Iggy’s choice


Last week, Michael Ignatieff publicly and semi-publicly endorsed the coalition and Stephane Dion. Reluctantly or not, he signed his name to the deal in a letter to the Governor General. He is now widely assumed to be less than enthusiastic about leading a coalition government. And Stephen Harper is making public overtures in his direction.

So which will it be? Will he side with the coalition he still contractually stands behind? Or will he entertain negotiations with a Prime Minister his party has damned as completely unworthy of trust? Split the difference and abstain from a budget vote, you say?

“I can’t assure you of anything,” Mr. Ignatieff said when the economic statement was introduced. “I’ll just tell you what I know about the mood of my party.  We are tired of sitting down. Is that clear?”

If you remove that from the list then, the choices are fairly straightforward. Negotiation. Coalition (or Election). And therein lies the first real test of Ignatieff’s leadership.

The pivotal test of the American election is supposed to have been the economic crisis. John McCain moved dramatically and, it would turn out, hopelessly. He aimed to seem decisive. He ended up seeming dizzy. Conversely, Obama was “Mr. Cool.” He was engaged, but calm. He appeared relaxed, confident and in control. 

The easy comparisons would be of McCain to Bob Rae and Obama to Ignatieff. That is perhaps what the Ignatieff team means to project. But then there’s a thin line between calm and distant. And where Obama had only to appear in control, win an election and then prepare for decisions he will not be in a position to make until January, Ignatieff has to make decisions imminently. Liberal caucus will meet tomorrow. The “campaign” pitting the coalition against Harper is well underway. If the Liberals hope to win public support for the coalition, they will have to do so enthusiastically, unequivocally and immediately.

Negotiating with the Prime Minister might be the statesmanlike thing to do, but then what of Mr. Ignatieff’s previous commitments?

The coalition might be the principled thing to pursue, but then what of Ignatieff’s relative silence these last few days?

There is surely still opportunity for him to show honourable, reasonable leadership. But it seems at this moment he has left himself a remarkably narrow path to get there. So narrow you might have a difficult time imagining said path’s precise parameters. But then perhaps that’s why Ignatieff is leader and you are not.


Iggy’s choice

  1. I think he will “negotiate”, claim victory and vote in favour of whatever the budget says, and then get ready for an election in winter/spring 2010…

  2. If Harper ( or Layton ) gives him a way out, he’ll take it.

  3. We may not know right away. It was a major strategic error to talk up a coalition 7 days prior to the non-confidence vote. It gave time for Harper to plot his strategy to run away from a parliamentary vote he could not win.

  4. Don’t care, won’t be voting for him.

  5. Thank you , K-Mart. Now if you could perhaps persuade your buddies who clearly hate the Liberals to stop with the ever so helpful advice ……….

  6. Are we seriously debating what Iggy is going to do? If one considers how Iggy has behaved in the past, it seems pretty obvious that he will support the Tories. If Harper actually puts out a half-decent budget, Iggy will claim it as a victory and support the govt.

    There is simply no way that Iggy will align himself with the NDP. Iggy is to the right of the center. And he can ill afford to plunge straight into an election that the Libs can’t afford.

    If Harper so much as puts $1 towards a stimulus package, Iggy will support him.

  7. As a Conservative supporter, I would rather see Rae in charge; the Tories would cream him in an election. I’m not so sure the same would be true about Ignatieff.

  8. Iggy will not be able to side with Harper in January. I don’t think his caucus would allow it.

  9. Excellent blog Aaron. I think the best thing that Mr. Ignatieff could do to preserve LPC unity would be to enthusiastically back the coalition. The Liberal base needs some read meat to soothe any hurt feelings over how Mr. Ignatieff won the leadership. What do I mean by red meat? Harper’s head on a stick.

  10. I expect that Ignatieff will attempt to negotiate with Harper, who also has a lot riding on this. Until anger turned towards the coalition, it was directed at Harper for creating this mess through his hyperpartisan attempts to destroy his enemies in a time of economic crisis. If negotiations fail with Ignatieff, the public may well conclude that Harper cannot work with anyone.

  11. What does Ignatieff stand for.
    What do Liberals stand for?

    Apart from holding the reins of power and taking all the perquisites that come with it, it has never been clear.

  12. Jeff J – Your confusion is because the Liberals are not and never have been an ideological party (or at least not for a very long time now). They are a big-tent, centrist and pragmatic party. We are not tied-down to any pre-conceived ideology. We do what is necessary to do, we do what we believe to be in the best interests of our country.

    There is a philosophical core to the Liberal Party. You may want to google the terms “liberalism” and “reform liberalism”. Basically we believe in freeing individuals to maximize their full potential, although we recognize that, because of structural inequalities within society and the market, the government has an important role to play in ensuring equality of opportunity for all citizens. But one of the things you realize when you hold power (and the Liberals have held power a lot!) is that there is no road map on how to govern. One must shift as circumstances change. This NOT the same thing as being unprincipled, it just means being non-ideological.

  13. “Or will he entertain negotiations with a Prime Minister his party has damned as completely unworthy of trust?”

    He gets three choices (the 4th one likely is not on the table if the GG can reads poll).

    Trust Harper
    Trust the Budget
    Trust the Voters

    Even for a Liberal, surely he can trust one of them.

  14. Michael – The GG doesn’t read polls. She has a mind of her own and staff of non-partisan experts on constitutional procedure.

  15. Until quite recently, and possibly still today, the Liberals are the only party (viable party) to champion rational or even sane environmental policies. That was Dion’s stellar achievement, and was probably the closest this country will ever come to a rational solution to the environmental mess we’re kicking down the road, along with the fiscal cesspool, for the Canadians as yet unborn. And the CT would manage it without increasing taxes, but merely by shifting taxes from labour to pollution. More than a good idea, and I’m sure it was why Dion signed with the NDP and the Bloc. Both parties support enviromentalism and would probably have agreed to some variation of the CT or Green Shift. Right there is Harper’s achilles heel. The Cons have no environmental policy, beyond “What Have Future Generations Ever Done For Us?” Might not be sexy; might even be a tough sell, but it’s one of those issues that transcend normal politics.

  16. Yes I sold the Liberal soul by agreeing to govern with the seperatists,

    but I was “cool” about it.

    That’ll work.

    Iggy will soon learn that in a world beyond tenured academia, actions matter, decisions have to be made, and rarely is one allowed to have it both ways.

    Trying to have it both ways seems to be Iggy’s stock in trade.

    He’s an American there, but that’s “nonsense” here. He was for torture, but not really. Sort of supported the Green Shift but seemed to keep one foot in the door to oppose it.

    Supported the coalition, but, hey, he was the last one to sign it.

    In many ways he’s a perfect illustration of what’s wrong with the Liberals today. The only thing he really stands for is his desire for power.

  17. kody – Ezra Levant is that you? Or…is it possible…is that actually you Stephen Harper? Coming up with these idiotic talking points/attacks must be how you relax when parliament is prorogued.

  18. Ignatieff will support the Conservative budget. Great opportunity to say that he put partisan interests aside to pass a good budget for the country and avoid an election he can’t really afford. If Harper had any sense, he would make it very obvious that he consulted Ignatieff for the budget and claim that he learned from past mistakes and was able to check his partisan instincts at the door as well.

  19. sbt – defeating Harper’s budget will not trigger an election. Not as long as the coalition option is still on the table at least.

  20. Wait! Wait! I just figured out who “kody” really is. Karl Rove! it makes perfect sense. He must be looking for work now that W is finally out of there.

  21. some crazy ideas

    Ignatieff talks with Harper and Harper genuinely drops the ideological far point position. Iggy says, “I can help, but I want some things:”

    1) A public apology from Harper for being a petty, bitter, small-minded ideologue.

    2) Conservative cabinet seat for Bob Rae.

  22. If Harper has a stimulus, “thanks Mr. Harper – rather than shove the country into disarray caused by partisan bickering, I’ll support the budget since you came to your senses and put in a stimulus.”

    No stimulus = election.

    The coalition is dead.

  23. I’ve just been watching Stephen Harper’s interview with Peter Mansbridge. It’s crystal clear now. If Ignatieff keeps that man in power it will tell me all I need to know about his judgment.

  24. I think he will “negotiate”, claim victory and vote in favour of whatever the budget says, and then get ready for an election in winter/spring 2010…

    Then he also has to accept his pro-rata share of the blame for whatever the budget says, including the Mother of All Deficits.

  25. Apart from holding the reins of power and taking all the perquisites that come with it, it has never been clear.

    Unlike those paragons of clarity, the Harper Conservatives, who were against deficit budgets before they were for them, for free votes in the House of Commons until they were against them, for an elected Senate until they were indifferent about it, against patronage until they became the patrons, against special recognition of Quebec until they were for it, for governing with the support of the BQ until they were against it, against including resource revenues in the equalization formula until they were (50%) for it, against taxing income trusts until they were for it, and so on, and so on.

  26. “sbt – defeating Harper’s budget will not trigger an election. Not as long as the coalition option is still on the table at least.”

    You’re assuming that Ignatieff wants to lead a coalition government. Ignatieff has been pretty critical of the Liberal move to the left so why would he move the party even further left by forming a coalition with the NDP?

    Ignatieff’s gameplan will probably be to let Harper pass his budget claiming that Canadians need something passed. It will make him seem less partisan which is what many people are looking for after this fiasco. It will help make people who switched to the Conservatives from the Liberals in the last couple of elections more at ease with him (and these are people the Liberals really need to win back to the party). And if the economy tanks, Harper will be fighting the winds of change and Ignatieff is the only other viable option to replace him. He’ll then go into an election where he has a pretty good chance of winning the most seats since people will need to vote Liberal if they want Harper out because he has already rejected a coalition in the past.

    “Then he also has to accept his pro-rata share of the blame for whatever the budget says, including the Mother of All Deficits.”

    And the coalition isn’t going to have a deficit and won’t be blamed for it if they take power? Better to blame Harper for putting the Liberals in this position where they had to go into to deficit to bail out hard-working Canadians.

  27. Jean
    No kody’s not levant [Gunter or any of those guys – not viscious enough ]. I be lieve he’s one of the janitors at the PMO. He’s just going through the waste baskts and having a hell of a time winding you up. Watch out kody, if you get caught you might have to come up with something original.

  28. kc – ha!

  29. @Aaron, Re: “The easy comparisons would be of McCain to Bob Rae and Obama to Ignatieff.”

    “Easy”? No. Lazy journalism? Yes.

    How about doing some research on, I don’t know… Rae and Ignatieff, instead of making hopelessly fallacious comparisons?

  30. Modern Liberals have no relationship to the liberalism of John Stuart Mill or Adam Smith, and they wouldn’t know who they are anyway let alone understand their philosophies.

    I asked what Liberals stand for and the reply I get is goobledy gook about big tents and what Liberals are not. Well Barnum and Bailey used to operate in big tents and running a circus is about as close as I’ll get to an answer on what Liberals stand for.

    Liberals will continue their death march to extinction while they put another stampede for power ahead of the interests of Canadians, but then they’ll be being consistent because that’s what they’ve always done.

    As Mike Harris said, “if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything”. He could have been talking about federal Liberals.

  31. I don’t know what Iggie will do. I do know however what i do not want to see anymore. No more hollow threats to bitch slap Harper. No more false bravado. No more delusional , laughable threats to unseat Harper on an almost daily basis.A reaistic consistent plan to respond to Harper. Somehow the Liberal party has allowed itself to be hemmed into the losers corner, and believe me the public know it. I sincerely hope this party can b great again.

  32. Jeff J – The difference between us is that you see the Liberals lack of ideological purity/rigidity as some kind of failing, while I see it as perfectly healthy and an asset.

    Also if you wanted to be completely consistent you would explain to us what profound ideology the Conservatives stand for, and be willing to argue that Harper has never compromised on those principles in order to get and hold on to power.

  33. And the coalition isn’t going to have a deficit and won’t be blamed for it if they take power?

    You get one free year of blaming everything on the previous government.

    Well, unless you’re the John Baird Conservatives, in which case everything from the state of the masonry on the West Block, to male pattern baldness, is the fault of thirteen years of Liberal waste and corruption, Mr. Speaker, they just didn’t get it done.

  34. I’ll give you a helping hand. Harper stands for exactly one principle: destroy whoever stands in my way.

  35. jeff j
    Harris didn’t say anything of the sort. He like this crop of consevatives never had an original idea in his life.
    [it was an english author whose name escapes me]

  36. Acclimation of a party leader who will become the leader of the official opposition and has designs on becoming pres… err prime minister no less. Better work. When you acclimate someone you’re basically saying “this is all we have, there isn’t anyone better to be had”.

  37. Iggy’s best course is to calmly entertain whatever Harper offers and find it lacking. Seize on any misstep by Harper in terms of overblown rhetoric and point to his bitter partisanship as a sign that this PM continues to be inflexible and unwilling to compromise and make this Parliament work. The Coalition is still in his pocket so he can benefit from it without having to promote it.

    January rolls around and the coalition will have shown longer staying power than the current government, having prorogued Parliament 16 days into the session. The GG will be looking at a Parliament that is not even 4 months old. With a PM who found the last Parliament “unworkable” even though he couldn’t provoke a confidence vote no matter what he did now can not hold the confidence of this Parliament even after asking for and recieving an unprecidented (well, save Charles I and Robert Mugabe, I suppose) “time-out”.

    When the GG calls “time-in”, I think she says that two elections within 4 months is too much when we haven’t given the guys with the signed agreement a chance and taps Iggy as PM.

  38. To forestall any further quotes from the beautiful and talented Mike Harris, I’ll quote from David Akin’s blog on a speech that The World’s Greatest Public Intellectual gave to the Liberals in March, 2005 :-

    ” The Liberal Party has three essential purposes:

    – To protect and enhance our national unity

    – To preserve and defend our national sovereignty

    – To advance the cause of social justice”

    That’s what he said then. At some point we’ll see what he says now.

  39. If I were Michael Ignatieff, I would listen to Stephen Harper, compare and contrast his offer with what I know about the man and his methods… and then squash him like a bug.

  40. David Fraser – Ex-act-ly!

  41. Harper and Iggy have the same tough decision to make, but with the roles reversed. If Harper’s new budget is too stimulusy, Iggy declares victory and folds the Coalition. If it’s too rigidly ideological, Iggy gets out the knout and takes over the government — he’ll have no other choice. So Harper’s best plan will be to stimulate us a bit, so as to nullify the Coalition’s “Gotcha!” line without caving completely. Iggy will then probably have to fold the Coalition anyway, try and declare victory, and in the end it’s a draw — except that Harper now faces the Count instead of Dion for the first half of 2009. Life will go on, beneath the banner of Wells’ First Rule.

  42. Mr.Ignatieff will do the right thing and have his talk with Mr.Harper.

    Both men understand reality very well and know that this is not about short term political gain, but is all about the looming of futures; for themselves as well as being able to project themselves into a catalyst for what the future might unfold.

    Let the sharpest of minds come to the fore!

    “Rise” I’d say ” Rise up!”, and who could disagree with that!

  43. could be some interesting times
    in Canada when the provincial
    parties start forming coalitions
    the liberals in ontario did not
    win the 2007 election.
    liberals got 42.2%
    conservativd 31.6
    green 8.0%
    56.6 % of ontarions voted against the liberals

  44. don,

    The Liberals in Ontario won. They have a majority.

    ‘Nuff said. No more cross-posts, OK?

  45. Jeff J,

    As Mike Harris said, “if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything”. He could have been talking about federal Liberals.

    Mike Harris merely repeated a phrase probably coined, in 1978, by a British Journalist.

    Here is the rebuttal, from someone who understands that is is impossible to stand for nothing:

    “It means that the speaker feels superior to the person he is trivializing, and saying they are gullible. In fact what it says is that the speaker is a supercilious twit with delusions of adequacy.”

    Fits Mike Harris rather well, don’t you think?

  46. Begs the question: Why do Conservatives always choose “supercilious twits” to be their leaders?

  47. So to sum up Michael Ignatieff’s position on the coalition:

    1. Michael Ignatieff showed his loyalty and dedication to the Liberal Party and the cause of Canadians by deciding on a particular path at a time it seemed appropriate to do so.

    2. Now that times have changed – in part through prorogation, in part through Harper’s new cooperative overtures, and in part through the changes in the Liberal leadership situation – Michael Ignatieff will once again make use of his incredible intellect, assess the situation for its merits – both with respect to Canadians and the Liberal Party – and make a similar measured and pragmatic decision on which path to take now.

    He does have a narrow path to walk. With a manipulative and viciously partisan Prime Minister, an economic crisis with which to contend, and a news media generally more concerned with how he got into power than they are with what he is capable of doing now that he’s there, it is going to take talent, tact, foresight, and all the best qualities we associate with good leadership to navigate this political minefield. That is precisely why we need a leader with a deep understanding of the nuances, and the fearlessness to act accordingly.

    Isn’t it about time Canada had a talented and intelligent leader, capable of making pragmatic decisions for the good of Canadians, and able to communicate complex ideas with such effectiveness?

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