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Punditry Through a Looking Glass

16-Jun-09 12:07 am EST Leave a comment Go to comments
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff rises in the House of Commons to question the government earlier today.  Source: CBC News
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erhaps I am naïve.  Or maybe I’m in some parallel universe watching a parallel version of CBC’s At Issue Panel.  But I had a lot of trouble swallowing their characterizations of Canadian Liberal Leader Michael Igantieff’s interviews today.  Ignatieff was expected to announce a decision on whether to make a concerted effort to bring the Minority Conservative government down on a motion of non-confidence today.  The assertion of the pundits was that he’d threatened an election based on a “report card” on the government’s session performance last week, but instead Ignatieff had a list of things he wanted to discuss with the government and see sufficient progress on before making a final decision.

Well, this has resulted in the pundits trotting out some very dismissive characterizations of Ignatieff – in sharp contrast with what they had to say about the man before.  Suddenly Ignatieff is now “weak”, “afraid” and “back-peddling”; words used to describe Ignatieff’s defeated predecessor Stéphane Dion.  Not that I thought this gang’s analysis of Dion was particularly on-target either, but just because Ignatieff didn’t up the drama by stating he’d bring down the government when he actually never said that he was about to seems a bit wild. No – a lot wild.

Ignatieff might be guilty of allowing expectations of an election call to soar.  He didn’t deny that forcing an election was one on a list of possibles he could have announced this morning.  And he’d said he wanted 300-something hours as a new minimum set for EI qualification, among other things.  But common sense sort of dictates that it was never actually going to be in his party’s interest to simply fail the government on its report card and state a non-confidence motion would be levelled at the first opportunity.  Canadians aren’t in an election mood, to say the least, having been through 4 in the past 7 years.  If an election call is to be had, the Liberals have to force it making it appear they’ve made every reasonable attempt to make Parliament work.

During today’s round of interviews, Ignatieff looked neither indecisive, weak or afraid.  He looked like a politician making an honest effort to get concessions from the government.  And he may not want an election – he says so if you ask him, and did several times today.  But “afraid”?  If so, he handles stress well enough one might think he’d been emotionally lobotomized.  So why the At Issue Panel found his responses as evidence of “back peddling” from an imagined threat to bring the government down is anyone’s guess.  They did latch on to him supposedly “ditching” the 300-plus hours reduction for EI as a requirement for their support, but I’m not sure I’ve either heard Ignatieff say it was a demand; compliance with which was a condition for Liberal confidence in the House or that it was even off the Liberal wish list.  Again, I have to wonder if I’m either watching or, more probably, in an episode of The Twilight Zone.  Maybe Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in here with me, since today he also complained that Ignatieff had delivered no actual demand, joking it was unusual to have an ultimatum phrased with no condition prior to “or else”.  Maybe Harper and the media are cobbling together separate facts to create these notions of demands, ultimatums and weak leadership.

Sill, if there’s anyone back-peddling here it’s the NDP, not that you’d hear anything about that from the media.  Thomas Mulcair, the lone NDPer from Québec elected in the Liberal stronghold of Outremont last election, amused the audience of CBC’s Politics with Don Newman today trying to explain how the party could claim to be making Parliament work while maintaining a policy of automatically voting against the government on all confidence motions, no matter what.  How is it the Liberals are always to blame for singularly breaking Parliament when the other two opposition parties get away with automatic ‘no’s on non-confidence motions?  If the Liberals adopted that policy, rest assured the media would be painting the Liberals as opportunists for defeating the government while riding high in the polls.  But not the NDP, not the Bloc Québecois.  They can do whatever they like without penalty.

The best reason to not call an election is to ensure that infrastructure funding continues uninterrupted over the summer months. If the media can still be believed, apparently an election might jeopardize some of that money – and with the economy doing badly, it’s funding badly needed in Canada’s industrial heartland – where the Liberals are polling well at the moment.  But if there is an election, hopefully my countrymen (and women) are able to see through this blame-the-Liberals game.  Because if Parliament fails, all the parties have dirt on their hands – no matter what Ignatieff and his Liberals do this week.

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Terry Glavin

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