Monday, August 24, 2009

On coalition politics

In case anybody thought Michael Ignatieff might have learned anything since his first few sets of predictably flawed decisions as the Libs' leader, he's now managed to deal himself by far the weakest hand in an unavoidable discussion about the merits of coalition governments:
In an e-mail exchange with Brian Topp, Les Campbell argues that, as the way forward, the NDP should “pursue serious negotiations for a pre or post election progressive alliance.” If there’s any doubt what he has in mind, he refers elsewhere in the exchange to “discussing the possibility of pre and/or post election coalitions.”

Meanwhile, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff pours a gallon of cold water on that idea in the last paragraph of a long interview in Le Devoir: “I am not against political arrangements between/among parties to make a minority Parliament work. I am prepared to negotiate with the other parties to move legislation forward. But, let’s be clear, I’ve always spoken of arrangements, not of a coalition.”
So to clarify, Ignatieff has just told anybody who supported the progressive coalition this past winter (consisting of 40-45% of voters depending on the poll) that they can go pound sand, as he has no interest in any similar effort to replace a Harper Con government with a more progressive one on the terms which the Libs and NDP have already been able to agree to. Which should allow the NDP to step into the breach as the lone national party in Parliament advocating a progressive coalition as the best means of securing better government for Canada, while painting Ignatieff as too stuck in his own sense of Liberal superiority to countenance working together.

But that doesn't figure to do much to quiet down the Cons' critics who see "coalition" as a dirty word. After all, Ignatieff has still left the door open to some unspecified "arrangements" - which will allow the Cons to pester him constantly with questions about what kind of arrangements he'd accept and under what circumstances. And "we'll have to wait and see" doesn't look to be an option in response, since Ignatieff seems prepared to categorically reject any future coalition without any similar need to take context into account.

In sum, then, Ignatieff has managed to make himself and his party into an undesirable option both for anybody who wants to see their federal leaders make coalition politics work, and for those on the centre-right who bought Harper's message that cooperation means other parties doing what he tells them as a reason to reject the progressive coalition when it arose. But if there's any good news, it's that a message so fatally flawed from both sides can only increase the chances that Ignatieff will be in no position to dictate the terms of any inter-party cooperation after the next federal election.

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