Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Calgary Grit Has it All Wrong on the Coalition – Reasons Why We Should Never Listen to Dan Arnold Again (Unless of Course He’s Right)

So I see that Calgary Grit Dan Arnold has taken on the role of official downer of the Liberal Party (don’t listen to him! You’ll see why below).

Dan don’t you know the Liberals have been so starved for good news these past few months (or even years!)? Yet now we may be on the cusp of finally coming back to power and you choose to rain all over our parade. Shame! How dare you try to be a voice of caution!

If this coalition falls apart or never comes to fruition, I’ll be holding you responsible. Just like I still firmly believe that you choosing not to give your Victory Fund dollars to Brant was the only reason the Liberals lost that riding (in your heart you know I’m right!).

So I see you’ve come up 11 reasons why we may want to re-think or be more cautious about this whole coalition business. And you say you MAY write some rebuttals to your own points? Time is of the essence Mr. Arnold, what if the Liberal or NDP brain trust decides to pack it all in because they are unable to think of any rebuttals? Well then it falls to the rest of us to make up for your reckless behaviour.

So below I’ve listed each of Dan Arnold’s 11 feeble points of caution in italics and listed my rebuttals below each point. And yes these are serious rebuttals, but I do encourage other Liberal bloggers to shamelessly gang up on Calgary Grit as well and show him we aren’t the party of pessimism! It’s time for Hope! Change! Caution to the Wind!

Seriously now…

1. Western Allienation: As other Alberta Liberals have pointed out, the backlash in Alberta and across Western Canada is going to be huge. You thought the "No! No! No!" headlines were over the top today? Well you ain't seen nothing yet.

Western alienation is probably the biggest issue in my view. I don’t doubt the backlash in the West will be huge. It will likely take months (maybe even close to a year) to subdue and reverse it (in fact I predicted the coalition will start out relatively unpopular across all of Canada at the beginning). But we can recover and make this into winning conditions in the West in particular.

3 Things will be important to be successful
1) Make sure Westerners are well represented in cabinet. Harper obviously has way more Western MPs than the coalition will have, but seriously I’d be surprised if most Westerners could even name 10 of them.
2) Find some issues that are most popular out West and bring them in (ok you’ll have to consult someone who knows the West better than I do but there must be some that the coalition could agree on)
3) Start running ads about 8 months to a year into the coalition government comparing how the new coalition has done MORE for the West than Harper ever did. We value the West, Conservatives took them for granted, etc. etc…

2. The NDP is Legitimized: The one thing which has always kept the Liberals ahead of the NDP, even when the LPC sinks to it's lowest of lows, is the widely held perception that the NDP is not up for the job of being in government. By placing the NDP in Cabinet, you're implicitly admitting that they can handle the job. Plus, I have this rule of thumb that any move that makes Jack Layton grin from ear to ear like a Cheshire cat is a bad move.

This cuts both ways. The NDP’s main talking points about the Liberals will be damaged too. No more “13 years of inaction, blah blah”. And no longer being able to just blindly oppose everything the Liberals do. The NDP used to like to have it every which way as they never had to make a responsible decision. That will change now as they’ll have to wear the decisions made by the coalition.

I think the Liberals will still always outpoll the NDP in the popular vote because we will always be presenting more moderate mainstream policies. As evidence of that, aside from the Green Shift (which we simply do not have a mandate to implement, even though I still believe it’s the right approach) I can’t think of any policies from our platform we had to concede to make this coalition deal work. Meanwhile the NDP had to give up their biggest policy from the last campaign which was raising corporate taxes by $50 billion (instead we’ll get corporate tax cuts as Liberals planned). I’m sure the NDP cabinet ministers would do a good job in the coalition government, but it will be the policies they propose in the next election that will keep their party down below ours.

3. The Coalition Precedence: Similarly, the NDP is going to expect Cabinet posts in any future minority government. So if we wind up with a Liberal plurality in the future, the NDP is going to be demanding seats at the Cabinet table as a condition of support.

Perhaps, but after the Rae-Peterson accord, the Liberals won a majority (if that happened federally the Liberals would just have to make sure they played their cards A LOT better than Peterson did with his majority mandate). Even if they didn’t win a majority, if it’s a strong minority they should be able to govern soundly on their own on an issue by issue basis as Paul Martin did.

As the largest non-Conservative party it will be the Liberals choice to make whether to accept the NDP as coalition partners and I’m fine with that. The amount of seats the NDP would get in a cabinet (or if they get any at all) would surely always depend on how many seats they had relative to the Liberals. A Liberal-NDP coalition still beats Conservative government by a long shot.

4. The Coalition Precedence II: As Stephen Harper's 2004 letter shows, what's good for you one day, is not so good the next. And I have strong doubts that Liberals in love with the idea of a coalition government now would have welcomed one back in 2004. It's highly possible that a future Liberal leader who wins a plurality of the seats might find himself or herself in Stornoway.

Unless the Conservatives start moving to the left of the Liberals or a new strong opposition party comes about I can’t quite see how the Conservatives could really come to a deal with the other opposition parties as the Liberals have. By virtue of their “uniting the right” they have much less common with the remaining parties than the Liberals do. If the 2004 deal had come to pass and they toppled Martin and Harper took over without an election I don’t think his government would have lasted very long with NDP/Bloc support.

5. The End of Strategic Voting: Since I've been following politics, the final week of every campaign has featured a Liberal leader appealing to other progressive voters to vote Liberal in a bid to stop the scary Conservative bogeyman of the day. Once voters have seen a progressive coalition take power, they're going to laugh at any Grit who tries to make the case that a vote for Layton is a vote for Harper. While it might be good for democracy to see this argument disappear, it's a potent argument to surrender.

No strategic voting still makes perfect sense under a FPTP system. In 3 way races where the NDP is running clearly 3rd, a vote for the NDP could lead to a Conservative being elected in that riding. Only if we change electoral systems does strategic voting no longer make sense (something I will be posting about at another time, as I do favour electoral reform).

6. Coalition Times are Tough Times: If we do hit a recession, do you really want to be in power when it happens?

I believe we will hit a recession, but after 18 months hopefully we will be out of it and can claim credit for governing through the storm. And in reality I believe the policies we are proposing are actually a better means of getting out of the storm than what the Conservatives would do. If the economic crisis is not over in 18 months, well hopefully we can manage to extend the deal until the recession is over or at least on the mend (and if Conservatives were in power under similar circumstances after 18 months you can bet they would try to sustain their government in a similar manner).

7. The Race for 24 Sussex: With 30 month and 18 month deals signed, Dion has given his successor the keys to 24 Sussex as a parting gift. But Dion has also handcuffed whoever wins the Liberal leadership race to this contract. Sure, they can break it, but that would be a political hit in and of itself.

All Liberal leadership candidates agreed to the deal. Dion showed the deal to them before the Monday caucus meeting and they all signed on. And why wouldn’t they? As I've said before, it will be FAR easier to combat the inevitable Conservative fear mongering ads in government than from the opposition benches.

Dan I know this means you have to change the name of your Liberal leadership series from the Race for Stornoway, but I hope you don’t mind taking one for the team.

8. The Black Swan Effect: Sure, these parties can probably find common ground on the economy. But what happens when the unexpected happens? Will the Liberals and NDP be able to find ground on foreign policy? And, taking point number 7 to one of its three possible outcomes, could the NDP and Michael Ignatieff find common ground on foreign policy?

The accord lays out what they will focus on and says they will govern on a “no surprises” basis. I think in the end the cabinet will discuss matters as they come up and come to a consensus. The Liberals and NDP already agreed on Afghanistan to stay till 2011 which was another major concession by the NDP. If they can give up that (which was a MAJOR rallying cry for them), then I think the NDP will, for the most part, be willing to cede foreign policy (particularly the most “hot button” issues) to the Liberals (I presume the Foreign Affairs minister will be a Liberal). But with a few exceptions (e.g., positions on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where I imagine the Liberal position will be the official position of the coalition government) the Liberals and NDP have a fair amount in common with the NDP on foreign policy as it is. The NDP have basically been decrying these past few years the move away from our “proud record on the world stage”, which for the most part is a Liberal record, so I think there’s a lot of room for common ground.

9. No Bloc Party: Yes, I know they've worked with other parties before. And I know nothing has been promised to them. And I trust Stephane Dion more than anyone else to stand up for Canada and to not cave in to Bloc demands. But I hate the Bloc Quebecois with a fiery passion. So this just feels wrong. Especially when the first letter from the trio talks about "a majority of Canadians and Quebecers".The only way to ever stop these kinds of arrangements is for the Liberals and NDP to have a combined majority in the House and for Quebecers to start voting for the Bloc is much smaller numbers.

It’s just an unfortunate reality that in the current House we have to choose between Conservatives propped up by the Bloc, or Liberal-NDP coalition propped up by the Bloc. I’ll choose the latter and it will be a lot better for Canada and the functioning of Parliament than the former.

10. Voter Reaction: Maybe voters will grow to love the coalition. Maybe it will lead to a Liberal majority - a common result of past Liberal/NDP cooperation. But you have to at least recognize that it could backfire. You also have to recognize that after seeing the craziness of the past week, the stability of a Conservative majority will sound appealing to some voters (then again, so could a Liberal majority).

Ok this one is easy, I say voters will “grow to love the coalition” :). Canadians are for the most part centrist or left-of-centre. 62% of them voted for parties that offered what this government will give to them. Again I don’t think the Liberals really surrendered anything other than the Green Shift so I see no reason why anyone who voted Liberal should oppose what they get. The NDP and Bloc supporters seem to be on board with what’s on offer as well. I predict that after a year in government at least 45-55% of Canadians, and hopefully more, will be very happy with the government the coalition provides which is a lot higher than the satisfaction level Canadians would have with a Conservative government one year from now.

11. Mandate: Yes, I know the leader with the fewest seats can govern. Yes, I know we elect parliaments, not Prime Ministers. But at the end of the day, Stephen Harper got 38% of the vote and Stéphane Dion got 26%. The Conservatives got 143 seats and the Liberals got 77. Heck, even the Liberal-NDP coalition only got 114. So, from a purely conceptual point of view, this doesn't feel completely right.

We can’t just focus on the Liberal numbers, this will be a Liberal-NDP government. The Liberals and NDP got 44.4% of the vote, the Conservative 37.7% that’s what we should be mentioning again and again. More Canadians voted for our parties than his, that’s a fact they can’t deny. If they want to talk about how they have more seats while at the same time pretending we don’t have a Parliamentary system and that we directly elect the PM their contradictions will eventually catch up to them.

And the Greens and Bloc also support the coalition so that makes 62% of Canadians that should theoretically be behind this. Beats Stephen Harper’s 38%!


So take that Dan “Stephen Harper is a genius” Arnold! Your pessimism is unwelcome. Only sunny skies ahead!

Unless of course things end up going horribly wrong in a way only Dan Arnold could have predicted, in which case this post may quietly disappear…

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DLF said...

Long time reader, first time commenter.

I must beg... PLEASE Stop talking about Western Alienation as if the country stops at the Alberta foothills. The coalition has a great deal of support in the Vancouver/Lower Mainland, precisely because the three way vote split meant that a vote for the conservative meant a Dipper getting elected. Western Alienation ends in the Southern Interior of BC if we can make this coalition happen.

I like the Grit, and I hope he's totally wrong.

Good rebuttals, Danielle. You're one of my favourites.

calgarygrit said...

Ha ha.

Well argued. Now you've saved me from having to rebut my own arguments.

Toby said...

It's about time someone realized the real threat to the country is calgarygrit

Joseph said...

Ditto the above - good post Danielle.

I'd especially like the comment about BC. BC is not about to go tumbling down some rabbit hole with Alberta. I imagine there are folks in Saskatoon as well with the same opinion though I wouldn't claim that exactly.

Here in Vancouver - and through much of BC even many interior areas - the only reason the Conservatives have any seats is vote-splitting on the progressive side of the spectrum.

BC should overall not be included in this vague "western alienation" meme.

P.S. I don't normally do this little blogger game but my word verification is "parting" - no kidding. i.e, I hope Harper will soon be parting ways with the seat of the PM - and perhaps his own party leadership.

Bo Green said...

I can't think of anyone more optimistic than CG.

WesternGrit said...

Yeah... I would also like to say, "Western" should not be a term used here. Talk AB. CalgaryGrit's comments are tainted by the Alberta Opinion. Maybe rural BC and Sask. I was on the CBC this morning, and 95% of callers supported the coalition.

This could be a great "Nation-building" moment for Canada: The Bloc is NOT part of the coalition, but has promised to support it's decisions by votes for 18 months - without holding the country hostage. 70% of Quebecers support a coalition gov't., and they want to be a part of Canada.

Why do people choose to separate? Because their ideas are not being heard. Being involved in governing will allow Quebec to be a part of Canada again.

My girlfriend works in a dental office, and she said that even in upscale Kitts (where her office is) 50% of patients were in favor of the coalition.

Saskboy said...

Most people I know who don't want the coalition don't have a high regard for politicians.

daveberta said...

I stopped listening to Dan Arnold when he picked up and moved to Toronto.