Friday, February 06, 2009

The party of responsibility

It hasn't taken long after the introduction of Deficit Jim's initial budget for both the Libs and Cons to start bidding up any federal stimulus plan. But with plenty of stories pointing out the Cons' consistent failure to accomplish anything useful while dispensing billions of public dollars, the result may be to create a huge opening for the NDP to brand itself as the party of fiscal responsibility.

To start off with, let's note that the seemingly safer route for both the Libs and the Cons is to push for more and more stimulus. In the Libs' case, any mention of added stimulus funding can serve to try to distinguish themselves from the Cons as more responsive to concerns raised by the recession. But the Cons would naturally prefer to avoid letting the Libs draw that contrast, which makes them likely to try to keep pace with any requests to toss more money on the pile.

Of course, both will also talk about trying to be fiscally responsible in the process. But that's where the opening for the NDP comes in.

After all, the wave of news this week simply confirms the reality that the Cons' management of public funds has been woeful from day one. Already, there's evidence to suggest that the impending sea of red ink could have been avoided if not for the Cons' irresponsibility.

With reports pointing out that past Con spending has produced few if any demonstrable results, a case can be made that while genuine stimulus would be a plus, Deficit Jim and company figure to do more harm than good if given more money to play with. And that can stick to the Libs as well while they support the Cons, particularly if they're the ones publicly suggesting that Flaherty should be doling out more than he is.

Now, the first reaction would almost certainly be a suggestion that the NDP would be playing against type with such a move, notwithstanding the NDP's superior governing record and support for balanced budgets. But even that might not be a negative, particularly to the extent it gives the media a hook to write about the NDP's position. While columns saying that "even the NDP is sounding more responsible than the other parties" may be condescending initially, they can easily lay the groundwork for a message which cuts out "even" and "sounding" to make for a genuinely positive association.

And the longer-term benefits to the NDP could be massive if it succeeds in building that link. With the Cons simultaneously abandoning the idea of balanced budgets and getting tarred with the patronage brush, the main factor keeping their deficit-hawk supporters from turning elsewhere may be the lack of a seeming alternative. But if the NDP can change that calculus, then the result may be to topple the Cons from power - and to place the NDP in a stronger position than ever before.

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