Flaherty did what he had to...no poison pill...good strategy...Dion faced with a quandary...divided caucus...blah, blah, blah. Aside from the details of the budget, haven't we been reading the same story for a year now?
Let's shift it a bit for a minute. Do you really believe it's all sweetness and light in the Con caucus? Of course they do what they are told, are prevented from expressing themselves and don't talk to the press, but it would be impossible to believe that all caucus members are on the same page at all times. In fact, in spite of offering up the dullest budget in memory and one that obviously was designed not to trigger an election, Flaherty apparently was gung-ho for an election. Unfortunately his enthusiasm was at odds with Party strategy, so his voice was quashed.
How do I know that? Last week he was at the John Tory meeting/vote. Also in attendance were Tony Clement and John Baird. Apparently they were having a grand old time and Flaherty was in great spirits by all reports. At one point he was asked whether or not he thought the Budget would pass. His answer? I hope not! The three of them laughed. So, he was required to suppress his enthusiasm and present a Budget that dashed his hopes and I can only assume those of many others. Do we ever hear or read about that? Of course not.
Instead we hear/read the predictable about Dion, but there was a time when Harper was treated to the same narrative.
The highlight of Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper’s totally lackluster performance as leader of the official opposition had to been when the Liberal’s budget was voted upon.
When it came time for the voting, Harper’s conduct went from the shameful to the absurd. The Conservatives introduced a motion that criticized government spending on Kyoto and the gun registry. Then the more politically astute Bloc Quebecois hinted that they might support the motion. Uh oh! The motion could pass and bring down the government. So Harper had some members of his caucus not show up for the vote to ensure that their motion would be defeated.
The coup de grace of the Tory budget shenanigans came when the main budget was to be voted on. Harper had his entire caucus abstain from the vote
(Canadian Free Press - March, 2005)
It seems to me that the Ottawa Press seem unable to escape their own sound loop. Wouldn't some creativity be refreshing? (There are exceptions to the rule it should be said, but they are few and far between.) Refreshing yes, but unlikely, so for the time being we are again reading that the Liberals are pacing back and forth and deciding their fate.
Look, I know it's frustrating right now and I would like nothing better than to throw the Con's out, but I'm torn to be honest. I agree that the optics around abstaining are not good, but if the Party is not ready for an election and if it doesn't feel that the conditions are there to win, what would be the point? Wouldn't the already silly chatter simply shift to a new narrative on how naive Dion is to force an election at a time when no indicators suggest he could win? Wouldn't that narrative dog him throughout an election?
Not only are there no clear signs that now would be a good time to go, I can't see anything in the Budget to really go on. The Lib's didn't get what they wanted, but the Con's did throw some money at Lib proposals. If the Lib's had a really strong question to go to the electorate with, something that would clearly differentiate them from the Con's, the media narrative would turn to that. I don't recall the last election being run on the fact that Harper abstained. I don't think a clear difference is only important with respect to the Con's btw. I think it would also serve to tone down the NDP rhetoric.
With respect to those who differ, I think to argue that we've just missed our best chance, is not thinking into the future. It may be difficult to think of what our best chance might be, but every time the House sits, something rears it's ugly head.
With the Con's increasingly adopting Liberal positions, I think we have to highlight that fact and tick off the far right of the Con party. At the same time, look for where they did not go far enough and wait for the evidence of that to surface, because it will. Something that presents solid strategy to run on.
Rather than fracture the Party further, let's just realise that the Party had little choice at this point and we have to focus on future strategy . Are we in an ideal position? No, but isn't it more productive to move forward than to reinforce the ridiculous narrative that is already out there?
I'm quite sure that most Canadians are not sitting down to dinner tonight discussing the pros and cons of abstaining from a vote. We who follow the minutia may analyse the unpalatable details, but most families are more concerned with how good their dinner tastes and how their day was.
My real question is this though. Where are the voices who supported Dion and how loud are you in caucus?
Update: ottlib has a brilliant post on this, imo.