Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Ignatieff Makes the Right Move

Liberal leader eating Stephen Harper's populist lunch

In politics there are big triumphs and there are small triumphs.

Today's passage of the Conservative party's federal budget is hardly a triumph. As Tasha Kheiridddin notes, many conservative-minded Canadians feel betrayed about the deficit the government has run up.

But Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff emerged with a small triumph today, as he allowed six Liberal MPs from Newfoundland to vote against the budget -- and against the official party line -- without the threat of reprisal.

"I decided to permit them in the budget vote tonight a one-time vote of protest to signal their displeasure and my displeasure at these unilateral actions which in my view weaken our federation, cause strains in our federation at a time when Canadians should be pulling together," Ignatieff announced.

It's a far cry from the fate that befell then-Nova Scotia MP Bill Casey, who voted against the 2007 federal budget and was ejected from caucus for voting his conscience.

Reportedly, the part may not have been done with Casey even after that. In the 2008 federal election Casey was forced to fight an election campaign against a Conservative candidate who had access to funds raised in the riding by the Tories while Casey was still with the party. The Conservatives reportedly even accused Casey of embezzling funds from the party.

There's a stark, unflattering distinction between these two approaches. One party, the Liberals, not characteristically known for allowing its MPs to deviate from the party line -- Not even Dr Carolyn Bennet, who was forced to vote in favour of a Hepatitis C compensation package that fell far short of meeting the needs of tainted blood victims -- and another party that was expected to marry populist traditions with traditional party discipline.

Both are moving away from what Canadians have come to expect of them -- one for its betterment, the other to its detriment.

Ignatieff has, in one fell swoop, dispelled mounting rumours that he is a control freak. Harper could have done this long ago, but his party's continuing treatment of Bill Casey simply will not allow that particular spectre to disappear.

The political momentum in Canada is clearly turning, and for good reason: Michael Ignatieff is making good decisions, and his opponents are suffering from a combination of poor fortune and poor decisions.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Jerad Gallinger - "Iggy, Danny, And a Battle Delayed"

Far and Wide - "The Appropriate Response"


  1. When you say Ignatieff is making "bad" decisions, it still sounds like he comes off far better than the Conservatives in this case. Was that a mistype?

    And the link to Tasha Kheridddin's column in the National Post is particularly ironic, considering her comments about conservatism being a reaction against ideological excess.

    Sure, conservatism can react to ideological excess when it comes to using the power of the state to achieve social goals, but couldn't that also apply to the ideological excess of slashing government services and turning so many aspects of society over to the marketplace?

    It's particularly interesting in Canada, since I recall how in Charles Taylor's classic book Radical Tories, Robert Stanfield was vainly trying to remind his caucus that Canadian conservatives don't automatically put private enterprise on a pedestal (for all that it offers many valuable contributions to society) or oppose necessary reforms.

    Just look at R.B. Bennett's creation of the Bank of Canada and his statements that capitalism should be the servant, and not the master, John Diefenbaker actively taking the lead in marketing Western wheat to Red China, John A. Macdonald creating what amounted to the first Crown corporation with the CPR, or provincial premiers such as Robert Stanfield and Peter Lougheed back in the day and Danny Williams today actively marshalling their provincial powers and using them in province-building.

    Again, don't get me wrong-capitalism is an important and integral part of society, offering scientific and technological advances and the generation of wealth that benefit us all, but as the current example of the United States is proving, markets can be just as fallible and mistaken as any government, and private entrepreneurs can be just as inept as any government bureaucrat, with the same consequences for society.

    Whether it's reaction against too much government spending and socialist ideology, or reaction too little regulation and blind faith in the marketplace, conservatism could equally apply in both cases.

    You yourself (I'm talking to Patrick here) have written about the problems caused by the excesses of both Keynesian and Friedmanian economics on this blog, something which I agree with in both cases. I would add, however, that conservatism doesn't necessarily adhere strictly to one set of values or the other.

  2. It actually was. I meant to say that he's been making good decisions.


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