For months, Michael Ignatieff has seemed most reluctant to tell us what his party would do if elected. Either he has no better ideas or perhaps he’s worried the Tories will copy his policies if he divulges them. We sometimes hear that it’s not the job of the Grits to help the Tories govern the country. In my view, this keep-the-public-in-the-dark policy is a flawed tactic that is sure to backfire.
Time and again polls show Mr. Ignatieff behind PM Stephen Harper in terms of leadership. The vacuum formed by a lack of knowledge on where he really stands on various policies and what he would do to correct what he claims are Tory inadequacies has given the Conservatives an opportunity to define Mr. Ignatieff in their own terms—and the Canadian public seems to be buying the Tory spin.
The Conservatives did a brilliant job of defining the previous chief Grit Stéphane Dion in unflattering terms, and it cost the Liberals an election and several seats in the House. The Grits apparently have not learned a thing from that. The longer Michael Ignatieff shies away from issuing detailed policy statements, especially on his plans to revive the economy, the more elusive will be his chance of ever realizing his dream of becoming the prime minister.
And, of course, there is always the prospect that the Liberals plan to take actions they know will be very unpopular with Canadians—raise income taxes and the GST to eliminate the deficit, for example. Or introduce the carbon taxes they promised during the last federal campaign. Perhaps they plan to eliminate the deficit by reducing transfers to the provinces for health care and other provincial services like they did when Paul Martin was finance minister—causing billions in provincial budget shortfalls to be made up by increased taxes at that level. Why not, they did it the last time they inherited a deficit.
There is also the possibility that the prospect of gaining power will be too tempting for Mr. Ignatieff to resist a formal coalition with the NDP, a long-held dream of senior Grit, Bob Re, and several others in the Liberal caucus—you know: unite the left and all that.
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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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