Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Not ready for prime time

My doubts about Ignatieff began to arise when it seemed to me that his dramatic pronouncement that he would endeavour to bring down the government came seemingly out of the blue. Suppose that public reaction to such an announcement was going to be negative. Wouldn't the Liberals have wanted some inkling of that before committing themselves?

Indeed they should have spent the summer floating the idea in case they needed to back away from it. But they did not do that. It appears that political amateurs are running the Ignatieff operation. The apparent signals from the Bloc and the NDP that they will keep the Harper government running a little longer should be welcomed by the Liberals. They are not ready for prime time.

As I contemplated this, I was reminded of Ignatieff over-committing himself in a June press conference to a "my way or the highway" position on Employment Insurance. He backed down and looked bad but it was all forgotten over the summer. So why the premature boldness in June and the failure to "leak" their intentions over the summer? The Liberals are in trouble and don't know it. In a way, it is not surprising. Ignatieff is a neophyte apparently surrounded by advisors who are equally inexperienced.

If there is an early election the bad economy will push us toward a Liberal win, but it is not guaranteed and inept campaigning and tactics might give Harper a new (albeit probably weakened) mandate.

On the other hand, the delay could help the Liberals. The downturn might come to a technical end but its consequences, both in unemployment and weak government finances, will be with us for a long time to come. The worst days for the Rae government in Ontario in the early nineties came in 1993-94 when they felt obligated to tackle the deficit and enacted the Social Contract to achieve some budgetary savings. Rae's popularity, already low, fell further and his regime was subsequently decimated in the 1995 election. The recession was also over when the Mulroney-Campbell regime was reduced to two seats in the 1993 election.

Harper might not adopt anti-deficit strategies as unpopular as those of Rae but he will come under increasing pressure to say something about his intentions, and nothing he announces is likely to be well received. I wonder if the Ignatieff strategists are familiar with history.

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