Second Thots

Sometimes one has to step back, take pause, and have some "second thots"

Saturday, September 26, 2009


The last few months for the Liberal Party of Canada: A recap

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, also affectionately known as "Iggy"
Let's see if I can try to recap the last few weeks that the Liberal Party of Canada has had. Actually, I'll try to rewind it back a couple of months, and take it from there.

You had a party leader who was far more respected — well, at least in the media — than the last one. Heck, some even respected him more than the prime minister.

This so-far-impressive leader then decides to enter into a showdown with the prime minister primarily on the issue of Employment Insurance. In fact, he wants to make it so that an equivalent of 45 full work days are all that's needed to qualify for a year of benefits — right across the country. Or something like that.

And that's where things started to go downhill.

The prime minister sees the foolishness of the Employment Insurance demand and calls the Liberals on it. Party leader Iggy backtracks big-time and settles for a "blue ribbon panel" that everyone knows is a joke. Indeed, after the summer, the joke's punchline gets delivered as the Liberals walk out on the panel as well as their demands altogether.

In other words, despite a more polished delivery, the Liberals looked almost as inept under the current leader as they did under the last one, or even the one before that.

So, to make up for all that, Mr. Iggy decides to do a 180. That is, instead of huffing and puffing, then laying down like a doormat for the prime minister, this time he was going to huff and puff — and mean it! He was going to withdraw support for the government and was willing to put the country through an election. He even ran ads trying to re-introduce himself to Canadian voters.

How did the new bravado work out? Well, on the one hand, it did make him look like the actual leader of the opposition, instead of ceding the job to the fourth party in Parliament. That's an accomplishment, and one I actually think he deserves credit for. But it also might reveal how lacking in credibility the Liberals already were, and how low the bar was set in trying to advance further. Is Hey, We're Number Two a party slogan you really want to be proud of?

However, as recent polls keep showing, the overall strategy hasn't worked out so well. Indeed, Canadians seem more intent on keeping Harper as prime minister than they ever have. So, in the pursuit of no longer wanting to be a pushover to the prime minister, they've manage to humiliate a competing opposition party, and that's about it. The media isn't too impressed. You've locked yourself into a corner on strategy and policy. You've raised expectations to the point where you may never meet them. And you're sinking in the polls to boot.

Overall, it hasn't been a particularly memorable few months for the Liberal party or its leader — especially at a time when they've tried to set the bar higher for themselves. Instead, despite some tactical gains, they're going in the opposite direction — at least in the short-term.

Now, there are a few ways for Liberals to react to this. One is to take it all in stride. If things aren't tough in opposition, then you're not doing something right. And I actually tend to agree with this view. Iggy had a good ride for a while, but it wasn't real. He was yet to be tested. He now has been, and it's been rough. That might be a good thing.

Another way to react to all this for Liberals is to start panicking. And we've actually seen some of that already.

Yet a third was to react to all of this is to be in denial, which is apparently the approach that Team Iggster has decided to adopt. It's not them, it's everyone else. I mean, that's gotta work, right?

There's something else that I wanted to address about Michael Ignatieff as leader. Whereas with Dion the problem was that he never understood the responsibilities of national leadership, I think the problem with Iggy is that he doesn't understand politics. He doesn't understand things like voter perception, the proper tone at the proper time, and so on. What's worse is that the people around him don't seem to understand it either. Or maybe they do but they don't have a leader to work with that does. I dunno.

Nevertheless, as always, time will tell. It's still early. We probably won't have an election any time soon. There's time to learn. The big show is when things really count. Yadda yadda.

But it's been a pretty bad few months for the Liberal party and its leader. Of that there can be little doubt.

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