Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Post-budget puzzlement

I'm finding myself a little bit...puzzled by grassroots Liberals these days. I'm hoping maybe somebody out there can help me out.

Before Flaherty announced the Conservatives' 2008 budget, the common wisdom among many grassroots Liberals was that this was going to be the Liberals' chance to prove that they had the fortitude to handle an election. The matter was a simple one: if Dion was a real leader, he'd oppose the budget, and if he wasn't willing to oppose the budget, then, well, that must mean he wasn't a real leader.

Then, the budget was announced, and shortly thereafter, Dion announced his party's support for it. The frustration was palpable among those very same grassroots Liberals: after all, their leader had just proven that he wasn't a real leader. Because the only reason why he could possibly have been willing to vote for the budget was because he didn't have the balls for the election. Right?

But what if there's another explanation? What if Dion is supporting the budget not because he's Not A Leader, but because he and his caucus actually...*gasp* the budget?

Don't believe me? Have a look at the official party line. This Conservative budget is a "watered-down Liberal budget" that "adopts many measures the Liberals have championed." I don't know about you, but to me that sounds less like Not A Leader and more like a leader with ideas that--at least when it comes to how to run the country's finances (not to mention Afghanistan)--are so similar to the Conservatives' own ideas that the two parties are virtually indistinguishable these days. I mean, über-Liberal Jason Cherniak's biggest criticism is that the Conservatives' last two budgets weren't conservative enough. This isn't just the strategic ranting of a partisan New Democrat, this is how things are.

Don't get me wrong, I get why the Liberals would be upset by the actions of their party these days. Believe me, I do. What I'm not getting, though, is why they're angry at their leader for supposedly being cowardly when the real issue is that he and his caucus are simply out of step with what they stand for.


Ryan said...

Excellent post. From my understanding, Dion is personally very progressive. Problem is, as you said, that the Liberal party (probably not Dion himself) could be in support of said budget. It saddens me to see that Liberals themselves are buying into the Conservatives' "Dion is not a leader" spiel. They sound incredibly naive as to the workings of a party. Leaders do not control anything without the consent of the party, and I believe that the support of this budget is the party's, and not Dion's.

Steve V said...


I think you might be guilty of taking the Liberal spin at face value. People are arguing that the budget is agreeable because it serves as a reason for not bring down the government, not a real endorsement of Tory policy. Saying this is a Liberal budget is bad spin, it is not indicative of genuine agreement, I think that is clear. Just another sign of how pathetic it has all become, so desperate to save face

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Well, regardless of what Dion ideally wants (and I'm not sure as many Liberals seem to be that we even know), he's clearly not upset enough by this budget that he's willing to try to convince his caucus to oppose it. The Liberal support for the budget came far too quickly for it to be otherwise.


If this is nothing but spin, then it's not just bad spin, it's terrible spin. I really do think the "spin" does represent the opinions of a large part of the mainstream of the Liberal Party, though. I'm not just naively taking it at face value--I'm seeing the "spin" as being quite consistent with the way they've been behaving. There are a lot of centre-right Liberals in that caucus, and they're winning the day by convincing the whole group to side with the Conservatives.

Greg said...

I think you are partly right,IP. There is a large group within the Liberal caucus who are bluer than blue. However Dion, from all accounts is not one of them. His fault from what I have seen, is he is too weak to impose his views on that wing of the party. His other problem is, he is listening to Bob Rae, a guy who couldn't bring in auto insurance with a majority.

leonsp said...

Dion is running for elected dictator of Canada. If he repeatedly cannot impose his views on his own party, he disqualifies himself.

I loathe Rae and Ignatieff far more than loathe Dion, but Dion is the one who is failing to keep the upstarts in check.

KevinG said...

It was only a few years ago that the situation was reversed. Harper called the Martin Liberal budget "a good conservative budget." It was a decent conservative budget but he was pilloried by his supporters for saying so with some of his detractors calling for his resignation if he 'wouldn't take the Liberals on.'

Harper is a pragmatic leader. There is no point forcing an election if it won't further the causes that you supporters put you in place to pursue.

You're right that there is a lot of overlap in Conservative and Liberal fiscal and foreign policy. A fact that probably explains why they are the only parties that can form a government -- they govern from the center but are influenced by their left or right wings.

Steve V said...

I agree, it's "terrible" spin, but that's all it is, there is no like minded support in caucus. The Libs just grabbed a couple initiatives, said they were inadequate, but that they addressed things they had argued, trying to make it all seem palatable. There aren't many layers to the Libs at the moment, it's all so painfully transparent.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


The only reason to say that the Liberals and the Conservatives are the "only parties that can form government" is if you buy into the notion that the only governments we'll ever have are single-party ones. I don't believe that for one second--and I didn't think you did, either. Think outside the box!


I don't know. I haven't seen a single criticism of the budget as policy from Liberals--even the grassroots critics like you--only "wah, we wanted an election and we didn't get one." If the party were really so opposed to this agenda, we'd be seeing a heck of a lot more of that. At least alongside the whining, if not in place of it.

Steve V said...


If people want to assume the Libs are pretty much the same as Harper's right wing government, I see that more as a partisan inspired frame, more than reality. Kind of reminds me of the Nader nonsense that Gore and Bush were the same, a view he has since acknowledged was painfully wrong.

Talk to an NDP supporter, they don't see much difference, talk to a Con, they say the Libs have moved way too far left. Which is it?

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


You're getting well away from my point. If the Liberals really opposed this budget as policy, why isn't anyone saying what they don't like about it? Sure, the caucus can't say that if they're really being whipped cowards, but surely the bloggers could? Surely the Liberals in the media could? Surely the Liberal partisans who don't currently hold elected office could? But that's not what we're getting, is it?

In any case, I'm not saying that there is literally no difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives, just as Nader and his supporters never really believed that there was literally no difference between Bush and Gore. I'm just saying that on matters of current fiscal policy, as well as on certain other issues like Afghanistan, the parties can easily find common enough ground to work together. And the only reason to get as agitated about that as you seem to be is if you actually disagree with the policies that the two parties are jointly making. Do you?

Steve V said...

"If the Liberals really opposed this budget as policy, why isn't anyone saying what they don't like about it?"

That would just raise questions as to why you aren't voting against it. Seems pretty intuitive to me, you just open yourself to more criticism, just shut up, move on and hope nobody remembers (even though they will ;))

I remember 2000 very well, Nader's ENTIRE campaign was predicated on the thesis that Gore and Bush were the same, in fact I remember him saying Gore was "more reprehensible".

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Worries about "raising questions as to why you aren't voting against it" explains why the Liberal caucus isn't coming out and saying what they don't like about it. It doesn't explain why the partisan Liberals not in caucus who are already criticizing the party (like, I don't know, you) aren't doing it. If there were anything in the budget that the Liberals seriously disagreed with, we would be seeing plenty of criticism of that. Instead, it's all about the optics.

And as for Nader, I've linked to the other post where I wrote up my thoughts on what he and his supporters meant by there being no difference between Bush and Gore. If you want to argue with me about that, please go over there.

catherine said...

The recent moves by the Liberals, a very substantial compromise on Afghanistan, making sure the crime bill (barely) passed Senate, saying they will make sure the government doesn't fall on the budget, do really seem out of sync with Dion's personal views, which are noticeably on the left of the Liberal party.

However, the timing of this leak of the Cadman bribery affair has me wondering whether the Liberals perhaps really do have a strategy. If they can expose Harper as an unethical leader (and there are a number of possibilites available, the Cadman affair just being the latest) then they really have a chance of nailing Harper at the polls, particularly since his own campaign to date is based on his "leadership".

But, who knows? The Liberals might have a plan or they might be in disarray and simply shifting about as they try to dodge Harper's moves.

I do hope someone other than Harper has a plan though, because I can see that getting rid of Harper is not an easy task. Mike Harris in Ontario and Bush in the US were both re-elected and I think it could easily happen with Harper without some opposition party very cleverly strategizing on how to make sure that doesn't happen. I guess we will see.

TheIronist said...

It's time once and for all to put an end to all the silliness of how it's the NDP's responsibility to cobble together a left-umbrella coalition with the Liberals and the Greens now that the Libs themselves have joined in a right wing coalition with the Conservative Party.

By the way, before a certain blogger launches into his repetitive "Nader says there's no difference" schtick (goodness, I wish he'd learn a new one), I do understand that there are differences between the Liberals and the Conservatives. But I also understand that the only differences that matter are the ones that find their way into action. Whatever Dion's private opinions may be, if he refuses to act on them when he has every opportunity to do so, then those opinions account for very little.

So, if the result of Liberal actions is a de facto Lib-Con Coalition, then a Lib-Con Coalition it is. And that's pretty much that.

Deanna said...

Happy election day! Good luck!

Renegade Eye said...

I found this blog plugged at Greenman's.

In the US, we don't have anything like the NDP. The Democratic Party is the other side of the same coin as the Republicans.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Renegade Eye,

I'm afraid I don't know Greenman's. I assume it's a U.S. political blog? Do you have a link?

And as for the U.S. not having anything like the NDP,'ve put your finger on the main reason I no longer live there!