Monday, January 04, 2010
Opposition: time to recalibrate
Faced with the Harper government's frontal assault on the principles of responsible government, the opposition is in its usual complete disarray. My Liberal friend Impolitical has a new badge up at her place: "I prorogue because...I can...you let me...". But what do we get from the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition?
Just when a decisive voice is called for, there's Michael Ignatieff bleating almost en passant about the Harper cut-and-run exercise, and then proffering loads of hype about a Liberal "thinkers' conference" in March (which may conflict with a Spring election call, leaving all those thoughts unthought). Another tiresome grand tour of the Canadian hinterland is planned, including a homecoming visit to the universities. In other words, he'll be flying below the radar again at a crucial time.
Once defensive about Ignatieff's glaring lack of political instincts, Liberals are now starting to sound embarrassed. I don't blame them. Here's what the Leader says, fiddling while Rome burns:
It seems unbelievable that the Conservative government has prorogued Parliament for the second time in a year. Canadians are rightly starting to wonder if Conservatives intend to shut down government whenever things don’t go their way.
While Conservatives will be in hiding, Liberals will be hard at work over the next few months.
On March 26 to 28, 2010, some of Canada’s leading progressive thinkers and doers will gather in Montreal for a conference entitled Canada at 150: Rising to the Challenge. They will be part of a national conversation about the Canada we want to be in 2017, when we celebrate our 150th birthday, and the steps we can take today and tomorrow to get there.
That conversation starts with you.
That’s why I’ll be spending the first few months of the year reaching out, travelling from coast to coast, holding town-hall meetings, web forums and small gatherings to hear from Canadians first-hand. Your ideas, hopes, concerns and priorities will feed the discussion in Montreal. We’re starting off by visiting university and college campuses across the country – because a conversation about Canada’s future starts with the generation of Canadians that will shape it more than any other.
This goes beyond flabbiness, all the way to intellectual catatonia. A plaintive whine about those mean Conservatives, and then a proposal for a "national conversation," forsooth, where the common folk can all talk about Canada seven years hence.
Leaders are supposed to lead, dammit. This empty suit has been asking for input almost since his coronation. Doesn't he have any ideas of his own by now? Any gut reactions? Any strategy? Any vision? Any passion, for crying out loud?
I'm not even a Liberal, and I'm yearning to hear something real, just for once, come from this man's mouth.
If he still needs a clue, let him proceed by way of focus groups and polls. Canadian views are diverse: you won't pick up themes and directions by holding townhalls. At present Ignatieff is offering little more than do the online mainstream media with their comments threads, pretending to give Canadians a voice--suggesting, even, that they are somehow being listened to--but, in reality, building sandboxes for trolls to whom no one pays any real attention.
It's a faux-democratic exercise, at best. If Ignatieff hasn't figured out what presses Canadians' buttons by now, he won't achieve enlightenment with more trans-Canada meetings. Once more, he's coming across as a floundering, rootless character in search of an author.
At one point in the Fall of 2008, it looked as though the three opposition parties, representing the majority of Canadians, might achieve something by concerted action. Ignatieff pulled the plug on that, and shortly afterwards began to circle the drain himself, to the mounting despair of the Liberal rank and file. By the end of last October, he had finally pulled his party below Stéphane Dion's numbers.
Advisors have been cramming words and policies into him, inevitably making him look silly and out of touch--flipflopping on asbestos, selecting EI reform as a defining electoral issue, putting the Conservatives on "probation," tough-talking about an election when he's ten percent behind in the polls. Now we're getting a thinkers' conference and what might fairly be called outreach theatre.
We needed courage and conviction. We got Charlie McCarthy.
How is it that Harper can get away with defying and padlocking Parliament whenever he likes? Because he can. Because we're letting him. Because the two smaller opposition parties can't do very much on their own. Because the largest "opposition" party in the House of Commons is lumbered with a hapless caricature of a leader and a "war room" apparently populated by stoned adolescents.
I don't want any part of your "national conversation," Iggy. In case you hadn't noticed, we've already been having one. Perhaps some day you might deign to join it--or have the decency to step aside and make way for someone who will.
Posted by Dr.Dawg at 1:31 PM