Ignatieff v. Harper: The Bout to Knock the Other Guy Out

Is this Michael Ignatieff’s idea of “messing with” Stephen Harper?

I enjoyed yesterday – all that back-and-forth political brinksmanship. It was just like watching a tennis match but without the athleticism, the precision or the me falling asleep bored.

I believe it’s fair to say that Michael Ignatieff got at least some fairly decent reviews for his tactics and for his performance, which surprises me, because he’s completely set himself up for failure.

Stephane Dion may be gone from a leadership role, but his legacy of hysterical threats followed by ignoble climbdowns lives on, affecting our perception of his successor. This government is terrible, it is horrible, it is an abomination unto God himself – and we are totally going to do something about it, eventually, somewhere down the road, maybe spring-ish. But now we dance!

Having issued an ultimatum (#37 in the Liberal series – collect them all!), Ignatieff will look all weak and Diony if he declines to pull the trigger without “getting” something tangible in return. The problem is that he hasn’t really asked for anything.

You’re skeptical, but think about it. He’s asked “to see” the government’s plans to reform Employment Insurance. He’s asked Jim Flaherty to add up some numbers on infrastructure money that’s actually been spent – and how much will be spent over the next 120 days. He’s asked Jim Flaherty to make up some numbers on the deficit (let’s be honest – that’s what projections are). And he’s asked “to see” a plan to obtain a supply of medical isotopes.

Let’s say he gets all that – the government shows him its EI plan, gives him the infrastructure money outlook, provides him a five-year deficit projection and offers the contours of a plan to find or make more isotopes. Then what? What has Ignatieff actually gained for Canadians and for Liberals? Is his plan to climb atop the battlements hoisting a sheaf of documents and declare a victory of paperwork? That ought to get those donations rolling in. Mabel, come see – our leader’s back with the spoils of war and lookee all them decimals!

Ignatieff hasn’t asked for specific changes to any policy. He hasn’t outlined a benchmark for minimum reforms to EI that he would find acceptable. He hasn’t said what the deficit number needs to be at in five years to make him happy, nor how much of the infrastructure money needs to be spent within the next 120 days. Worse still, his focus on process and plans utterly distracts from what should be the Liberal message going into a campaign: that Harper failed to see the recession coming, failed to act quickly enough to mitigate its effects and therefore can’t be trusted on the economy. Are the Liberals really going to rush into a summer election behind the banner: Our Proposed Alterations to Existing EI Regulations Differ in a Relatively Significant Way From Those of the Incumbent Government.

Let’s face it: No Canadian – and I fear this includes Michael Ignatieff – currently has any idea exactly what series of events and nature of responses from Harper would prompt the Liberal leader to vote to bring down the government. This doesn’t exactly make for a catchy call to arms:

What do we want? Further numerical information pursuant to a number of ongoing political files!

When do we want it? By Friday. Or perhaps later. Listen, we’re flexible on that!

If this is Michael Ignatieff’s idea of “messing with” Stephen Harper, I’m looking forward to the point when he’s “done” doing that.

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