Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Don't Do It, Jack

The budget is about two hours away from being revealed. Flaherty has 'leaked' that he's going to meet some of the NDP's demands, and that he isn't going to meet the Bloc's or the Liberals' demands.

As intractability goes, the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc are really showing it in spades. Yet somehow, with 272 of 308 votes already decided in advance before the election, it's those remaining 36, some 12% of Commons, who will be accused either of propping up the evil Conservatives or of precipitating a $300 million election 'that nobody wants'. The long-gun registry was the very same thing, and the NDP paid a political price for attempting moderation that the other parties didn't. Bravo to Layton for trying to use his party as a voice for moderation, as an agent for making ideas that work as opposed to digging heels into the ground. It's admirable, but it doesn't really seem to gain the NDP much support.

It looks like there are a few scenarios that can happen. There are three main ones:
  • Since it's a given that Flaherty will cave into some but not all NDP demands, the NDP can vote against the budget. If they do, hopefully they can get the message out that 'we really tried to get this budget to pass but the Conservatives are too driven by their radical agenda to be open to practical suggestions'.
  • The NDP might hope either to waffle on the budget or to actually declare their support for it, only in order to turn around next week and join the Liberals in a motion of no-confidence involving the Conservatives' contempt of parliament.
  • The NDP could spin Flaherty's carrots as being enough, and could throw their weight behind the Conservatives twice: once regarding the budget and again next week regarding contempt.
Option three, the only thing that would prevent an election (unless the Liberals or the Bloc capitulate, and that doesn't look probable), would be a disaster for the NDP. As much as both the Bloc and the Liberals are directing their gaze in Harper's direction, they both hope to steal NDP support. They would be unrelenting in reminding left-leaning Canadians that the NDP had sold them out. I'm incline to think it would stick this time.

Option two is a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too option that might make sense within the closed walls of Parliament but seems ridiculous out there in Canada. It will make the NDP look directionless and indecisive. Layton likes being seen as a statesman, but principles are important to NDP voters too. They like clear messages, and Layton should really start sending them. I have a suspicion that option two is what Layton is mulling, but I think it's a mistake. It will allow both sides to hammer them for indecision.

Option one carries its risks. The Conservatives will try to present the case that they attempted to accommodate the NDP as much as possible, and that the NDP don't care about the economy, only about reckless elections. The NDP will need to counter that Flaherty did not do enough, and that unlike the Liberals and the BQ, the NDP were making modest proposals that a government that really didn't want an election and that recognised the supremacy of parliament should have been able to accommodate. They did this to themselves, Layton will hope to say. The main problem here is that while the NDP's message sounds powerful and convincing, it doesn't soundbite very well. And given the limited opportunities for soundbites the NDP get, in comparison to the Conservatives, the Liberals, and if you're watching in Québec the BQ, they need to message as efficiently as possible. Still, though, I think it's the best possibility for the NDP at the moment.

I'm attracted to the idea of the NDP as powerbrokers. I like seeing them step in and be actively involved in parliament, navigating the landmines of agreement and support in order to actually get things done where the other three parties won't. But not at the expense of principles. Principles are the cornerstone of the NDP. Stick to them, Jack. They're why we vote for you.

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