Monday, September 14, 2009

On responses

Following up on this post, I'll put on my armchair strategist hat to suggest what the NDP should do in response to the Cons' EI benefit extension proposal. The first step is of course to wait for the bill to be introduced: if any EI reform is tied to a poison pill, then that should be taken as further evidence that Harper's government isn't interested in doing anything but poking the opposition with sharp sticks. (And yes, that's what the NDP did with the Cons' previous confidence bills as well, while expressing appropriate skepticism about the likelihood of their justifying a vote in the Cons' favour.)

Assuming the Cons bring forward a clean bill with reasonable EI improvements, that's where the decision point comes for the NDP. But I don't see any path forward which involves the NDP voting alone alongside the Cons.

Instead, the NDP's next move should then be to talk to the other parties and to the public to see if it's possible to pass the EI bill with unanimous consent - which would of course remove the dangers associated with the Cons delaying the bill and demanding votes to prop themselves up in the meantime. If all parties agree, then something positive would get done due largely to the NDP's contributions - giving Layton an ideal position going into an election campaign which can then start from the next confidence vote.

Of course, the idea that all of the parties will go along with even the most desirable of reforms probably deserves a laugh track. But a public effort to round up unanimous consent would still create some positive results for the NDP.

The most likely outcome would see the Cons refusing to pass their own bill immediately as they did when the Libs tried a similar gambit with previous crime bills. But that would thoroughly undermine the Cons' effort to win over the support of workers who would see the changes as a plus. And moreover, it would give the opposition parties a powerful argument to claim that the Cons saw the bill purely as a political calculation rather than something which they actually cared about passing - laying the blame entirely on the Cons for continued political games as a non-confidence vote takes place.

Equally plausibly, the Libs might choose to withhold their consent to passing an EI bill quickly, calculating that their desire to avoid being seen working with the NDP and Bloc outweighs both good policy and the desire to take EI away from the Cons as an issue. But from the NDP's standpoint, that would present some opportunities as well: they'd be able to point to the Libs' plan to obstruct any progress as evidence that it's indeed time for an election, and make a case that the Libs both failed to get anything done while supporting the Cons, then prevented the other parties from generating positive results once they came around to the NDP's point of view.

And if by some chance both the Libs and Cons balk? I'd think the incentive would be for at least one to take advantage of the other's holding the measure up by claiming to have wanted to get the measures passed. But as another piece of the "same old story" puzzle, that too would be just fine for the NDP.

Again, the crucial point is that there's little apparent reason why the NDP would allow an EI reform bill to get introduced and put in the legislative pipeline without moving the debate toward whether to pass it immediately. Either it passes before it's put at risk by another confidence vote, or the system isn't working and it won't pass anyway - and either way, the next contentious confidence vote should see the NDP voting down the Harper government.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

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