Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On choices

A couple of Lib stalwarts are already starting the conversation about what that party figures to do if faced with the choice of supporting either the Cons or the NDP as Canada's government. And without getting too far ahead of ourselves, we definitely shouldn't take for granted that the Libs will support an NDP effort to replace Harper - though there's one easy step the NDP can take to significantly swing their decision.

To start off with, I don't think there's much doubt that at least part of the Libs' braintrust will insist on sticking to its current plan of doing nothing to suggest the NDP might be of use to anybody based on the hope that it'll go away on its own.

To the extent the Libs are more concerned about their party brand than their ability to accomplish anything useful in public life, there's at least some argument to be made for that view. And I'd fully expect the Cons to take up that message at every available opportunity to the extent they don't want to give an inch on either policy or cabinet posts.

Of course, that list of non-negotiable items from the Cons hints at the options available to the NDP. But the Libs figure to be a relatively difficult party to win over in terms of policy.

Yes, some Lib MPs will genuinely want to see a progressive alternative replace the Harper Cons, and an NDP government would likely be willing to implement some of the Libs' core platform planks if that's the price of their support. But I'm not sure anybody thinks the Libs as a whole are so attached to any policies as to make those the deciding factor.

But that leaves the area where there's the most room for discussion.

After all, the Libs' late-campaign attack on the NDP has included an attempt to paint their own experience as a major selling point. And that leaves the door open for Jack Layton to say that while he fully intends to follow through on changing Ottawa, he'll be glad to see the Libs use their experience for the good of the country under a coalition government.

That may make for a rather compelling opportunity not just for Michael Ignatieff himself, but also for the Bob Raes, John McCallums and Carolyn Bennetts of the party who surely figured they'd be headed for senior cabinet posts rather than third-party status. And younger Lib members who haven't yet had a chance to serve as parliamentary secretaries might also see more of an opportunity than they'd ever receive as long as the Harper Cons are in power.

So if yesterday's EKOS results reflect where the campaign is going, I'd fully expect the battle among the Libs to be less an issue of red versus blue, and more a question of strategists versus MPs (to say nothing of a substantial part of the party's base). And considering what the strategists have accomplished in the last four election cycles, the Libs would be well advised to be skeptical that they should carry the day this time.

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