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.