Ignatieff's first big mistake

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Model of the new headquarters for the United States Institute of Peace.

At least that's what this looks like to me. Thus far Ignatieff has had a pretty comfortable ride as leader of the Liberal Party and has been doing a good job introducing himself to the country. Add to that the economic downturn and you see a pretty big shift in the polls, with the Liberals up in the polls at 36.7% vs. 30.2% for the Conservatives. This is a good sign for them but it's still nowhere close to majority territory, which is generally thought to be about 40% of the vote. Last election (October 2008) the Conservatives won 37.65% of the vote, which was still only enough for a minority win. Granted, the Liberals have more support in vote-rich areas in the east of the country but 36.7% still might not be enough.

This is why the first link seems a bit puzzling. It's about Ignatieff's plans to meet with President Barack Obama's inner circle in order to show his close ties to the people in that administration (Ignatieff lived in the US for quite some time and knows a lot of these people personally), and perhaps to talk personally with Obama himself. Added to that will be an off-the-record keynote address on Afghanistan.

This one quote here sums up why this is probably a bad move:

"Michael Ignatieff is not even prime minister and already the Obama team is reaching out to him for his expertise and because they believe he will be Canada's next prime minister," said one senior Liberal.

That's exactly the point - he's not even prime minister and for all we know never will be. Add to that the fact that the last election was only six months ago and you have to wonder what the point of meeting with the Obama administration is, since dissolving Parliament right now in order to hold yet another election won't look good no matter who does it. So if this is the case and there's not going to be an election in the near future then what's the point of meeting with the Obama administration this week?

There are two things that make an election into a winning one: 1) a clear reason for the election, and 2) a clear message that can be repeated over and over again over the six weeks or so. Now take a look at this quote from the article:

But he will also argue Canada should be taking a much bigger role in the Holbrooke mission given the country's military and financial commitment to Afghanistan. Ignatieff has criticized the Harper government for failing to appoint a special envoy to region as Britain, France and Italy have done.

"Canada's voice has been muted. We should not simply be a repeat of the U.S." a Liberal insider said. "We have paid the largest price in the percentage of soldiers killed and we are significant aid donor. We should make sure we have a say in the war against terrorism and the mounting challenge in Pakistan."

"Canada needs a special envoy to the region just like Britain, France and Italy!" isn't an election message. Not even close.

Finally, the article ends with a comparison that isn't really valid:
There is precedent for the president meeting the leader of Canada's official opposition at the White House.

Brian Mulroney went to Washington to meet President Ronald Reagan after he became Conservative leader and before he defeated the Liberals in the 1984 general election.
Right...but then-Prime Minister Turner had until 1985 to call an election back then, so it was either 1984 or 1985. Add to that the fact that the Liberals had been in power every year except one since 1963 and there was a definite impetus for an election in Canada at the time. At the moment though, for all we know the Conservatives could manage to stay in power until 2013 or so.

Finally, lest you think the NDP would be interested in bringing down the government at the moment, that's probably not the case. Take a look at the poll numbers again: the NDP are now at 15.5%, 2% less than the vote total they received in the last election. The Bloc is up a point in Quebec compared to last time and they might be able to benefit from a two-way split of the federalist vote, but what would be the message the Liberals could run on if only the Bloc agrees to support a vote of non-confidence less than a year after the last election?

It's possible that this trip to the US just might not receive that much attention and the net effect will be zero, but that in itself still makes it a bit of an odd move. What's the point in such a high-profile visit in order to look prime ministerial when there's no election on the horizon?


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