Monday, April 20, 2009

Making the best of it

It's perhaps not surprising that Jack Layton's new message of trying to work within the current Parliament is being dismissed by Lib supporters - as if any other response could have been expected. But those trying to draw any link between Layton and the Libs' track record of propping up the Cons may want to take a closer look at what he actually said:
The House of Commons should spend the next couple of months focusing on reforms to employment insurance and pensions, not electioneering, NDP Leader Jack Leader (sic) says.

It's a significant change in tactics for Mr. Layton, who portrayed himself as executioner-in-chief of the Harper Conservatives through a raucous winter run that threatened to topple the minority government at every turn.

On Monday, the NDP Leader marked the return of Parliament after a two-week Easter break with a public, 15-minute pep talk to his MPs and party workers, in which he spoke about the toll the recession is taking on Canadians.

The carefully staged, bear-pit speech was noticeably devoid of anything that could be construed as a threat to the survival of Stephen Harper's minority government.
“Get moving on it prime minister, work with us to implement the changes that must happen and must happen now,” Mr. Layton told his caucus, clutching a cordless microphone in one hand, stabbing a finger at the news cameras with his other.

Just last December, Mr. Layton ordained that the time was ripe for a change of government. But he was far more circumspect in his interview Monday after two weeks of town hall meetings with voters.

“What I heard [Canadians] say is that they want action,” Mr. Layton said.

“And they want action now, not off in the future when someone deigns to ordain that something should happen in Canadian politics, months and months away from now.”
Now, the Libs are obviously looking to mock the NDP's strategic shift in a vacuum. But let's keep in mind the political context which they've helped to create.

After all, with the Libs sending signals that they may be willing to look at an election this fall at the earliest, the likelihood of the current Parliament coming to an end over the next couple of months is nil. And that's so regardless of the path which the NDP pursues.

From that starting point, it then makes sense to acknowledge that Michael Ignatieff has thrown away any prospect of replacing the Cons with a better government, and look to minimize the damage caused by the Libs' choice to leave Harper in power.

Naturally, that can best be accomplished by focusing on areas like EI where the opposition is in substantial agreement in principle to maximize the pressure on Harper - which also means that the NDP won't be caught in the Libs' predicament of supporting any confidence measure on its own. And it also demands that the NDP take an active role in pushing the Harper government toward better policy outcomes, rather than taking the Libs' position that Canadians don't deserve anything better than an accounting of how Harper chooses to run amok.

In sum, the NDP's newest message doesn't mean for a second that the Cons will be left in power a second longer than can be avoided. But it does reflect the best possible chance of salvaging some positive results from a Parliament dominated thus far by the Libs' giant sucking vortex of uselessness. And while that's far from an ideal result for any progressive Canadian, it's about all anybody can hope to accomplish as long as the Libs have ruled out a coalition or an election.

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