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Thoughts on the Liberal Budget strategy

I’m not as, um, enthusiastic as some about putting this “government on probation” strategy, or putting them on a tight lease strategy, because I’m not sure that the Liberals are really doing that.

Even in the “leaked” report that Steve was quoting from Bob Fife at his blogpost had the Liberals at least demanding that changes be made to the EI and infrastructure portion of the budget ( along with the requirement of reports 3 times a year back to Parliament), but in the Liberal Press release, that first portion isn’t even mentioned – all we’re doing is proposing an amendment that the government be required to report to Parliament on their progress at implementing their Budget and the stimulus plan over several monthly intervals over the next year, with the first one due at the end of March, if this amendment passes.

In my opinion, we the Liberals had a lot of leverage on this, and we could have been far tougher in demanding changes and amendments to address the shortcomings in this Budget that Mr. Ignatieff has correctly identified. We seem to be letting them off the hook, when all we’re requiring them to do is report how well they have implemented their plan – and this coming from the government who was forecasting a surplus at the end of the year in their economic update. I understand some in the Liberal Party having an aversion to taking a chance that the G-G would not accept a coalition and instead go to an election (which wouldn’t have bugged me personally, but I know others in the LPC disagree, and I can understand their argument and accept it as a legitimate concern), but I think we really could have been tougher on this Budget then we have appeared to be.

I’ll offer the alternative view that could be argued about this amendment. The amendment more or less is saying that the Conservatives can’t be trusted to keep their promises made in this Budget, and they need to be reined in and kept an eye on by Parliament. This amendment, if passed, would force the Conservative government to report to Parliament on their promises, and if they fail to meet them, the Liberals (and presumably the other opposition parties) would defeat them. If the Conservatives vote against this amendment, then they will lose the confidence of the House (but I will add a caveat here; that’s presuming the BQ and NDP vote for the Liberal amendment, when I wouldn’t be surprised if they voted against purely on principal that this government shouldn’t even be in existence to be filing the reports). If the Conservatives vote for it, they’ll be admitting they can’t be trusted to follow through on their Budget promises.

My personal opinion? I’ll be extremely surprised if Harper instructs his caucus to vote against the Liberal amendment and risk bringing it down on this proposal. Quite frankly, if they do object to this amendment that is merely trying to hold them accountable to Parliament and the Canadian public, then they deserve to go down to defeat.

[email protected]:00pm: On the other hand, I do have to admit it’s quite entertaining to watch the continuing saga of many of the Blogging Tories react in horror at this Budget that their (former?) hero has come out with, and even former Conservative cabinet minister Monte Solberg gets in on the act (you can tell Monte hates the arts from his piece, can’t you?). Good work from James on continuing to document the angst over there.


9 comments to Thoughts on the Liberal Budget strategy

  • Oemissions

    In a nonconfidence vote, who would form the government when the GG asks the Opposition Leader to do so? Havenot the Liberals just alienated their allies?

  • Roll Tide

    @Steve V
    Were being force fed Keynesian swill.

  • Mound

    Just a point of clarification, Canadians got rid of Mr. Dion, quite decisively in fact.


    I agree on the amendment front, I think we could have, and should have asked for more. Ignatieff left room for future demands on EI, but that’s really irrelevant to the current need. The logic seems to be, no amendments that will require a bigger deficit, but that seems a pretty timid view.

    On this “check” amendment, it effectively guarantees us opportunities to bring them down. I am of the opinion, that this government will do EVERYTHING it can to avoid confrontation in the next few months, maybe longer as the economic fall unfolds. By forcing a presentation that involves real numbers, it gives us the hammer in a sense. The government must react to our demand, and if there is any question, or playing with the numbers, we have the impetus to reject. We now know, and Hill has already conceded, that there will be three clear opportunities for a non-confidence, even if the government brings forward a “safe” legislative agenda, that doesn’t provide a real trigger for an election. This amendment guarantees that trigger, because it a judgement on the economic management of the government, it’s a clear test that provides a real justification to bring them down. I really think that these amendment is about future opportunities, it doesn’t allow the government to simply run out the clock on the economy, then force an election when it suits them. The opposition needs a trigger, this amendment provides that, and everyone knows the stakes.

    On another point Mound made, the IMF report is decidedly more pessimistic, another indication that Flaherty is too “rosy”, already. If (and don’t think the Liberals will just sit quietly while Flaherty fudges, we have Page for verification, let’s not forget and that’s justification right there on “trust”) the government numbers are wrong, then we kill them on competence and force an election.

    Kinsella is floating June, and with the convention, a short afterglow, coupled with economic ground zero, it’s important to consider. Harper lived another day, but I don’t think we’ve given him a pass for any real period, and we still have some levers, now enshrined, to hightlight the rationale for another vote. I temper my disappointment with the thought that will move, in fairly short order. First window being June, then the fall, after that, I think it starts to hurt us.

  • Roll Tide

    On the spending side, the budget is Liberal.
    On the revenue side (tax cuts), its Conservative. I had hopped for less spending, but thats what happens when you have a minority, with Liberals, NDP,and the Bloc screaming for more spending.
    Obama proposes 3X the stimulus per capita, a big mistake. One has only to look at the Japanese and Bob Rae experience to see that you cannot spend yourself into prosperity.

  • MoS

    What did Ignatieff gain by supporting a hopelessly flawed budget? The IMF report released today shows that the recession forecasts this budget is based on are grossly understated. In other words, it’ll be like kicking a soccer ball halfway up a steep hill. A lot of effort but the ball winds up back at your feet. By casting the deciding vote, Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Party now “own” this budget no matter how coy they try to be about that. We got rid of Dion for this guy?

  • MsZ

    I think the strategy is pretty transparent. Rather than look petty or obstructionist to the public, that probably doesn’t see beyond the surface of the budget and according to polls want the budget to pass, they want to expose Harper and leave him holding the bag as our economy disintegrates. The Conservative government has been very good at turning their spin into conventional knowledge and reports, debate, and frequent media scrutiny offer the best opportunity to expose Conservative failings. In other words, let Harper pass his budget as is, and be forced to take sole responsibility for its consequences. If Liberals were to make substantive amendments, it would just give the CPC an opportunity to share the blame with them.
    There is a bad taste in my mouth, because this means that the Liberal caucus believes the budget will fail to improve the economy but is choosing to let Harper take the fall for his budget, rather than trying to fix it up. Meanwhile Canadians will be the ones suffering the consequences of Harper’s weak stimulus plan.
    I am grateful that the Liberal party again has leadership that isn’t politically oblivious, but I am not sure that this much principle should be sacrificed.
    It seems pretty basic to me, If Ignatieff was looking out for the best interest of the country at heart as he claims, wouldn’t he at least try to improve the content of the budget that he himself has criticized?

  • My theory re: the amazing disappearing amendments is this: Ignatieff called Jack last night and said, “There isn’t enough here to justify voting down the government, but if we vote together we can force them to accept these amendments and at least fix the worst of it.” And Jack said, “Screw you, Iggy! Victory or death!!”

    Just a guess.

  • MississaugaPeter

    Duceppe says that Coderre told him the Coalition is dead.

    Ignatieff ended the Liberal’s leverage.

    Why would the Conservatives have to support Ignatieff’s amendment?

    Harper feared the Coalition. Harper does not fear the Liberals forcing an election.

  • Joseph

    I expect the amendment to be voted based upon support by the Liberals and the Conservatives.

    I’m not enthusiastic, but I appreciate the stance politically, given the current political context.

    I do think any election at this point would be regarded by the public as more political games, which Ignatieff and the Liberals could be labeled with in addition to Harper (especially when the ads start flying). And the Canadian public would never hear the end of the griping about a coalition should they be granted the government, and I suspect the coalition might not prove to be stable for long (I’ve long suspected that, btw, not a new thought).

    The one positive aspect I see in this response is it does provide a lever for renewed pressure on the Conservatives to deliver and can be used to keep their efforts in the spotlight as the economy continues along. People will debate its effectiveness, but the reality is it will more than anything else the Liberals have done recently drive a media narrative that otherwise would not exist. I can imagine the lead-in and follow-up reporting now as every progress status date comes and goes.

    And it might actually work, which is what government is supposed to be about at the end of the day. I believe, political cynicism aside, that Ignatieff may actually want to make government work as intended with one government and a vigilant opposition. That speaks volumes in itself.

    Moreover, it speaks to a leader and a party confident they can prevail on their ideas and policies in the next election, regardless of whether it comes during a recession or after the worst of the economic downturn has passed. More than anything, that is the tone that is projected these days. And I like that tone.

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