Showing posts with label Liberal leadership convention. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Liberal leadership convention. Show all posts

Monday, 8 December 2008

The Second Death of Stephane Dion and the paradox of Canadian politics today



Almost a week after delivering an address to the nation that looked like something hostage takers release to prove their victim is still alive, Stephane Dion has resigned as leader of the Liberal Party. Dion thus becomes the first party leader in living memory to resign from the same position twice in one year.


The Liberals are current wrangling over how to expedite its leadership election process so that the party will have a new chief in place by the time that Parliament resumes on January 26th. It now appears that with Dion having been unceremoniously pushed under a bus, Michael Ignatieff will be crowned Liberal leader by caucus on Wednesday with the blessing of Liberal Party riding presidents - party members will be allowed to send their post hoc congratulations sometime next year when, in the best traditions of Stalinist Russia, a party convention will be held to "affirm" the Great Man's leadership. This illigitmate process is being undertaken in order to confer onto the Liberal Party a leader who has more legitimacy than the electorally deficient Dion.


But you can't have party unanimity without a few victims - just ask Stalin's victims. In this case, the murder victim will not be Kirov but Bob Rae's political ambitions along with the "Coalition" that would have brought down Stephen Harper had it not been for the last minute deus ex machina intervention of the monarchy in the form of the Governor General who, like the professor presented with a forged sick note by a bad student desperately seeking a postponement of an exam he's otherwise doomed to fail, gave Harper an extra six weeks to cram. It remains to be seen whether in that time Harper will learn the difference between governing with a majority and governing with a minority. Ignatieff has clearly signalled that if the Tories make concessions - and this means adopted the Coalition's program (weak as it is) the Liberals will likely support the budget.


Few people noticed the election night split-screen interview CTV News did with Rae and Ignatieff. In both his victory speech and in the interview Rae anticipated the broad strokes of the current parliamentary crisis and stated that with a minority parliament Stephen Harper is not necessarily going to be able to stay in government as his Throne Speech needs to gain the consent of the Opposition in order to pass. Rae was intimating that if the Tory Throne Speech was defeated the Liberals would have the opportunity to form a government. Ignatieff haughtily dismissed this scenario as "political science fiction" - the look on Rae's face was priceless. A mere six weeks later, what Iggy had dismissed as fantasy threatened to become reality (over a Fiscal Statement rather than the Throne Speech) and Ignatieff reluctantly signed on and then went into hiding. On Sunday, Ignatieff all but declared his opposition to the coalition idea and went on CBC Sunday to paraphrase William Lyon Mackenzie King by saying "a coalition if necessary but not necessarily a coalition" and explaining that he saw the coalition as a tool to get concessions from the Tories and little else.


Bob Rae, conversely, has been selling the coalition as if it's the Second Coming. After spending an election campaign as the Stephane Dion's designated hitter against the NDP - bashing Layton and his social democratic party at every opportunity - and after years of denigrated his former party as not worthy of support, Rae now posits himself, unconvincingly, as the NDP's best friend in the Liberal Party trumpeting a Liberal-NDP coalition as good for the Liberals and good for the country (good for everyone but the NDP, it seems). How the NDP could be beneath contempt in Rae's eyes on October 13th but potential cabinet colleagues on December 1st remains unexplained. But the ironies don't end there for it is the dire threat posed to the Tories by the coalition that has made it a necessity for the Liberals to expedite their leadership election - an act which will not only sunder aside Bob Rae's leadership ambitions in order to crown Michael Ignatieff as leader. In other words, in order to be prepared for the possibility that the Coalition might bring down Harper and be asked to form a government the Liberals are pushing aside the pro-coalition candidate in favour of the candidate who sees the coalition as expendable.


And people say Canadian politics is boring.
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Sunday, 16 November 2008

Rae's misstep

Bob Rae's decision to boycott today's Ontario's Liberal leadership debate is a serious tactical error which will only serve to alienate Ontario riding presidents - many of whom are already uneasy about the prospects of being led by a former NDP Premier.

Rae is right, of course, that the leadership forum should be a public event, open to the media and he was right to challenge Michael Ignatieff to agree to make the debate an open event and to rake him over the coals when he refused. However, by actually walking out Rae has gone beyond simply differentiating himself from his rival and has insulted the party officials he needs to win onside if he's to prevent what looks increasingly like an inevitable Ignatieff first ballot victory.

Even worse - by openly feuding with Ignatieff just days after all the contenders promised to bury the hatchet for the sake of public unity - Rae looks like a prima donna. Liberals are still sore from the self-inflicted wounds of the Chretien-Martin rivalry that almost destroyed the party so, while it is inevitable that Rae and Ignatieff will come to blows during the leadership campaign neither can be seen as the one who threw the first punch and neither can be seen as willing to put their own ambitions above the interests of the party. By bickering with Ignatieff as well as publicly embarrassing the Ontario Liberal executive Rae has crossed not one line in the sand but two and worse, he leaves the impression of someone who is dissing his party in order to pan to the hated media.

Advantage Iggy.
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Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Liberal leadership prospects narrow

John Manley announced today that he will not be a candidate for the Liberal leadership, surprising many pundits. The non-candidacies of Manley and former New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna means that the support of the powerful Business Liberal faction of the Liberal Party will coalesce behind Michael Ignatieff. This sets the scene for a showdown with Bob Rae at next year's leadership convention with Rae arguing that the Liberals should lead a "unite the left" movement and Ignatieff calling for the Liberals to move "back" to the centre. Both these arguments are deeply flawed.

Bob Rae sees himself as a Canadian Obama but he's really the Great White North's answer to Joe Lieberman. He is, with good cause, viewed by New Democrats as a traitor for obvious reasons and a fraud who squandered the miraculous opportunity given the Ontario NDP in 1990 to permanently reshape politics in that province and the country thanks to his abandonment of public auto insurance and his betrayal of labour through the social contract. Rae can no more "unite the left" under his banner than Sarah Palin can unite feminists under hers. While Rae's ego and arrogance leads him to believe that NDP and Green voters would flock to him because of the force of his personality he is, in fact, not only loathed by NDP activists who would balk at any formal co-operation between the NDP and Rae's Liberals but he is deeply mistrusted by progressives, unionists and conscientious working class voters even if they are not NDP partisans. For the Liberals "uniting the left" may make sense as a strategy (though it makes no sense for the left to put their faith in the Liberals), Rae is just about the last person who can bring that concept to fruition.

Meanwhile, Ignatieff and other Business Liberals have argued since October 14th that the reason the Liberal Party lost the election is that they have strayed too far from the "centre" (meaning the centre-right). This is a fallacious argument based on the false premise that the Liberals moved to the left under Dion. In fact, Dion's prescriptions for the country were very much in the centre-right tradition of the Chretien-Martin years. The "carbon tax" which would have shifted taxation from progressive income and corporate taxes to a regressive consumption tax is an eco-capitalist, centre-right, prescription to the environmental crisis that sees the market mechanisms as the solution to global warming and has been embraced by centre right leaders such as BC's Gordon Campbell. Carbon tax aside, Dion has argued that the Harper government has not gone far enough to implement corporate tax cuts saying “A low corporate tax rate is not a right-wing policy or a left-wing policy. It is a sound policy” and, at least before the global economic crisis, he opposed any expansion of government's role in the economy and was open to the idea of private-public partnerships and other incursions by the private sector into public services. The Dion led Liberals showed no interest in tax fairness, in combatting corporate globalization, reversing cuts to EI or any other widespread restoration of social programs to their pre-Chretien state.

The Liberal Party's electoral success has always been based on running from the left - or more accurately fooling Canadians into thinking that a Liberal government would govern from the left while privately assuring corporate interests that promises such as the Chretien era pledges to scrap the GST, scrap NAFTA, implement a national housing strategy or child care would not be implemented in the end. "Campaign from the left and govern from the right" is the formula that has allowed the Liberals to win support from working class and lower and middle income stratas as well as from a healthy section of the business community. The proposition by business Liberals that the party lost the election because they were too left wing is based not on facts but is simply an attempt to rally opposition within the party against the more progressive wing of the party.
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