In a one-on-one interview today with Citynews’ Richard Madan, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said that he won’t take a GST hike off the table in dealing with the economic crisis.
Madan: “On the tax side, is it time to boost up the GST to its former levels of 6%? Do we need to that? Do you support raising the GST?”
Ignatieff: “I won’t be drawn at the moment where Canadian taxpayers and consumers are struggling with their bills, jacking up GST doesn’t sound to me like the greatest idea. But, let me be clear here: If we are in a deep deficit in year 3 or 4 you can’t exclude tax increases to get us out. Canadians understand how bad deficits are. So I’m not going to take a GST hike off the table… later, I just think it would be a bad idea now, in the recession.”
News that is late-breaking tonight suggests that Liberal MP Dominic Leblanc will drop out of the Liberal leadership race and endorse Michael Ignatieff. It is rumoured that Leblanc will provide Ignatieff with an additional nine members of the Liberal caucus in what is shaping up to be a backroom leadership election by caucus. Leblanc’s move over to the Ignatieff camp should be smooth for Leblanc supporters as some senior east-coast Liberal organizers who were initially eyeing Frank McKenna for the top job of that party chose Leblanc instead. New Brunswicker Steve McKinnon, who would have backed McKenna has blazed charted the waters for martime Liberals to sail over to Ignatieff.
This late development means that Bob Rae, who is beating a path coast-to-coast promoting the coalition concept, finds himself further behind now that Ignatieff enjoys an even more comfortable lead among caucus colleagues. Somewhat ironic is the fact that the coalition deal was struck out of a sense of urgency (or opportunity) to topple the Harper government and that this sense of urgency is also driving the Liberal party to select a leader via caucus selection. Strategically, Rae should now advocate for a period of Liberal introspection, an abandonment of the push to a coalition with the Bloc and to have a real (yet delegated) full-blown leadership election. As it stands, Rae would fare worse under the urgent scenario than that which allows the Prime Minister to stay in power for now.
And why not? Some time for the Liberal party to heal might do them some good. Joining up with the NDP erodes the brand of both parties and upsets each ideological base. True, those that seek power despite principle would rather see Stephen Harper evicted from 24 Sussex tomorrow. However, for the longterm livelihood of the Liberal party they ought to take some time out to rebuild, to fundraise and to craft an original policy platform – one without the word “shift”.
If Michael Ignatieff does assume the helm of the Liberal Party through caucus selection, the January throne speech/budget combo should pass through Liberal abstention. Poll numbers are showing poor support for a Liberal-NDP coalition and Ignatieff himself has never been warm to the idea of coalition. Besides, don’t you get the sense that Iggy is the sort who plays the long game rather than leaps before he looks? A number of Liberals in caucus have privately expressed concerns over the coalition proposal and most scenarios of how a coalition would play out are unknown and therefore should be somewhat worrisome to most.
For Mr. Dion, the coalition concoction was to be his magical elixir which promised new life. Realistically, his leadership prospects have been long dead. For Mr. Rae to avoid a quick demise, he should insist upon a delegated leadership election as planned meaning that the coalition ought to be on hold for now or done like Dion.
To my friends in the Liberal Party, it’s been a rough few years hasn’t it? A bitter family feud between the Martins and the Chretiens made Hatfield vs. McCoy look like the Brady Bunch vs. the Partridge Family and the accidental election of a third-rate leader bent on control and unnameable to caucus advice has lead to your worst popular vote share in your party’s long history. The NDP is resurgent and the Greens have become a temporary home for your base as they recoiled with shame as the party of Trudeau, Pearson and Laurier became the party of the clueless, the ambitious and the corrupt. True, you may have truly found your basement of support this election, but the foundation is cracked and some nice red paint and roses won’t cover the mold.
From the time of Trudeau, your party has had an unhealthy fixation on personality over policy, indeed style over substance. Turner and Dion were short hiccups for your party but Martin’s tragically ironic countless priorities and Chretien’s empty record (not going into Iraq is not the same as real constructive accomplishment) will, unfortunately for your partisans, provide a high enough dose of the addictive drug that is power. In Stephane Dion, the aberration is not solely based on his failure to obtain power, it is also rooted in his attempt to introduce a bold policy and for you this provided terrible symptoms of withdrawal.
And, now you sit at a familiar crossroads that looks like December 2006. Nothing has progressed. Indeed, you are arguably further behind now that Canadians have reaffirmed what was at first a flirtation with a Harper-led Conservative government but one that now has a firm legitimacy in the minds of the electorate. Is your hunger and perceived entitlement to power enough for you to latch onto the peripheral distraction of personality, or is it time to figure out what your party stands for?
Just minutes after Mr. Dion conceded defeat on election night, the knives came out. In truth, you’ve never in recent Liberal history had a more honest and sincere politician lead your party. Unfortunately for you, any ruthlessness of his political instinct focused inward on your caucus that he could barely control rather than outwards towards Stephen Harper in not only a policy-based direction, but along a shrewd political path to remove him from that top office that you covet.
But then again, for at least my lifetime, your party has been about power despite policy. Yet the political landscape has changed and as you charge and foolishly dismiss your right-wing opponents as ideologues, they come to the arena ready to do battle, and they fundamentally do so with ideas.
For a party that has reached the depths of intellectual bankruptcy, the tendency is to attack on the unsubstantial, on a raft of policies that do not exist in a hidden agenda, and on fear of the unknown. To be sure, such tactics were employed by the Conservatives as they fought to retain power, yet they did so on a strong foundation of their ideas that you decry as ideology.
In Dion, you finally had a leader who stood for more than fear, you had a leader who stood for an idea. Dion’s Green Shift policy was a real though flawed plan, with the policy benefit of bridging the ideologies — at least on the surface and despite the increased spending — of fiscal conservatism and environmental protectionism. Given the right leader and the proper political circumstances, the plan could have been a winner for a Liberal government in waiting. Blessed with a charming silver-tongued salesman of a leader, your transition team would have been aiding with the formation of a cabinet this week, instead you hit rock bottom on leadership and you’re about to go back to the cold comfort of a slick huckster without a product to sell.
The Liberal Party of Canada needed a Conservative majority more than the Conservative Party did. At first glance, you seem to be keeping the Tories close to but short of real power. In truth, the advantage here is Harper’s. The Prime Minister will keep a penniless Liberal Party on the verge of electoral war, as you prepare most of your efforts on election readiness rather than policy development and an exhaustive thorough leadership search. In the next few months, you will be rushed in selecting a leader and preparing for the next campaign. Saddled with financial debt and a deficit of policy, your Liberal Party is a starved beast; vicious and hungry but unfit for the long game.
Political pundits of all stripes have said that minority governments are now the norm. With four parties in the House of Commons, three of which are on the left, Canadians — depending on their view — are either blessed or condemned by this fortuitous circumstance or frustrating stalemate. On this, where you stand is where you sit and for Harper and his caucus that comfortably crowds the government benches, he has minority advantage and you will bleed without opportunity to heal.
What should you do? How to stop the ouroborosian process of urgency followed by poor results followed by urgency, disaster, debt and self-consumption? Break the cycle yourself and go into self-imposed exile. Typical wisdom suggests that governments defeat themselves and you are certainly not in a position to play the futile role of the ignorant to this rule. The Conservative Party found its genesis after a right-of-centre period of introspection, autolytic destruction, and the reformation of policies, communications and politics. Indeed, the Reform Party helped break down the big-C Conservative institution, return it to the crucible of the movement and temper it with a grassroots approach to policy. Reform didn’t destroy conservatism, it helped it get its soul back. My Liberal friends, you need to leave the political arena, and start a process to rediscover what it is that you stand for. The Conservative Party is rooted in the conservative movement whereas the Liberal movement, if it exists, is rooted in the Liberal Party. If Canadians are to give your party a serious look and return it to power, it must rebuild its foundation first.