Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On levels of support

It shouldn't come as much surprise that the Libs, the Cons and their media buddies doing their utmost to strongarm the NDP into backing the Cons even while concern trolling about how disastrous that move would be. And there's no doubt that the NDP's response needs to be based on its own assessment of how matters stand rather than on those external forces.

But just as that means not being goaded by the taunts coming from the Cons and Libs, it also means resisting the pressure to knuckle under and offer more support than the Cons deserve for too little return. And with that in mind, here's how I'd see the path forward from this Friday's confidence vote.

In general, the NDP needs to differentiate between two different types of cooperation which current seem to be getting mixed up. Take in particular this line from CBC:
NDP Leader Jack Layton had signalled he could support the government after the Tories announced a proposal to extend employment insurance for long-tenured workers. Layton said the EI plan was a "step in the right direction."

For the EI changes to proceed, the NDP feels it would have to support the government on Friday.
Now, there might be some circumstances where the NDP should be willing to declare that a substantial enough set of policy proposals from the Cons could justify supporting the government more broadly to make sure they get implemented. If by some chance Harper were to adopt wholesale some combination of the NDP's proposals on EI, its climate change bill (with reinforcements based on the ability to pass a money bill) or pension protection, that's the point where the NDP should take a serious look at backing the Cons even on unrelated confidence votes - as the tangible gains from those specific policies would be seen to outweigh the costs of keeping the Cons in power long enough to get them passed.

But one set of EI adjustments which falls far short of the NDP's own proposals shouldn't be seen as anywhere near meeting that standard. And that in turn leads to a far different set of calculations.

The NDP should make it clear that it supports the EI bill itself (depending on its contents), and that to the extent the EI bill is seen as a confidence matter the NDP will vote in favour of it. But it should also place the onus squarely on the Cons to act responsibly enough in how they act generally to shift the NDP from its entirely justified lack of confidence in the Harper government. And that should start with a vote against the Cons on Friday to make it clear that Harper has to demonstrate he's willing to govern in a way that the NDP can support - or declare otherwise and justify that refusal to Canada's voters.

Particularly in light of Harper's recent combination of taunting and unresponsiveness, the starting point needs to be that the Cons still have everything to prove - both in being serious about passing the EI reforms which have been floated so far, and in governing responsibly enough not to be brought down while the EI bill works its way through Parliament. (That should be paired with the unanimous consent strategy on the EI bill itself, which if the Libs play along would have the added bonus of raising the expectation that the changes will happen regardless of whether or not an election happens in the meantime.)

And if as seems likely the Cons choose to force the country to the polls rather than doing their job of working with anybody in Parliament, then there can't be much room for doubt that the NDP and the country would be even worse off in the long run if Harper were allowed to keep power rather than being called out on his stubbornness.

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