Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Iggy gets a powerplay and scores...into his own net

Things were looking pretty sweet for the Liberals. The polling numbers were good, especially in seat rich Ontario and Quebec, and the governing Tories were mired in scandal and red ink. Michael Ignatieff was looking more and more like the Prime Minister in waiting while Stephen Harper's stock sunk lower and lower.

But the best laid plans of mice and opposition leaders...to butcher an old saw. I'm sure Michael envisioned things unfolding differently.

After Harper and the Conservatives delivered their 'report card' Ignatieff's plan was to criticize and demand changes. With the threat of an election over his head there's no way Harper would refuse. Iggy might not get everything, but he would get enough to look Prime Ministerial...and then would come the professor's proclamation that the probationary period would be extended, saving Canadians from going to the polls.

That was the plan. But Stephen Harper went off script.

Ignatieff said there were four key areas that needed to be addressed:
  1. A plan to eliminate the deficit
  2. Changes to Employment Insurance
  3. Action on the problem of isotopes
  4. A road map for the health care system
Harper mulled those demands over for perhaps a nanosecond before basically saying "no". This put the ball squarely back in Iggy's court. He'd issued what amounted to an ultimatum, work towards addressing these issues or we'll vote against the update. The NDP and Bloc had already voted against the budget back in January, and proclaimed ahead of time that they would be consistent in voting down the budget's update. With the update being in effect a budget bill, a defeat would equate to a vote of non confidence, which in turn would mean an election.

Watching Ignatieff being interviewed by Peter Mansbridge on CBC yesterday was painful, I've never seen someone trying to sound forceful and decisive while back pedalling so fast. Obviously Iggy doesn't have the stones to take his message to Canadians yet. The question is why? Sure polling numbers indicate that only about 14% of Canadians want an election right now, but leadership isn't about pandering to polling numbers. Ignatieff could go to the electorate on the attack, and force Harper to defend his record.

The inability of his Finance Minister to provide anything other than incredibly inaccurate forecasts. A senior cabinet member who leaves her briefcase lying around and salivates at the prospect of people having their cancer treatment delayed. No strategy for restoring the treasury to fiscal good health.

Iggy has tons of ammo at his disposal, and properly managed he could frame the issues of the campaign as he sees fit. Obviously Harper would try to deflect all the criticism while blaming the Libs of being opportunistic at the expense of the nation.

And therein lies Ignatieff's lack of confidence...not in the government, but in himself. He saw the way the Tories shredded Dion last October and doesn't feel ready for the fight yet. And that's a pity, because it leaves Canadians stuck with an incompetent government as well as official opposition.

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