Wednesday, October 07, 2009

An Idea Crazy Enough to (Never, Ever) Work

Liberal leadership -- or Tory membership -- should be farthest thing from Ruby Dhalla's mind

Writing in a blog post on the National Post's Full Comment blog, Dan Arnold drops an interesting thought regarding rumours that Ruby Dhalla is among the Liberal MPs that may cross the floor.

Arnold provides what he must imagine to be a very persuasive reason for Dhalla to stay put with the Liberal party: defecting will hurt her chances to be leader of the Liberal party.

It's hard to decide which prospect is more unlikely -- Dhalla being admitted into the Conservative party, or winning the leadership of the Liberal party. Not only is either incredibly unlikely, but both are terrible ideas.

The reasons for both come back to one central issue: Dhalla's recent private member's bill that would extend pension -- admittedly, not a full pension to immigrants after only three years of residence.

The bill has drawn near-universal condemnation, and for obvious reasons: not only is it an extremely cynical piece of legislation, but it's incredibly irresponsible to boot.

Even Judy Sgro, normally a close ally of Dhalla's, has announced she will vote against the bill. Usually private member's bills stand a snowball's chance in hell of passing. Dhalla's bill is likely better compared to a single snowflake in the eighth ring of hell.

The Conservative party would have to publicly renounce virtually all of its principles in order to accept Dhalla within their ranks.

The Liberal party, meanwhile, would not only risk alienating its fiscally-conservative wing, but also risk alienating communities of immigrants who came to Canada and earned their position in this country -- not having a government cheque mailed out to them before they had so much as earned their citizenship, as the recipients of Dhalla's bill would recieve.

It's hard to believe that Dhalla wasn't imagining a windfall of votes from immigrants whose parents are receiving an extra government cheque every month. Her bill is so incredibly cynical that it could only be born of sheer opportunism.

Of course, there are deeper problems with Dhalla's bill than simply paying these people a pension. There's something deeply wrong with the idea of admitting immigrants to Canada who are past retirement age unless they are capable of supporting themselves financially.

Cases where an individual is in immediate peril of being persecuted or killed by their state is another matter entirely. Admitting these people to Canada (regardless of age) and extending them financial aid if need be is the right thing to do. (Canada has no business to accept refugees only to live in poverty.)

But cases where an elderly individual is coming to Canada under no such state of peril is another matter altogether. If they are coming to Canada on their own, they'd better be able to support themselves. If they're being admitted under a family reunification program, their family had better be able to support them.

It's in the sense that Dhalla's bill spits on these basic principles that it truly represents Barry Cooper's politics of self-service. The Liberal party has already been bitten hard by the consequences of embracing these politics too closely. The Conservatives would do themselves -- and the country -- a disservice by following suit.

Fortunately, the Conservatives won't be embracing the politics of self-service, at least in the form of Ruby Dhalla. She's already announced that she won't be crossing the floor.

"The rumour mill is in overdrive again," Dhalla wrote in an email. "These people need to find a topic of discussion that doesn't include the name Ruby Dhalla."

The Liberals may not be so fortunate. If Michael Ignatieff can't right the Liberal ship, the party may be in search of a new leader soon. If Dhalla hasn't jumped to the NDP by that time, one can only wonder if she'll make every Liberal's worst nightmare come true.

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