Saturday, November 29, 2008

Patience Liberals, Patience

After the last election I washed my hands of the Liberal Party because I believed they had made a massive error in beginning a leadership contest at this time. I believed that it would be handing Stephen Harper a big victory in the next election, despite him leading a government during a recession, because the new Liberal leader would be unknown to Canadians, the Liberals would be broke and they would still be suffering the hangover of what is going to be a hard fought leadership contest. Canadians would take one look at that and stick with the Conservatives as the lesser of two unpalatable choices.

All of the above was premised on the assumption that Stephen Harper would play it smooth for the next few months and not do anything really stupid. Well, wasn't that a bad assumption to make.

Stephen Harper has just damaged himself very badly. The Conservatives were destined to have trouble as a result of being the government during a recession. However, that was going to happen gradually as the economic bad news piled up and be mitigated by the silliness of a Liberal leadership race. Stephen Harper has just accelerated that trouble and that leaves the Liberals with a huge opportunity to make that trouble have a more immediate and longer lasting impact on the fortunes of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

The first step in that process should be presenting a proposal to the Conservatives early this coming week on how to make the economic statement acceptable to the Liberals while downplaying the idea of forming a coalition.

That proposal should include the following major provisions:

  • The government bring forward all of the money that has been earmarked for infrastructure for expenditure in this fiscal year. In addition the government increase Employment Insurance benefits, including the loosening of qualification requirements, the increase in the amount paid out per payment and the extension of the time people can receive the benefits.
  • The government subsidy for political parties be reduced to $1.50 per vote but the donation limit be increased to $50,000 and the restriction on unions and corporations donating to political parties be eliminated. As well, this issue is to be dropped permanently.
  • The government admit the existance of a deficit.
  • This package be approved by Parliament before the end of January 2009.

Of course the Conservatives will balk at these proposals so the Liberals just need to state that, if the Conservatives make it necessary, they will just implement these proposals themselves when they take over a coalition government. All of these proposals would be supported by the other Opposition Parties. So, Stephen Harper who is looking at the very sudden and humiliating end to his political career would give in after some negotiation. So the final negotiating position of the Liberals should be:

  • 60% of the infrastructure money spent this fiscal year and at least one aspect of the Employment Insurance program being enhanced.
  • $1.75 per vote, $10,000 donation limit, elimination of restriction on donations by corporations and unions. Issue not to be revisited for at least two years.
  • admission of deficit.
  • package to be approved by Parliament by end of January 2009.

Providing the Conservatives a little bit of a lifeline provides benefits to the Liberals in the short, medium and long-term.

In the short term, they would be the only party on The Hill who would look like adults and who would look like they wanted to make THIS Parliament work. As well, they would immediately take the sting out of the Conservative attacks on the idea of a coalition as it would be clear that the only way it would come about was Conservative stubbornness. No matter what the Conservatives do their credibility will be badly damaged.

In the medium term Liberals would be able to take alot of credit for the implementation of both an economic stimulus package and increased assistance to those Canadians who are victimized by the coming recession. As well, they would level the playing field somewhat in the fundraising game.

In the long term they would be able to leave a badly damaged Conservative government in place to take the full brunt of the political fallout of the coming recession.

This week, if they stay calm and focused, the Liberal Party could set up a majority government victory for themselves in 12-24 months and further solidify in the minds of Canadians, for at least one political generation, that Conservatives cannot be trusted with the economy. If you ask me that is not a huge price to pay for a little patience.


Blogger WesternGrit said...

I agree with you fully. We need to have some very public demands - which are FOR the public, along with a guarantee on the party financing. We need to force their hand... But, we probably prefer them to say "no" (and by them I mean Harper) to this very public suggestion we and the NDP and Bloc make...

November 29, 2008 10:32 PM  
Blogger Eugene Forsey Liberal said...

I take your point but I think your view of history is too deterministic. If there's one thing I've learnt, nothing's guaranteed. Assume we follow your strategy and you're wrong. Cons go on to retain power. Would feel pretty silly about having let this chance go by, no?

November 29, 2008 11:39 PM  
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November 29, 2008 11:51 PM  

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