canadas liberals new leader same old band

Michael Ignatieff, Canada's newly-minted Opposition leader, got his job because the country, the media, and the party perceived his predecessor as weak and ineffective. The question now arises, should the Liberals go back to that barrel of leadership...

Michael Ignatieff, Canada’s newly-minted Opposition leader, got his job because the country, the media, and the party perceived his predecessor as weak and ineffective.

The question now arises, should the Liberals go back to that barrel of leadership contenders, and see what else they can scrape off the bottom?

Ignatieff is a tall man. He has a fairly large chin, a gruff voice, and the ability to strut, posture and be manly for the cameras. During a leadership race, or even a leadership stroll to the finish line, these things are of the greatest importance.

The erstwhile Liberal leader, Stephane Dion, was nether tall nor large of chin. His voice was soft and he wore spectacles, and whenever he poked his little chin out for the cameras, he just looked silly. It didn’t help matters that he genuinely was a weak leader, and of a seriously weakened party.

Dion demonstrated his own and his party’s weakness by repeatedly backing away from Harper’s I-dare-you confidence motions, and either supporting or refraining from voting on a succession of Conservative budgets. Now that Ignatieff has had a chance to prove himself, we discover that in matters of policy he’s no stronger than Dion was. If anything, his reaction to the Harper-Flaherty budget was softer than we might have expected from the supposedly weak-kneed Dion.

Here is some of what the tough-talking Ignatieff has to say about last week’s budget: “It extends EI benefits but doesn’t extend eligibility. It opens the door for attacks on pay equity for women. It provides no new child-care spaces…. It attaches strings to infrastructure projects that may delay projects and delay job creation. It promises to sell government assets for cash at bargain basement prices but doesn’t say which assets and for how much….”

Hey, sounds great, Ignatieff. Sounds like just the kind of budget you would want to pass without amendments. It’s OK though, Ignatieff knows how to get tough. He’s put the government “on probation,” by proposing a single amendment to the budget: one that requires the Conservatives to give themselves a regular report card. Any predictions on how many failing grades they get?

The Conservatives’ sniggering over the terms of their probation was audible all the way out here in Whitehorse. But it only got louder when Ignatieff found himself holding the thorny end of the Newfoundland problem.

Stephen Harper had an axe to grind with Premier Danny Williams of Newfoundland and Labrador. The ever pugnacious Williams—himself a Conservative—campaigned against Harper in the last election, and won. Not a single federal Conservative represents Newfoundland today. Harper got his revenge by slicing a reported .5 billion out of transfer payments to the province.

Facing a rebellion among his Newfoundland MPs, who were deeply opposed to the cuts, Ignatieff backed down again, permitting the Newfoundland Liberals a “symbolic” vote against the budget. Here’s Ignatieff again in his own words: “After much discussion of this issue with my colleagues from Newfoundland and Labrador I decided to permit them in the budget vote … a one-time vote of protest to signal their displeasure and my displeasure at these unilateral actions, which in my view weaken our federation.”

Here we must assume that Ignatieff is speaking of the federation of provinces and territories we call Canada. So how does a strong opposition leader express his displeasure at a budget which threatens to weaken the Canadian federation? Why, he passes it without amendments of course. But he does so in a gruff voice, with his chin shoved straight out at the cameras, so he won’t look weak.

It’s only going to work for so long, Ignatieff. Eventually, even Liberals are going to notice that you have frittered away all the advantage gained by Dion and the coalition, and returned the party to the status of a parliamentary rubber-stamp. It’s only a matter of time before the rejuvenated Conservatives start getting in your face with the same tactics that defeated Dion.

There’s still a chance Ignatieff will be prime minister some day. Harper is an obvious dud to all but the most dedicated Conservatives, and many of those are deeply alienated by what they perceive as a big-government, big-spending budget. Furthermore, Ignatieff remains a tall man, like all our recent prime ministers. His chin remains strong, his voice remains gruff. Voters may yet choose the illusion of strength over the reality.

Tall as he is, straight as he stands, Marlboro Mike Ignatieff has so far exhibited no signs of a political spine. Stephane Dion must be shaking his head, and wondering how he ended up on the sidelines so soon after taking his first strong stand on anything.

Oh well, that’s showbiz.

Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes,

is available in bookstores.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

In a Feb. 17 statement, the City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology used for emergency response. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Three words could make all the difference in an emergency

City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology

Jesse Whelen, Blood Ties Four Directions harm reduction councillor, demonstrates how the organization tests for fentanyl in drugs in Whitehorse on May 12, 2020. The Yukon Coroner’s Service has confirmed three drug overdose deaths and one probable overdose death since mid-January. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three overdose deaths caused by “varying levels of cocaine and fentanyl,” coroner says

Heather Jones says overdoses continue to take lives at an “alarming rate”

Wyatt's World for Feb. 24, 2021.
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Feb. 24, 2021.

Approximately 30 Yukoners protest for justice outside the Whitehorse courthouse on Feb. 22, while a preliminary assault hearing takes place inside. The Whitehorse rally took place after the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, based in Watson Lake, put out a call to action over the weekend. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Courthouse rally denounces violence against Indigenous women

The Whitehorse rally took place after the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society put out a call to action

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

The Yukon government and the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce have signed a letter of understanding under the territory’s new procurement policy. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
First Nation business registry planned under new procurement system

Letter of understanding signals plans to develop registry, boost procurement opportunities

US Consul General Brent Hardt during a wreath-laying ceremony at Peace Arch State Park in September 2020. Hardt said the two federal governments have been working closely on the issue of appropriate border measures during the pandemic. (John Kageorge photo)
New U.S. consul general says countries working closely on COVID-19 border

“I mean, the goal, obviously, is for both countries to get ahead of this pandemic.”

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Start of spring sitting announced

The Yukon legislature is set to resume for the spring sitting on… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Most Read