Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On outsourcing

I'll start off this post by noting that there are few more tiresome refrains in Canadian politics at the moment than the Cons' line that Michael Ignatieff is about to run back to Harvard at the drop of a hat. So take the below as a point about what Ignatieff is doing while he's in Canada, not a reason to claim that he'll be teaching classes by next semester.

That said, there's reason to wonder whether Ignatieff is checking out of a seemingly vital part of his role as Lib leader. From yesterday's Hill Times:
In the past month there have been operational changes to try and make things run more smoothly. For instance, Mr. Ignatieff's so-called "Kitchen Cabinet," comprised of senior Liberal MPs, has stopped meeting every morning for half-an-hour and instead now meets weekly for two hours. Also, responsibility for preparation for the daily Question Period has been moved out of the OLO and is now overseen by Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale's (Wascana, Sask.) office.
Now, one could argue that Ignatieff's choice to farm out responsibility for question period would be consistent with the theory that he needs to focus less on Parliament in general and more on travelling around the country. But even if that's the reason for the switch, it looks to me like a highly questionable move.

After all, I've mentioned before the disproportionate amount of attention that question period receives in Canadian political reporting. And that only seems to be getting worse now that question period regularly the subject of live Tweeting from multiple sources, as well as near-instant reporting through two major media outlets.

Of course, there's no indication that Ignatieff will ever be able to get meaningful answers out of Harper or his government anytime soon. But the themes raised in question period still form the basis for most reporting on developments in Parliament. And even in the absence of any prospect of actually finding out anything new from the Cons, it's still the lone time when Ignatieff gets the chance to challenge Harper in direct wit-to-wit combat rather than having to fight the Cons' PR machine - not to mention a chance for many MPs to show their mettle in front of a national TV audience.

Based on that background, I'd expect question period to at least be included as a component of the messaging strategy being carried out by an opposition leader's office. Instead, though, Ignatieff has apparently washed his hands of it, leaving Ralph Goodale to manage it separately from the Libs' party-building work.

That might result in the Libs developing stronger direct challenges to Harper in the House, as Goodale presumably has far less qualms about the kind of oppositional politics which seem to have tripped up Ignatieff. But it also figures to raise far more likelihood that the Libs' questions will operate solely as temporary pokes at the Cons, rather than as part of the party's work on a longer-term narrative. And the Libs have to be wondering whether Ignatieff's decision to offload a major part of his and his party's work might be a sign of more flagging interest to come.

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