Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On details

Despite the best efforts of the Cons and others to force his hand, Michael Ignatieff is laying the groundwork for a thorough review of the impending federal budget. And it's worth noting that Ignatieff looks to be focusing on a couple of areas where the Cons figure to come up short:
Ignatieff said the budget's fine print will reveal whether the Liberals support the government or bring it down, which could result in an election or a governing coalition with the NDP.

"You go on what's in the cold type and make a kind of overall judgment about whether this is in the national interest," he said.

"And then suppose, just suppose, you think you can live with it. Then you've got the issue of how you can guarantee that it's properly implemented."

Ignatieff, who took over the Liberal leadership from St├ęphane Dion in December, said some leaked budget information has already caused him concern, such as the proposed infrastructure funding formula and reported broad-based tax cuts.
Now, it's good enough news that Ignatieff's message is based on looking behind the large headline numbers underlying details - particularly given that the Cons seem to have concentrated on the former to the exclusion of the latter.

But it's even more significant that Ignatieff is raising implementation as an issue even before the budget is presented. If Ignatieff were looking for excuses to pass the budget, then the easiest course of action would be to focus only at the immediate numbers as representing a theoretical stimulus, while leaving any discussion about the Cons' competence or inclination to follow through until it's too late.

By raising the implementation issue now, Ignatieff has instead taken public responsibility for his ability (or lack thereof) to keep Harper in line if the Cons are left in power. Which can only figure to raise the perceived costs of propping up the Cons, as the Libs won't be able to direct future attacks toward implementation issues without all other parties pointing out that they could and should have dealt with those concerns earlier.

Moreover, if the Libs' choice is framed based on the question of whether they can best ensure the full and effective implementation of a stimulus plan as the opposition to a government which can't even be bothered to figure out the desired results or under a coalition government dedicated to putting economic recovery first, then it shouldn't be a tough decision to pull the plug on Harper. Which leaves only the question of whether the Libs will follow through on the direction they seem to have charted.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

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