Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A week is a long time in politics

Canada's Liberal Party has a new leader following the last week’s abortive coalition attempt by Stephan Dion. Michael Ignatieff has been anointed, following the withdrawal of his main opponent Bob Rae. The party is now furiously searching for a mechanism to legitamise the arrangement.

This time last week the minority Harper government was facing down a non-confidence challenge in parliament and replacement by a coalition of opposition parties. The weak link was the patchy performance of Dion, undermining any real confidence in the effort.

According to reports Ignatieff is not in favour of the coalition concept, though there has been no reference to his possible stand on a non-confidence vote when parliament resumes in late January. Despite convincing the Governor General to prorogue parliament before an early vote could be taken Harper the underlying issues are still to be addressed.


Last week’s crisis began when the Harper government elected to attack the opposition parties, rather than the looming economic crisis, in budget proposals it was putting forward. One of the trigger issues was a move to cut the public funding of election campaigns. Cute, and potentially crippling to other parties, but a sad commentary on the need to circumvent electoral corruption.

But wider than that was the lack of any real stimulus, with proposals that sought dubious spending cuts instead. Now, given seven weeks to come up with an acceptable plan Harper is under pressure to come up with some direction – and failing.

First of all, I think the move by the Bank of Canada [cutting rates] is very significant, and the monetary policy stimulus, the economic stimulus they'll get out of today's announcement, is significant.”

"But no, our assessment is we're going to need additional fiscal policy action....” Harper Dec 9 2008

It is hard to imagine the author of that statement holding a degree in economics, a ‘do nothing’ approach is hardly what the country needs right now. Still, he welcomed the elevation of Ignatieff to Liberal leadership, offering that he will meet with him and put forward economic stimulus proposals for the government to consider.

Diane Francis of the Financial Post had no problem coming up with a few key economic directions. Current Liberal finance critic Scott Brison cited Statistics Canada's report that almost 71,000 Canadians lost jobs in November, the largest single-month drop in 26 years. He might also consider the relatively low wage structures of remaining jobs.

Fresh elections?

Unless Harper seriously turns his mind to matters economic his government will still face the wrath of parliament early in the new year. Coalition or not, if Harper is dumped a fresh election will follow, probably in early spring. This gives Ignatieff’s team a double job over the break.

First is to formulate a strong economic statement, behind the scenes, ready to deliver when the crunch comes. One reason I would be opposed to feeding a program to Harper is the tendency want to piss in the corner and skew any effective plan out of recognition. When Ignatieff moves it must be with a strong base.

The second thing I would do, given that most of the developed world are going to have a miserable Xmas, is to keep reminding the country of just where Harper’s government has put them. To be sure, it is a global problem, but Harper has shown no great gift for resolving Canada’s stresses.

A week is a long time in politics, seven weeks is an eternity! The Liberals have an enviable economic record and now need to use every moment of this time to position themselves for government.

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