Friday, November 28, 2008

The Liberals need to be careful not to overplay their hand

Stephen Harper is in full retreat. The Liberals and the other opposition parties have effectively taken his gambit to strip them of public funds and turned it against him. For whatever reason, Mr. Harper was not prepared for the fallout when he should have known it was coming and had a communications strategy ready. The one I mentioned last night in my blog would have been an obvious one. Most people would be able to understand the concept of everybody making economic sacrifices during hard economic times more than they would understand that eliminating government funded party financing would be a threat to democracy. However, that was not forthcoming and Mr. Harper is now paying the price.

What the Liberals have to be careful of now is not to take things too far. Although, all the events of yesterday and today are causing quite the stir on the various blogs it is probably just confusing and confounding ordinary Canadians. So, far all of the negative impacts have landed squarely on the shoulders of the Conservatives but that could change if the Liberals get too aggressive over the next few days in their quest to further punish the Conservatives. They need to balance that aggressiveness with some conciliatory actions. They need to be certain they do not fall into the same self-inflicted trap that the Conservatives find themselves in by being overly partisan.

It would appear that Stephen Harper has taken the party financing provisions out of the economic update so the immediate cause for replacing the Conservatives has been eliminated. Now that leaves the economic update itself and that is what the Liberals should be focusing on in the coming week. They made their point with Mr. Chretien and Mr. Broadbent talking to each other but if those talks continue to be prominent in the coming week they leave the Conservatives the opportunity to reverse the trap and accuse the Liberals and NDP of plotting to overthrow the elected government, for cheap partisan reasons, during an economic downturn. Of course it would be an extreme case of the pot accusing the kettle but we all know that the Conservatives are not above that kind of attack and that they can be very effective when they are making those kinds of attacks. Indeed, if they governed as well as they attacked their political opponents Mr. Harper would have no worries about a non-confidence motion at the moment.

Put the coalition talks on the backburner or at least put them firmly in the backroom. By all means keep the possibility out there but in the context of forcing the Conservatives to actually give into the demands of the opposition for some sort of stimulus in the economic update.

When that happens, and it will if the Liberals and the NDP play the next week well, declare victory and move on from any talk about coalitions governments.

I maintain that the Liberals want no part of government just yet. A weak and unstable coalition is not what they want to be leading just as the biggest recession in at least two decades is descending upon us. No matter what they do they will be blamed for all of the negative economic fallout of that recession if they are the government. Let the Conservatives wear that.

Fortunately, Mr. Harper appears to be desparate to hang onto power so use that fact to squeeze out as much from him as you can, declare victory when he does, keep hammering this newly weakened government until Stephen Harper is just an oily spot on the House of Commons floor and then bring his government down.


Blogger MilitantLiberal said...

You wish. It's a coalition baby!! The Libs are going back to power and being forced to go left in order to do so. Vive la coalition revelution.

November 28, 2008 10:11 PM  
Blogger WesternGrit said...

I think, now that we've taken a stand - ostensibly about the "financial update" (and not the party financing), we need to stick to it. You know why? Because, if we now back off, we will be perceived as weak. More importantly, Harper will introduce the party financing bill completely separately, and the opposition parties would look like idiots voting against it. Harper would make it a confidence vote, and THEN we WOULD have to bring the government down over that issue.

Right now, as the media and our 3 leaders see it and say it, it is about the fiscal update, and how empty it is.

It's "go time" right now. We can't sit back, unless the Conservatives actually include some serious fiscal stimulus for Canadians, at the wish of the opposition parties.

November 28, 2008 10:36 PM  
Blogger Miles Lunn said...

I fully concur here as a Liberal too. What Harper did was over the top and I agree putting him in his spot is good, but lets not go so far this backfires on us. The reality is the NDP+Liberals have 114 seats and that is the only workable coalition, one relying on the Bloc Quebecois is all a guessing game. In addition I can easily see all the Conservative talking points that could result in a Tory majority and us getting beaten badly if this becomes a central issue in the next campaign. Contrary to what some think, most Canadians are not too ideological and left vs. right labels are largely meaningless. They just want good governance. I want the Liberals back in power, but I would rather we get it through an elected mandate, not some backroom deal. We've done it before and we can do it again. If anything now is the time to start planning on what we do if we had a majority and have a clear plan for how to deal with the economy. This is far more effective than what is happening now. Yes by all means keep the option of a coalition on the table, but don't go so far that there is no turning back.

November 28, 2008 10:38 PM  
Blogger Scott Tribe said...

Never look a gift horse in the mouth. When the opponent is drowning, throw him an anvil... etc.

I agree with WesternGrit. Unless Harper and Flaherty reverse course and offer an advanced stimulus relief package, it doesnt matter if the vote is Monday or Dec 8th. Bring the government down and send Harper packing.

November 28, 2008 10:38 PM  
Blogger Scott Tribe said...

By the way, Miles: Coalitions are not "backroom deals" Thats conservative propaganda=speak.

Backroom deals are Harper trying to get Chuck Cadman to vote Conservative with financial inducements. Coalitions are done all the time in Europe.. and they are not see nthere as "undemocratic".

November 28, 2008 10:40 PM  
Blogger Miles Lunn said...

Scott Tribe - If it included the Bloc Quebecois you are right, but without the Bloc the NDP and Liberals still have less seats. While it is true they are the norm in Europe, they usually include the party with the most seats or if they don't it is usually known before the election which parties will form with which. Off course the right wing parties tend to be less ideological there so they do work with parties on the left much like Germany.

The problem for me is not so much legitimacy, but more how will the public see it. We don't have a history of coalitions and I think it is tough to say how the public will react. I would rather we return to office by winning outright which we can do. Lets focus on that and with Harper making mistake after mistake, I think there is no reason we cannot beat him in the next election.

November 28, 2008 10:51 PM  
Blogger Scott Tribe said...


I dont wish to call you naive.. but read WesternGrit's post over again please, because you didnt read it too well, apparently.

The Cons. didnt back down on bringing for the the killing of public financing.. they just decided to remove it from the non-confidence vote. They'd wait 6 months, and then when the Liberals were in leadership convention, they'd bring it forth and again make it non-confidence.. and with more time passed by, the GG would be less likely to grant a coalition.. and we'd surrender and let it pass thru, and virtually handcuff the new Liberal leader, regardless of who it is.

The economic stimulus or the lack therof is the very clever reason we are issuing non-confidence, but everyone knows that if the Harperites are allowed off the hook, they will bring this attempt back.

I say again, bring down the government, ASAP.

November 28, 2008 10:57 PM  
Blogger Eugene Forsey Liberal said...

The Cons have and will continue to have a huge financial advantage for the forseeable future. Aging boomers mean we are facing unique period of a historically high proportion of the aged, and we know people get more conservative as they age. And we have an electoral system in which pretty slight puralities yield not just government but even majorities. Given these three elements, we are at the brink of a generation of Con supremacy. We held power for 22 years, from 1935-1957. They could easily do the same.

The only way to avoid such an outcome is to reform the electoral system. The simplest reform is preferential voting, since everything could stay the same except one would mark 1,2,3 etc. beside the names on the ballot. Everything else, ridings, etc., could stay the same. Easy to explain. Introducing this simple element of proportionality would allow us to avoid a generation of conservatism.

As a result, I am in favour of forming a coalition as we can give Canada better government and ensure the Cons don't hold sway forever. We won't have many more chances, given our electoral system and the massive advantages the Cons have (rock sold base of support, huge financial & organisational advantage, and cohesiveness - compare our leaking to their cone of silence).

Would we & the NDP be a better government? If you answer yes, it's pretty unpatriotic to say we shouldn't take power for longer term partisan interests. And we need to reform the electoral system, post-haste.

November 28, 2008 11:06 PM  
Blogger Miles Lunn said...

Scott Tribe - I realize your concern, although I think we need to look at how will the non-politicos react. I think it is tough to say. If anything we will get a better idea of the public reaction over the next week as the public will digest the news. Finally, the Bloc Quebecois will not be part of the government so who knows how long they will support us. And likewise I don't want to get clobbered and give Harper a majority next time around. I would rather stay in opposition a while and win then do this and get clobbered. You may be right, but lets no go pass the point of no return. Lets keep all options on the table.

November 28, 2008 11:12 PM  
Blogger ottlib said...

Bring down this government now, at the beginning of a recession, and have the Liberals lead a weak coalition during that time and you can say hello to a Harper majority in about a year.

Recessions are government killers when the governments are actually operating from a position of strength. I cannot only imagine their effect on weak coalitions, particularly in a country with no real tradition of coalitions governments.

The one thing that is being left out of all of the Liberal blogger calculations is the fact Jack Layton still wants to replace the Liberals as the Official Opposition. When the time is right he will not hesitate to betray any coalition and bring down a Liberal government.

I want Stephen Harper gone but I want him gone PERMANENTLY. The coalition being flogged right now by some Liberal bloggers, in this economic climate, will result in the exact opposite.

As I said, by all means, use the threat of a coalition as the tool to leverage a better economic update and claim victory when it is forthcoming. However, the coalition should not be the end the Liberals are seeking it should be the means to a greater end.

Or to put it more succinctly, extend your thinking beyond next week. It was short-term partisan calculation that got the Conservatives into trouble this past week. If you believe for a second that the Liberals doing the same thing will not come back to bite them on the ass you are engaging in wishful thinking of biblical proportions.

November 28, 2008 11:15 PM  
Blogger Scott Tribe said...

You dont seem to have much confidence in the Liberal Party as economic managers, Ottlib.. wasn't that our theme during the election campaign?

I have no doubt that with Obama's help in the US and his stimulus efforts, and the return of Canada's fiscally able managers, the Liberals will do just fine.

We cannot, as Trudeau once said, be weak-kneed about this. Let the bleeding hearts go on and bleed.

November 28, 2008 11:17 PM  
Blogger ottlib said...


Governments have no power to prevent recessions, reduce their length or actually do anything that will provide more than fleeting relief from them. History has proven it over and over again.

Let's get the fallacy out of the way.

In fact, in most cases, governments desperate to be seen to be doing something usually make them much worse than they need to be.

So, yes I do not have any faith in the Liberals ability to have any meaningful impact on the recession coming our way. The same goes for Obama and any other government for that matter.

The Liberals did not pull us out of a recession in the 1990's. The recovery from that was already well on its way when Jean Chretien won his first election. He just happened to win at the time when the recovery was beginning to have an impact beyond the markets and into the broader economy. So, he could claim credit for that.

We are now at the exact opposite of where he was then. There will be nothing any government can do to significantly mitigate what is coming our way. So I would rather have the Conservatives in that situation than the Liberals.

November 28, 2008 11:28 PM  
Blogger Steve V said...

Ottlib has a point, but the only reason that Harper looks ashen, we're not playing any hands, we're DEAD SERIOUS. If he caves on the stimulus, completely drops the funding and admits a deficit, then we back away, declare victory and leave him to his demise.

November 28, 2008 11:40 PM  
Blogger Scott Tribe said...

I wonder if Steve (the PM, not the blogger) will actually lower himself to such depths to do that.

I think he's going to go on a full throttled offensive for the next week, screaming about how we're trying to do a coup d'etat on him (which is nonsense, but that never stopped him from hyperbole before), in the hopes someone will get cold feet on our side.

If it gets to the last minute and the opposition holds firm.. he MIGHT try something for self-preservation, but if he's poisoned the well as I think he's going to, I think the opposition should tell him to take a hike.

November 28, 2008 11:49 PM  
Blogger ottlib said...



I would add that they use the threat of taking power away from him as the tool to bring that about. That means keeping the coalition idea on the table but not front-and-centre and it should not be the end the Liberals are shooting for. Use it for leverage.

Of course, the Liberals should not back down if Mr. Harper refuses to budge but I do not believe that will happen. Mr. Harper likes power and he will not want to lose it. The next week he will be like a fish on a hook. He will do what he can to shake that hook but if the Liberals keep their heads in the short-term and keep an eye on the long-term they will permanently damage the Harper government. Something they have been unable to do since they came to power.

Then again, if they do not keep their heads they will let Mr. Harper off the hook and damage themselves.

The Liberals do need to be careful.

November 28, 2008 11:59 PM  
Blogger wilson said...

Why did PMSH put 3 poison pills into the economic update?
right to strike, party financing, no litgation for pay equity.
PMSH wants Libs to go all the way. He has been talking about LibDipper coalition since the last week of the election.

Scott Tribe said...
You dont seem to have much confidence in the Liberal Party as economic managers, Ottlib.. wasn't that our theme during the election campaign?

Scott, Dion just caved on Dipper demands to drop the corp tax cuts.
Ottlib is right.

November 29, 2008 12:44 AM  
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November 29, 2008 1:28 AM  
Blogger Steve V said...

"PMSH wants Libs to go all the way."

Ya, he sure looked like that yesterday at the press conference. You really are dumb, aren't you?

November 29, 2008 9:40 AM  

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