Dion was an unexpected gift, but Ignatieff was an original Tory prospect

During the Liberal convention in December of 2006, Bob Rae was seen by Conservative strategists as the most fearful prospect that the Liberals had on offer to their delegates. Most messaging that came from the Conservative camp during this time was against Rae and the party did its best to suggest to Liberal delegates that he would deliver economic disaster to Canada like he did for Ontario. The Tories did their best political maneuvering to spike Rae’s bid because focus testing showed that enough time had passed between the sour days of Bob Rae the NDP Premier and the “give-him-a-chance” Bob Rae Liberal leadership candidate. Dedicated Ontario political watchers would remember tough economic times under Rae but apparently the modern dynamic had changed for the typical voter. “He has the chance to be a Canadian Bill Clinton” was how I heard the smooth talking and charming candidate described by a particularly concerned senior Conservative.

Yet, times have changed again and the economic recession is now centre-stage and it doesn’t take a surplus of political sense to acknowledge that a Rae leadership win would have been trouble for the Liberals in the 2006 leadership race, and that in 2009 — if it had occurred. During the 2006 race, as the front-runner, the Conservatives had already constructed a thorough game plan against Ignatieff and believe they had a workable strategy against the American-tenured academic should he become leader of Canada’s natural ruling party. “Ignatieff is awkward and tends to put his foot in his mouth a lot” was the consensus among senior Tory partisans. My sense was that during the 2006 leadership race, while Conservatives were concerned about Rae, they were less so about Ignatieff. And then Dion happened and he became a surprise, a wonderful gift and an unexpected best case scenario for the Conservatives and their Prime Minister.

Today, Michael Ignatieff is the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and he’s starting to show strong gaffe potential, a lack of clear policy direction and a generally aloof attitude towards the Canadian electorate. In fairness, I’d say that Ignatieff is much more calm and calculated that his hapless predecessor and instead, we find him focused on the long game. This should help Liberal prospects. Yet, Ignatieff is failing along the predicted lines of the original Conservative assessment. Yesterday, in Cambridge, the good professor mused that “we will have to raise taxes”. As a front-runner-turned-crowned-leader of the Liberal Party, Ignatieff never needed to wedge and never needed to segment in order to differentiate his campaign. It is unclear as to why in a trajectory largely devoid of policy pronouncements that of the rare policy musings he is making, he is offering ideas that are generally seen as unpopular. For example, in an interview with CityTV’s Richard Madan last December, the Liberal leader mused that he’s open to reversing the Conservative’s 2% GST cut.

Few election campaigns have seen bold policy stands by leaders fail so spectacularly. Despite this, we recently saw how the idea of funding non-Catholic faith-based religious schools sunk the PC Party’s prospects during the last Ontario election and for the Liberal Party of Canada, the carbon tax was a federal electoral disaster in 2008. Though Mr. Dion will be scapegoated with the carbon tax and conveniently shelved away, the Liberals will be considering the policy again at their next convention. Though in truth, Mr. Ignatieff was the original proponent of the tax.

Now it seems that Mr. Ignatieff is against such a tax but how can we be so sure given his reversal on this policy that his membership is now proposing? For Mr. Ignatieff, whether we’re taxed on carbon, income, or our purchases, what he’s made clear is that under his leadership our taxes would go up. Though cliché, this paraphrased statement holds:

“A carbon tax if necessary, but not necessarily a carbon tax.”

or rather, “a tax is necessary, but not necessarily a carbon tax.”

Mr. Rae would have been a wonderful leader for the Conservatives to oppose, unelectable as he would have been though disastrous for Canadians should have assumed residency at 24 Sussex Drive. Mr. Dion would have raised our taxes with a carbon tax. With Mr. Ignatieff, we know that while times are tough, he’d heap on increased government burden. At least with Mr. Dion, we would have known where it was coming from and how to brace ourselves. Terrible Liberal fiscal policy makes for good Conservative electoral prospects. Terrible and ambiguous Liberal fiscal policy makes for great Conservative electoral prospects.

Conservatives are looking forward to a Liberal party led by the professor on loan from Massachusetts. They’re anticipating the Canadian reaction of watching Mr. Ignatieff debate himself on how to best raise our taxes.

The Liberal Party policy amendment that’s causing a buzz this morning

123. Climate Change

WHEREAS:
Scientists confirm that human activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels, is altering the atmosphere, changing Earth’s climate, and damaging the environment; Urgent action is required to combat the adverse effects of climate change; Biofuel production from crops grown for fuel (rather than for food) contributes to higher food prices, and risks increasing poverty and hunger, particularly in the global South.

BE IT RESOLVED that the Liberal Party of Canada urge the next Liberal government of Canada to:

  1. Support unconditionally Canada’s commitment under the Kyoto Protocol by enacting comprehensive legislation designed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada, including, but not limited to:
    1. establishing a carbon tax, a cap and trade system, or a combination of both, including hard
      limits on the emission of greenhouse gasses for large final emitters;

    2. providing financial support for energy efficiency and conservation measures, generating clean
      energy, and public education on the effects of global warming.
  2. Initiate constructive negotiations relating to the post-Kyoto period intended to build an international climate regime that includes:
    1. deeper mandatory GHG emission reductions for industrialized countries;
    2. expanding the group of countries committed to binding emission reductions;
    3. protection for tropical forests;
    4. prioritizing climate-friendly technologies.
  3. Combat climate change by committing Canada to a 25-40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (relative to 1990 levels) by 2020, and an 80% reduction by 2050.
  4. Favour the production of biofuels from forest product and agricultural residues.

Liberal Party of Canada (Quebec)

Questions:
1. Will Michael Ignatieff and his OLO/Liberal HQ team do everything in their power to prevent this policy from making it to the main floor of the convention?
2. If approved by Liberal delegates, will Michael Ignatieff allow this policy to be binding upon the Liberal Party?
3. If not, does this mean that the Liberal Party is ceding environmental policy to the NDP/Greens… to the Conservatives? (the Conservatives have passed legislation on GHG reduction)
4. Will the passing of such a resolution merely reflect the Liberal record of more talk than action on GHGs and climate change?
5. Last month, Michael Ignatieff said “We took the carbon tax to the public and the public didn’t think it was such a good idea”. Does this mean that Liberal Party policy is determined via polling rather than by party principle?
6. Will the Liberal convention (including flights, hotels, presentations and other travel) be carbon-neutral? Will the Liberal Party be buying carbon offsets for the entire carbon footprint of the convention?

Dion will implement carbon tax even if there’s a recession

After a joint address to the Empire Club and Canadian Club yesterday, Stephane Dion faced reporters. The exchange between Richard Madan from City and Dion was interesting.

MADAN (Voiceover): But Dion has shifted his own tune lately, suggesting that Canada may be headed into recession. And he only mentioned his controversial Green Shift plan just once at the end of his speech.

MADAN (to Dion): You mentioned “recession” in your speech. So if indeed Canada does hit a recession will you delay implementing your carbon tax?

DION: First, it’s not that. It’s the Green Shift.

MADAN: No, I know. But the question is: if things get worse, will you delay implementing a carbon tax, Green Shift, whatever you want to call it? Will you delay it?

DION: It’s not carbon tax, it’s a Green Shift. It’s to put a cost…

MADAN (interupts): Will you delay it?

DION: No, because it’ll be good for the economy.

Did you get that? If Canada falls into recession, Dion believes his “don’t call it a carbon tax” Green Shift will be just want Canada needs to get out of the storm.

Recently, Maclean’s editor Andrew Coyne has stated that he believes that there may be something to it when Harper complains that Canada’s opposition is “cheering for a recession”.

The Opposition parties have gone mad with attacks explaining that Mr. Harper doesn’t care about the economy because he’s not panicking. The opposition will be upset to learn that the World Economic Forum has declared Canada’s banking system the most stable in the world.

There have been cries of dissent from Dion’s own ranks on the Green Shift and it’s timetable for implementation. Liberal candidate Shawn Murphy told the Charlottetown Guardian on September 12th, “This winter, I don’t think you’re going to see the green shift even if the Liberals got elected.” Former Minister of Revenue John McCallum conceded about Dion’s carbon tax, “I cannot say to you that no Canadian will be unharmed by this… it’s not going to be totally painless for every human being”.

Even former NDP Ontario Premier Bob Rae is
sounding more lucid on the economy as he suggested yesterday that the implementation of the carbon tax should be delayed.

There’s an old saying that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. While Mr. Dion’s plan aims to address environmental concerns with his plan, the ballot question will ask who is the best manager of the economy as crises become a daily occurrence in foreign markets. Canada has a sound economic position — indeed, the fundamentals are strong — and while members of his own team have second thoughts about his carbon tax, Mr. Dion is ready to add new untested variables to the economic equation in a time that calls for the kind of stability that comes from an economist Prime Minister rather than untested tax theory from a man who is not.