Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The Liberal party had a choice to make today and I'm certainly reading a lot about it. I know many thought that Ignatieff made the wrong choice. At the risk of being lambasted, I don't.
The idealist in me wanted him to push more amendments. Specifically I would like to have seen more 'green' and I think changes should have been made to the EI program and obviously the pay equity issue. Will some issues be tackled in Committee? I hope so. Overall I thought the budget lacked a clear focus and was scatter shot in it's approach.
That said, it's the Conservatives budget. They own it and will be judged on it's ability to do what they say it will. They were forced into writing such a budget and in that sense, the coalition did work. It's hilarious to hear Conservative MP's insist they would have come up with this on their own. They apparently believe that the country hasn't been paying attention. They have that part dead wrong and here is where the pragmatist in me comes forward.
What Ignatieff laid down today was clever. The reporting and deadlines are beside the point really, but to Canadians watching, he was doing the responsible thing. We who stay glued to this stuff tend to forget about the vast majority of people who simply want government to get on with things. Tired of the brinkmanship, most polls suggest that people were neither interested in an election or a coalition. They are worried about the economy. So, the Liberal party decided to allow the budget to pass while holding Harper's feet to the fire.
Now, it could be said that minority governments have that kind of scrutiny anyway and that there are checks and balances already in place. While that is true, Harper isn't one for sticking to the rules is he? So, Ignatieff lays down a marker insisting that the government be held to account, in the light of day and in a timely fashion. Will Harper follow these rules? Time will tell but there is a difference here.
In the past when Harper stepped out of line, we would respond and that was it. The media would be on to the next thing. Here, if Harper flouts the deadline or obscures the facts, there will be a procedure in place that will keep his transgression in the news cycle. That's no small thing. Harper doesn't like the spotlight being shone on him unless he is directing the drama. Will he play games? Time will tell.
So, the idealist in me would have put forward more amendments, but I doubt they would have been accepted. Furthermore, I doubt that would have been enough for Layton either. As much as it is nice to think that we had Harper in a corner the pragmatist in me knows that the Conservatives were ready to frame the issue and go to an election. There was too much in the budget, accepted and applauded by too many quarters, for any opposition to stand any real test. Could the GG have turned to the coalition and prevented an election? I suppose, but outside of the changes I mentioned and I suppose a few others, would the public have really bought the fact that our budget was sooo different that it required a shift of power? I doubt it.
As much as I want to see the back of Harper, I think we did what we had to today and in the end, I think it will pay off. Journalists are suggesting that there won't be an election until the next budget. I disagree. I think there will be an election this year and I think we will be glad we waited.
Idealism is a wonderful thing, but it holds little sway in modern politics. The Liberals had to re-establish themselves. This move, while not ideal for some, will help us do that.