Ignatieff’s first press conference as leader was a fascinating performance: often impressive, sometimes ponderous, occasionally comic, with the world’s longest answer (on the need to reach out to rural Canada) thrown in for good measure. Some take-aways:
– He’s taking the party to the middle. “Moderate… middle of the road… neither left nor right … beyond the ideologies of left and right…”, the message was hammered home at every opportunity.
– He’s looking for an excuse to avoid bringing down the government. The olive branches were coming fast and furious, albeit phrased as threats. “Mr. Harper needs to walk back down the hill… The ball’s in his court… He has to make the running… He knows where he can find me…” Translation: make me an offer!
At the very least, he wants to be seen to to be open to persuasion, which in itself marks a change of tack. He pointedly declined to take up Jack Layton’s line that Harper “can’t be trusted” and must be defeated. He was careful to say he was “prepared” to vote no confidence, catching himself before saying “I will” vote that way. He said his party would vote no confidence if “we do not get a budget that responds to the national interest.” But: no party “can have the confidence of the country if it decides to vote against a budget it hasn’t even read.”
– He doesn’t want an election. He was asked in English and again in French if his party was ready for an election, and both times ducked, referring vaguely to it all being up to the Governor General.
– He recognizes the party needs to rebuild in the West. This was perhaps the best moment in the whole thing: the need for Liberals to “regain the trust and confidence and loyalty” of people in “the beating economic heart of our country’s future,” ie the West, whom he hoped would “forgive and forget ” his party for “the errors of the past.”
Put it all together — a centrist party, open to compromise with the government, reluctant to defeat it, focused on rebuilding, respectful of the West — and it sits uneasily, to say the least, with the ambitions of its coalition partners. Which is to say: the coalition is now a polite fiction. It exists solely on paper. He has no intention of becoming Jack Layton’s puppet. To which I say: huzzah.
“He’s going to wear that coalition in the next election whether he wants to or not,” said a Conservative source.
Fife also said senior Liberals have told him that they may not need a coalition to form a new government.
“If they do defeat the Conservative government … Ignatieff will go to the Governor General and say ‘We think we can form the government but we don’t have to do it with a coalition,'” Fife said.
Fife noted that the NDP and Bloc would have to support the Liberals because they already have expressed opposition to the Conservative government.
Riiiighhht. You have one-quarter of the House, barely half as many as the Conservatives. You go to the Governor General, and you say: okay, we don’t have a coalition any more, though we gave you a signed undertaking that we did just a few weeks ago — sorry, changed our minds, can’t be helped — but we think we can browbeat the parties to the agreement we just ripped up into supporting us anyway, even though we’re no longer giving them cabinet seats or anything, because they’ve already said they’re opposed to the Conservatives so if they didn’t, you know, they’d be contradicting themselves. Of course, the only reason we’re trying to form a government is that we can’t possibly face going through another election, so if they do threaten to take us down we’d probably cave in to whatever they were demanding, but you never know, we might not, it depends…
And on that basis she’s going to hand you the keys to the Government of Canada?
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