How Blue Ignatieff?

January 25th, 2009
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If all the Liberals in Canada were lined up, shoulder to shoulder, the line would probably stretch from around the Starbucks on the south end of Elgin St. to the takeout window of La Patate Doré in Hull – and if any food were bought, you can bet the taxpayers would foot the bill. It’s also a fairly good bet that Michael Ignatieff would be at the very right end of the line too.

We’ve devoted a couple of entries recently to what I like to call the “myth of the Blue Liberal”. One was devoted to a particularly blue-ish set of quotes from Professor Dr. I., intoning that Liberals believed in personal responsibility, sound money, balanced budgets, etc., etc. Really rousing stuff.

Mr. Igantieff has also shown an uncharacteristic (for a Liberal) propensity for making clear-sounding policy pronouncements. This is such a disturbing trend that last week Kelly McParland decided to offer him an unsolicited primer on what Liberal party leaders can and can’t say (fun reading if you haven’t seen it).

But fear not, definite signs of familiar Liberal behaviour are emerging. In this story, the Liberal leader stated he could support anti-scab legislation, but of course not as radical as that which the Bloc Quebecois is proposing. So the Liberals believe in sound economic principles, except that they’re ready to hamstring employers with intrusive legislation.

Scott Brison is more habituated to Liberal lingo, having repeated in a recent statement the pining after the “lost” Liberal surpluses. He suggested that “the Conservatives will try and blame the deficit on the global financial plague, when in fact, the shortfall is due to tax cuts and spending increases that have ‘weakened Canada’s fiscal capacity’.” 

He has a point about the spending but, guess what? Who was it that was continually pushing for more spending? Why of course it was Mssrs. Brison and McCallum, who last fall shrieked about the PM’s reluctance to make gloomy economic statements. They were demanding swift, sweeping and stimulating action by the government, before the nature and extent of the crisis was even known.

It’s a shame that the media don’t seem interested in the ongoing contradictions in Liberal statements, particular the stupendous, howling flip flop between last fall and now. By contrast, the research folks at CTV (or perhaps someone helpful provided it to them?) have collected a series of statements by the Prime Minister and Jim Flaherty, showing how their assessment of the financial situation has changed with time.

It remains to be seen what position the Liberal leader will take on the budget this week. Indications are that he is in favour stimulus, but not fiscal breaks for the middle class. So the government will be doing the right thing, sort of, just not in the right way. That’s a good solid Liberal position, suggesting that he’s perhaps taken Mr. McParland’s advice after all.

It’s uncertain whether Mr. Ignatieff will allow the budget to pass. He’s clearly a quick study though, and obviously warming to the subtleties of traditional Liberal politics. And about time too.

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By John Weissenberger