Why Michael Ignatieff may be in trouble

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

(Edit 5 October: here's the sequel to this. Turns out the Liberals did everything wrong since then and now they are in a bit of trouble.)

Every once in a while I find an op-ed that agrees with my opinion so much that it's as if I had written it myself, and the Globe and Mail had one today that pretty much sums up the way I see the current political situation in Canada. In short, there really isn't a reason for an election in the fall and the Liberals don't have enough support to win anything more than a bare minority (if that), so any attempt to call an election right now by the opposition would simply let the Conservatives make the argument throughout the campaign that this is exactly why the country needs a majority, minority governments are unstable and the Conservatives need to be given a chance to run the government without the threat of an election every few months, etc.

I don't think this is specifically Ignatieff's fault though. The bigger problem here is that the Liberals since 2004 have continued to act as if they were on the threshold of becoming the ruling party again, acting as if all they need is just the right moment, the right leader, the right issue etc. to swing right back into power where they belong. It's a very jittery position for a party to be in because it takes away the ability for it to act in the long term. Did we pick the right leader? Is this one a dud too? Should we have called an election for the summer? Should we call one for the fall? Are we up in the polls, can we get a majority from our current support? This sort of nervous and excited outlook tends to make a party look unserious.

My advice for the Liberals is to:

1) Begin enjoying being in the opposition. The Liberals since 2004 have been extremely uncomfortable and unused to this position, whereas the NDP and the Bloc are having as much fun as they always do. Being a good opposition is a kind of performance for the voting public that shows that you have better ideas than the party in power. That means talking about issues alone without always letting off trial balloons about how this issue just might end up bringing about the next election.

2) Stop concentrating on the leader so much. Ignatieff would probably make a capable prime minister, but he's not a miracle worker. The Liberal Party has lost a lot of former prominent MPs and ministers, to the extent that it's not so easy to rattle off a list of Liberals as many could before and just after the 2004 election. A lot of former prominent ministers seem to have dropped off the map too - Ralph Goodale is still an MP but barely makes the news now, for example - 12 mentions on Google News compared to 1,199 for Ignatieff. Personally I'm always a bit miffed at Marc Garneau almost never making the news. He's admittedly not the most exciting politician but he was still an astronaut and the first Canadian in space, and the Liberals don't do enough to give people like him the attention he should be getting.

So in short - chill, diversify, and enjoy being in the opposition. Oh, and devise a strategy to funnel Green Party votes as well. Perhaps somewhat through environmental policy but more through formulating an argument that an argument for the Greens or the NDP is a vote for another Conservative government.


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