Monday, September 21, 2009

Worse than nothing

One of the main rallying points for the NDP in its decision to try to get results out of the current Parliament rather than forcing an election has been to compare $1 billion in EI improvements from the NDP's anticipated votes this fall to zero in benefits arising from the Libs' 79 votes to prop up the Harper government. But it's worth pointing out that while that may make for an easily-repeated message, it's actually far too generous to the Libs when one compares the starting point for the votes.

After all, the NDP's votes are coming at a time when the alternative to passing an EI bill is a certain election. Once a campaign starts, the baseline expected result would almost certainly involve the Cons winning another minority government - and a Harper majority (which would surely take the opportunity to start attacking "fringe groups" like women and minorities with far less restraint than they've had to show so far) would loom as a more likely outcome than a victory for any other party or combination thereof. And even if one generously assumes that the heightened risk of a Con majority through an election is balanced out by the potential for change, the net benefit from votes actually is still $1 billion more than would be provided otherwise.

In contrast, the Libs' confidence votes included the most important ones of all - being those at the start of 2009 when there was a coalition ready, able and poised to offer an alternative government.

That's where any attempt to claim credit for the Cons' initial stimulus breaks down. The difference then wasn't between the Cons' stimulus and nothing, but between continued Con government and any superior stimulus plan which could and should have been provided by Ignatieff and his party in a coalition with the NDP. And based on the opposition parties' common criticisms of the Cons, the latter choice would have meant more money flowing directly to municipalities to get a recovery started faster, and a plan designed based on what the NDP and Libs jointly saw as best for Canada rather than on what the Cons saw as best to buy themselves votes.

In sum, Ignatieff's decision to leave Harper at the controls when there was actually an immediate alternative resulted in a far worse outcome than a mere zero. And it shouldn't be forgotten that the party which now claims it can do better is the party which chose not to.

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