are an avid political junkie / Macleans.ca blog reader. Try explaining this to your average voter in a 30 second elevator ride…

    This is just more evidence of how insular the Federal liberals are.

    • 'Cons have just been charged with cheating to win an election, which puts the whole election in doubt. '

      Wouldn't even take 10 seconds to say that on an elevator.

      • cheating to win an election, which puts the whole election in doubt

        LOL. Unfortunately, most people in elevators aren't gullible enough to fall for that whopper.

        • Well I don't travel in elevators with Con cult members.

          • Heh. I'm sure you're very discriminating about who you "travel" in elevators with, Emily.

            I'm afraid your elevator journeys are going to be very lonely if you imagine that everyone with a functioning BS detector is a "cultist".

          • I don't normally travel in elevators at all, and when I do no one discusses politics.

            Strange place you live in. But then cultists are strange to begin with.

          • I don't normally travel in elevators at all, and when I do no one discusses politics.

            Sigh. You must be pretty scattered if you've already forgotten the premise of this whole thread. Read up a few comments if you need to be reminded why we're talking about elevator rides.

          • I'm aware of the topic…you aren't discussing it. You're discussing me. Stop it.

          • Okay. Here's my elevator pitch.

            "A Minister lied, got caught, and the Prime Minister is letting her get away with it?"

            That's 5 seconds.

        • While the votes cast are still the votes cast, it must have pleased the CPC to know that even if they were caught, the damage of violating the spending cap would already be done and couldn't be properly rectified.

        • Presumably you're referring to "which puts the whole election in doubt " as the "whopper", and not the whole line, correct? (and I agree that's a whopper, as in-and-out hardly puts the whole election in doubt!)

          Because Conservatives have actually been charged with cheating, and presumably they didn't cheat (if they did) in order to help them LOSE the election.

    • It's pretty simple. A minister forged a document and lied to Parliament about it to make it appear that the bureaucracy recommended an action it did not in order to conceal a politically motivated policy.

      • At a more basic level, it is further evidence that the government doesn't intend to be forthright about their policies and intend to execute a 'hidden' agenda by implementing policies by stealth. I say 'hidden' because anyone who's paying attention knows what the agenda is, the problem is that the government swears up and down that they have no interest in this policy agenda. They lie about it because they know it's unpopular and could cost them power. It's anti-democratic.

      • I don't even think you have to use the somewhat controversial characterization "forged". Even if Oda was honestly attempting to convey what she claims to have been attempting to convey, and nothing more, imho the way in which she did so exhibits such incredibly gross incompetence that I'd want her to resign for that alone.

    • Yeah, so this Bev Oda lady, she first gives funding to some religious group, then turns around and writes "NOT" on it, like 7 million dollars is some kind of MTV joke or something. THEN when the government asks her what the hell happened, she was like "Wasn't me boss!" and lies to the gov't about it for some six months before they finally drag it out of her. Now Harper's saying that's all perfectly cool and he's happy to have her there. I mean, seriously, is that the best he can do?

      • Yeah, like, WTF man!

    • Try explaining this to your average voter in a 30 second elevator ride…

      "A Minister screwed up by misleading everybody about a decision she either made or was forced to make. She knowingly made everyone believe she was just following the bureacrats' advice, which was false. A Minister lying in Parliament should be fired or should resign."

      How's roughly 15 seconds for ya?

      • Unless it's some sort of super fast elevator, I think that's pretty darned good!

    • "This scandal is pretty difficult to follow unless you are an avid political junkie / Macleans.ca blog reader. Try explaining this to your average voter in a 30 second elevator ride…"

      A Minister of the Crown ordered the word "not" inserted into a signed recommendation AFTER it had been signed by those making the recommendation. How'd I do?

      I'm still a little shocked that that ALONE (whether taken as an indication of a deliberate attempt to deceive, or simply as an indication of gross incompetence) isn't sufficient for the Minister to resign. In the good old days of true Ministerial responsibility, Ministers resigned for a lot less.

      • MYL did much better than me!

  10. Ignatieff, like Stephane Dion before him, has a gun with one bullet in it.

    There are sound reasons (and moral reasons) for forcing an election at this time. Unfortunately, for better or worse, the Oda issue, and its implications for the Canadian democratic system, do not resonate with ordinary voters. Canada's democracy has not yet been curtailed enough to influence the day-to-day lives of most voters. Especially voters in Conservative ridings, and double especially voters in swing ridings (who are about to get a dose of the Full Muskoka – i.e. lots of spending in order to win them over).

    The question that needs to be asked is this: what happens if Ignatieff has the stones to force an election, and the results are exactly the same Parliament that we have now (which is what the polls are showing)? What happens then, after the one bullet has been fired? Can Ignatieff threaten another election, and another, and another?

    The Conservatives' obvious contempt for Canadian democracy and their obsessive need for centralized control scare the bejeezus out of many of us – but, unfortunately, most of us scared people live in ridings that are already not Conservative. So we are, effectively, powerless to do anything about it. What can we do – vote against the Conservatives twice?

    The real question in the upcoming election is whether enough Canadians whose regional inclinations or political inclinations tend to lean Conservative are willing to overlook the Conservatives' flouting of democracy in order to elect a government that is sympathetic to their views. It could very well be the case that a majority of Canadian voters simply don't care whether Canadian democratic institutions are preserved. In which case, we will truly get the government that we deserve: one man rule.

    • Well said. AP is being IMO a little naive. Real world conservative voters wont just weigh the sins of Oda on some sliding moral scales. They will also consider the, on the other hand question. In essence is this enough to negate my heartfelt dislike of liberal govts? People don't make moral judgements in a vacuum. My guess would be the libs would be ill advised to go to the polls on this question alone; they had better have some good reasons why they should govern.

    • If the next parliament is essentially the same as the old parliament, I hope that the opposition has the courage to defeat the first throne speech as soon as it is presented. This should be done, if only to stop this insane cycle from repeating once again, a la Groundhog Day.

      I really can't imagine the current GG not approaching the official opposition and asking if they are prepared to try and form a government.

      • This is only practical if the Liberals and NDP have enough seats combined to form a majority on their own. Any official opposition-led government that included Bloc support would be unpopular, to put it mildly – even if, as was the case with the ill-fated Dion coalition, the Bloc was not actually part of the government in any way. Some hard-core Conservative supporters would likely be willing to resist a Liberal-NDP-Bloc government up to and including civil unrest. And the Conservatives would likely encourage them – they are willing to do whatever it takes to gain or maintain power. (This, I think, is why the GG agreed to prorogue the government back then.)

        And, if the next Parliament is the same as the old Parliament, the Conservatives would have a new weapon in their arsenal: the Canadian public's genuine dislike of repeated elections and endless politicking. The Conservatives would not hesitate to use this weapon – the bad old days of making every vote a confidence vote would likely return.

        Despite all this, I think you may be right – defeating the first throne speech might be the best option.

        • I think this should really be the li/ndps default stategy really.[ you're right about discounting the bloc, no matter it is perfectly legit - Harper has made that option toxic for everyone] Fight the elction, hope to win a plurality of seats and vote down the throne speech. Maybe they should even dare to drop hints of such an option during the election? I know conventional wisdom says otherwise and the risk is there that you drive swing voters toward a con majority.[But it should also galvanize the anti-Harper voters]
          So what! That's democracy! It's brave! And the worst case scenario is preferable to another go round of minority circus acts.

          • I think you have bought in to the concept that anyone but the Conservatives require a formal coalition in order to govern, when in fact no agreement implied or otherwise is actually required. Forget about the whole coalition concept, it is a canard of the Conservatives.

            If a party, any party, presents a throne speech they will live or die on its contents. And any opposition party that defeats a 'reasonable' throne speech and forces a quick election may not be popular with the electorate for initiating another $300M election.

            So, defeating the first throne speech could put the onus on the GG to work something out, defeating the second throne speech, could put the onus on the opposition. (If played correctly.)

          • I get your point re: coalitions and con canards – it's agood one. You seem to have lost me somewhere in the minutiae of parliamentary proceedure; what is the diff between the ist and second throne speech? I thought it was the reply to the TS that was really crucial.

          • Sorry, if I wasn't clear…

            Under this scenario, the 1st throne speech would be the Conservative one that gets defeated. The 2nd one would be the opposition party that attempts to replace it.

          • I'm with you now. That's a very good point about the coalition canard of the cons – and i to my shame had bought it too, or at least i had until now.

        • If the throne speech is defeated, surely the GG would sense that Canadian's would not like to go immediately in to another election. He could go to the number 2 party, and say "Would you attempt to form a government?" The number 2 party, could certainly try. They don't need to agree to a coalition with anyone.

          All they have to do is present a throne speech and survive a confidence vote. If it is defeated by one of three other parties, then blame may rest with the opposition, and I suppose we would have to go to the polls.

          However, if it was the Conservatives that triggered the non-confidence vote under this scenario, perhaps they would hold the blame.

  11. The Liberals need the speakers ruling on Oda. The Liberals need the courts to rule on in&out. Until these things happen, these events are simply noise to the Canadian public.

    When I was younger, I thought the general consensus of the press could act as an arbiter of reality for those not paying full attention to politics. That is certainly not the case now, the Conservatives are certainly capable of outshouting everyone including the mainstream press, and as noted by Potter have no shame in shouting either outright lies or irrelevant truths in response to legitimate questions. Moreover, the press is splintered into a large and loud partisan right, a fluffy and relatively ineffective partisan left and a confused nonpartisan centre.

    In any case, the current Conservatives didn't invent this set of tactics, they are just better at it, a whole lot better. However, Chretien was better than Mulroney who was better than Trudeau. That said, the ability of Baird & co. to clearly state black is white and up is down is perhaps unprecedented (Chretien at least had to decency to lapse into incoherence during his mistruths, while Mulroney often told a nice story instead of answering.) That said, the difference in this government's dishonesty compared with previous government when facing embarrassment comes down more to style than anything else.

    What is quite different is the strategic approach of the Conservative party to dis-information. Comments and actions have made it clear they do not believe in merely mitigating the damage from their bad behaviour, rather their war room is capable of converting the worst screw-ups into their best assets. So far they have been remarkably successful, most of the achievements that Harper supporters point to as his legacy are in fact based in missteps, mistakes and plain f-ups.

  12. Couldn't agree less AP, although your point re: the opposition also having an eject/reset button is taken. Let see what is likely to happen here in the non theorectical world. We head to an election over the Oda conspiracy.
    Dear public… Ms. Oda has caused us to lose the confidence of the house, we think she should go.
    Public…mmm, yes we agree.
    Libs… Under the cabinet solidarity covention of one for all and all for one we think you should turf this whole govt and put us[ libs] in instead.
    Public…but are you guys up to the job?
    Libs…i i i i… think so?
    Public…mmmm
    Possible outcome…cons relected.
    Message sent and received…the public does care, but not enough if the opposition isn't ready to govern.

    I know this sounds like excusing cowardice and i'm one of the loudest critics of liberal cowardice on these boards. But please answer that question for me AP. What is the consequence of voting NC on such an issue if you know the public likely will agree with you, but not enough to actually elect you? Is that really the only appropriate tool to reach for whenever the govt sins too much?

    • I have some question for the Liberals.

      Where is the honour in posturing & blustering but refusing to meaningfully oppose a government that you claim is unworthy of the role?

      Do you think it has escaped the notice of the public that the one and only time you found the collective will to stand up to this government was the time that your own funding was threatened?

      Do you think that your survival as a party is more important than the future of the country?

      Are you not concerned about how the public would answer that last question?

      • It does kinda seem sometimes like Harper is Paul Bernardo and the Liberals are the cops who could have done a better job catching Paul Bernardo.

        • Nice. Stay classy Mike T.

          • Let's not forget who the bad guys actually are, eh?

          • People who compare our Prime Minister to a serial killer?

      • I can't fault your logic except on one point. My personal view is that the libs have cravenly passed on many opportunities to take a stand for liberal values [ faint hope was a case for me.In fact much of their response to the soft on crime saga has been pathetic] in favour of surviving to fight another day. As a consequence they have survived, but it has not gone unnoticed that this definitely leaves the impression with the public as well as us bloggers, that they value their skins over and above the good of the country – this is the pay-off for political cowardice.
        On the Oda affair though, i see no value to martyrdom. There are other tools available.

    • Correction: if you know the public likely will agree with you, but not enough to throw out the current government.

      In other words, the people might dislike what's happening with the Oda affair (and other things like the census, etc), but overall, they're not so dissatisfied that they're ready to turf the government.

      Still, it puts MI in a tough place if he's not willing to propose an alternativet. The Liberals hoot and howl over everything the government does, but A) they're not willing to throw out the Tories by voting non-confidence, and B) they're not proposing any substantive policies of their own.

      • Your last point is dated.

        Not everything need be a matter of NC. Still, they have missed many opportunities due to lack of will, money, conviction, planes unavailable…take your pick.

  13. Government ministers are drawn from the membership of the House.

    Did anyone else notice this line from AP? It was my understanding that anyone could be a minister, not just MPs. Wasn't that how Fortier became a minister? He wasn't an MP, he was a senator.

    • It's an unwritten rule if I remember my poli-sci class properly.

      I could be way off though.

      • "Long-standing Convention" is probably the term you're looking for.

        • Long standing tradition that they're USUALLY drawn from the House. If it wasn't, there'd be more criticism of doing it. Harper did catch some flak, but not a lot of it was "you're parting ways with a tried and true part of our parliamenty process".

          A small point, I know, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

    • If I am not mistaken, he didn't even need to be a Senator. You are quite right, Mike514.

  14. I'm very often considered to be an idealistic romantic but you, Mr Potter, take the cake!

    At least the Liberals know they ond't stand a chance if an election writ were to drop anytime soon. You seem content to think that no matter what, principles rule the day. Unfortunately that's not the truth; if it were the case the CPC would be a laughing stock after all they've pulled.

    The reality of it is that they aren't: they're stronger than ever. Why? Does it really matter? They know what buttons to push and they're supporters are willfully blind to ther shortcomings. People are akin politics to sports and everybody loses when that happens.

    • Olivier it is fine to suggest that the conservatives supporters are "willfully blind to their shortcommings" but I ask you why according to the latest polls are these supporters growing in numbers? Despite the scandals, the opposition parties are not using an effective means to convince Canadians that the wrong party is running the country. If the strategy they are using is not working, it is time to change it.

      • Propaganda is a hell of a drug.

      • I said that because I feel that people who identify themselves as "right-wing" don't care about the issues surrounding the CPC: all they care about is sticking it to the Liberals. That's the core supporters: no one is winning them over unless the CPC does something really, really bad. So that 30% vote is theirs to lose, nothing the opposition can do about it.

        As far as the undecided voters or the center (be it right or left) ones they seem to be attracted to results. The opposition can hammer away at the Oda situation or the Elections fraud, but it wil be to no avail. It's quite simple really, as serious as the issues might be, they don't resonate with "regular" people. All they see is the opposition grasping for straws and that it turn makes them look foolish and discredits them.

        Politics is all about perception. And unfortunately the majority of people don't understand politics very well.

        • But the Opposition is grasping at straws!

          What the average voter does understand, and understands very well, is the fact that sometimes, when running a hectic schedule, things can go wrong. Have you never made a mistake? Oda made a mistake, a pretty big mistake at that, but everyone with a little bit of working experience knows that human errors do occur. Oda did not benefit personally in any shape or form. Much, much different from the sponsorship scandal which was all about personal gain. The working class understands the difference between doling out government money to friends, or making the mistake of instructing an aid in a hurry. We've all been there, done that – and I don't mean taking illegal cash.

          People are very much in tune with the Oda affair. It's the main stream media which is not in tune with this one.

    • Could principles not still be ruling the day even in a scenario in which the Liberals are blasting the CPC but refusing to bring them down.

      After all, if you believe the Tories are doing an absolutely awful job, and hurting the country, is it "principled" to force an election that might give them a stronger grip on power?

      Think of Iran. We criticize their regime, but our criticism is not less valid because we're not doing everything possible (i.e. invasion) to topple said regime. That's because the reason we're not doing everything possible to topple the regime is that we believe that attacking the regime would actually STRENGTHEN their hold over the people (creating a sense of us vs. them and all) rather than weakening it.

  15. I don't know what to think about this.

    One the one hand, I agree that the way the Conservatives have handled the Oda affair is awful, and breaks probably a handful of their promises on accountability.

    But on the other hand…the Conservatives didn't invent the whole "cabinet solidarity" business. It is what it is. I'm sorry but this issue simply doesn't justify an election, and I can't really fault the Liberals for not forcing one over it. Yes, she altered a document (or ordered it altered, doesn't matter which) in a non-kosher way and misled the House about it, and is now hiding almost entirely behind John Baird. All definitely wrong. But in the context that it was done (i.e. in order to reverse a decision to fund an NGO with $7M)…so what? Yes it was a transgression, but in the grand scheme of things it's a pretty trivial one that again, like In and Out, doesn't resonate 50 feet away from the Hill.

    If it's true that 60-70% of Canadians don't want an election right now…would you want to wear the blame for triggering an election over a micro-scandal like this? There needs to be a middle ground between "We support the government" and "We are going to overthrow the government and force an election NOW". Not sure how we get there, but I agree with the implicit position taken by the Liberals so far, which is that forcing an election over this would be the greater evil.

    • One the one hand, I agree that the way the Conservatives have handled the Oda affair is awful, and breaks probably a handful of their promises on accountability.

      I would only edit that to add "breaks probably ANOTHER handful of their promises on accountability".

  16. The Liberals have a leader who is not trusted by the majority of his own party supports. They are financially weak and can't really prove a fight that will get the Liberals to a majority. The fact that they can't seem to make anything of these scandals is surprising. I've never been impressed by the Liberal front bench, who seem to get their positions through anything but their own merit.

  17. Liberals,

    try for a moment to understand an average Canadian, who goes week to week to pay the bills, worries about the security of their jobs, their level of pay so they can put their kids in swimming lessons, the value of their RRSP which is all they'll have to live on in a few years, their sick parent who needs a hip replacement.

    Try to get out of your partisan, insular hate Harper bubble.

    Maybe, just maybe, you'll understand why this issue won't move Canadians.

    Don't blame voters for being rational actors, blame youselves for being out of touch hyperpartisans.

    Now, on with shaking your collective heads as to why this "scandal" isn't sticking.

    • the liberals are the only ones discussing pensions, healthcare and jobs. In fact, thats all they have talked about for a year.

      What you are confusing, is the media coverage.

  18. Given the above realities of Canadians,

    and the fact that under Harper, Canada's GDP is out performing expectations, has survived the greatest recession in our lifetimes better than most, the auto sector is again producing jobs,

    Harper will crush the faux scandal chasing liberals in the next election. Liberals don't even like Iggy – the man who was foisted on the party by the Liberal elite to think average Canadians will change horses to this man, given the bigger economic picture is pure fantasy.

    Pure fantasy.

  19. The libs need another Chretien. But where oh where are they going to find one?

  20. Andrew Potter: What a delight to read this piece. No slurrs, no unnecessary innuendos. Just insightful thoughts shared. What a pleasure.

    You say: "The government does stuff, the rest of the House holds it to account. At election time, voters can decide how they feel about it." One cannot disagree on that.

    You say: "The Conservatives have made their position clear, and they've thrown it down. Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals have utterly failed to pick it up."

    I say: the Liberal troubles follow from a generational "farm"take-over not completed. The old generation, the Chretienites, and the new generation under leadership of Ignatieff, have not made a clear enough cut. The current Liberals are standing with one leg in the old generation and with one leg in the new generation. They should have completed the cut in 2008, after the last election, instead of scrambling for a botched coalition effort and a leadership crowning to get them out of the coalition mess. They should have decided then, so that they could have been ready now to act as adults in control of their farm.

  21. Interesting analysis, TimesArrow and LdKitchenersOwn: it has crossed my mind that Harper learned a thing or two from political savy Chretien. But, hey, how interesting: LdKitchenersOwn says Harper is more like Chretien and TimesArrow wants another Chretien but not in the form of Harper. This is funny!! Two men working themselves into a corner. In public. Good stuff.

    • I was actually quite pleased myself when the Liberals were replaced by a party that said it was going to do things differently.

      My mistake was assuming they meant it.

      • Yeah, well, good intentions can't always come true. Yes, the Tories have made mistakes, some more serious than others, but nothing really out of the ordinary. Nothing over the top.

        There really is no perfection out there. My wish, for Canada's sake, is that the BQ will be dealt with electorially in one way or another. Once that is done, Canadian politics will become more interesting and more real. The BQ is what messes up our system. Not only for the Tories but for the Liberals likewise.

  22. I am pretty upset, LKO…

  23. Hahaha no kidding and they better hope Harper isn't PM much longer because they are toast…

    But seriously though, I really believe that an organization like that needs to keep neutral, why put your self in a position where is questionable what your doing, politics either way don't play a good role and I bet you the t-shirt business isn't making them a lot of money either. So this little stunt will cost them more in the long run.

  24. There is a small fallacy in Potter's reasoning. The problem is that the Governor General (our version of the King) is obliged to follow the recommendations of the Prime Minister. So, if the opposition voted against the government, this would lead to elections, rather simply the GG asking the leader of the opposition to form a government. This makes our system of government much more complex than Potter's explanation.

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