Over on her l’Actualité blog, Chantal Hébert takes such a mighty swipe at Scott Reid that I’m left wondering whether it’s 2004 and I wrote the blog post. “A good example of the wishful thinking that prevails in Michael Ignatieff’s palace guard,” she writes, and “to say the least, rich in intellectual shortcuts.”
Ha! Yeah. Go get ‘im, Chantal! Actually, I have a hard time summoning quite as much dudgeon against Scott today as I have, on occasion, in the past. The former Paul Martin communication director’s piece on the Globe website today is at least as much of a caution against wishful thinking as a case of it. Cooperation or merger between political parties with a long history of deep antagonism is a perilous exercise. Stephen Harper managed it in 2003 because his movement, and the rival Progressive Conservatives, had a 10-year history of grinding defeat behind them and the prospect of still worse ahead (recall that this was when Paul Martin looked like trouble for his opponents). In the absence of forceful leadership and widespread despair, it’s likelier that traditional rivalries would hamper any talks. (In 2008, of course, the opposition parties had widespread despair — the prospect of having their government funding cut off — and still foundered on the lack of forceful leadership.)
As for Reid’s (admittedly lame-sounding on the face of it) advice that all the Liberal party needs as an alternative to coalition-building is to “do better,” it must be admitted that recent leaders haven’t exactly worn that option out yet.
I must say, however, that his distinction between pre-election cooperation and post-election cooperation is harder to draw these days than it used to be in the age of 3 to five calm majority years between elections. Is this a pre-election period? It needn’t be; it’s possible to imagine that there’ll be no election before autumn of 2011. This could be part of the same post-election coming-to-terms that began, for the NDP, during the 2008 campaign and continued, for the Liberals, with every member of the caucus endorsing the notion of a coalition in writing several weeks after the 2008 vote.
Anyway. I’d encourage you to read Reid’s piece, and to read or Google-translate Hébert’s smack back. Remember in January of 2009 when Stephen Harper said he’d run against “the coalition” whether the opposition parties wanted to run as such or not? And everyone said he was just making stuff up? There’s probably about 20 prominent Liberals who’ve made pro-coalition noises in the past 10 days, and dozens more — including Michael Ignatieff — who’ve endorsed the notion in writing before that. I am here to tell you the Conservative Party of Canada is diligently recording every such utterance for future use. The toothpaste is well and truly out of this tube, indeed it is flying all over the living room, and not all the ingenuity of the Liberals’ current leader will put it back in time for the next election.