Thursday, October 04, 2007

Ineffective opposition

In a disappointing followup to my post from this morning, the Libs are apparently falling well short of the "halfway competent" standard needed to turn Deceivin' Stephen's brinksmanship into a serious negative for the Cons:
The prime minister may have thought he was putting a gun to Liberal Leader Stephane Dion's head. But top Grit strategists suggest the move gives Dion more leeway to decide when - and over what issue - to pull the trigger on the minority Conservative government...

Harper's ploy gives Dion a chance to let the throne speech pass - by having Liberal MPs absent themselves or abstain - and wait for an issue that is more likely to play to Liberal strengths.

As one seasoned Liberal put it: "You've got to be careful not to take the bait. Pick your ground and your time."
Needless to say, the problem is that Harper's ultimatum offered exactly the kind of time which all opposition parties should have been eager to choose for an election. As I'd outlined this morning, the throne speech offered a unique opportunity to take the Cons down based their Cons' insistence on tying all of their policies together.

Based on that starting point, the opposition as a whole - and indeed each opposition party - would have the opportunity to cherry-pick its own issues within the whole which were seen as warranting an election, while being able to point to Harper's all-or-nothing ultimatum as an obvious reason why a non-confidence vote didn't result in a vote against issues where a party's interests might align with the Cons.

But that strategy would have been predicated on a quick response to frame Harper's demands appropriately - including a heavy emphasis on the "all-or-nothing" nature of the demand, along with a strong statement that neither the particular opposition party in particular nor the country as a whole agrees with all (or even most) of the Cons' agenda.

Instead, the Libs have framed Harper's demand solely to minimize their own immediate fallout by claiming they're not really under any pressure, rather than painting Harper in a way which will actually improve the odds that voters will see a need to remove the Cons from power. In doing so, they've ensured that any confidence vote will be based on a single policy matter rather than the sum of all Con weak spots - and of course they seem willing to wear the label of having kept the Cons in power by failing to show up for the throne speech. And the only apparent benefit for all that cost seems to be to buy a month or two before an election which the Libs seem to think will happen soon in any event.

Unfortunately, the Libs' seat count still makes them the opposition party most likely to be heard in the media. But from their willingness to look for excuses to prop up the Cons rather than to turn Harper's aggressiveness against him, it's all the more clear that they can't be counted on to provide effective opposition to the Cons - leaving only one national party in any position to stop the Harper agenda short of a majority.

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