Sunday, January 18, 2009

Fear in the land

A few points arising out of the Ignatieff remarks to caucus today...

Ignatieff is appropriately framing the prospect of Canada's return to deficit as the Conservatives' own special failure in the run up to the coming budget politics. Nobody doubts the extent of the challenges posed by present world economic events. But a central problem for Canada is that we have had Conservative economic mismanagers at the till in the past few years. And irrespective of present difficult circumstances, we would have been facing deficits anyway as a result of poor Conservative choices. Something we need to be reminded of before the budget drops. This is what the Parliamentary Budget Officer confirmed at the end of November, well in advance of coming federal budget numbers that will be spun like a spider's web:
Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page told MPs Thursday that Canada's deficit next year could be as high as $13 billion and that Conservative government decisions to cut the GST and raise government spending are to blame, not global economic events.

"The weak fiscal performance to date is largely attributable to previous policy decisions as opposed to weakened economic conditions," Page wrote in his first report to parliamentarians on the government's economic and fiscal position.

Page concluded Ottawa could run a deficit as high as $13.8 billion next year, in 2009-10. Deficits could remain higher than $11 billion each year through to 2013, adding nearly $50-billion to Canada's debt over the next five years.
Page said tax revenues are down $353 million this year compared to last year.

"(That is) due in large part to recent policy measures, such as the one-percentage point reduction in the Goods and Services Tax and reductions in corporate income taxes."
Page's analysis is worth keeping in mind. The Harper crowd argues that such consumption tax reductions were needed to create a stimulus in the economy. That they were so prescient to see it coming that they...put us in a hole and spent all the money in the surplus. That's a vital reality that any reasonable person can grasp. Families don't leave themselves ill-equipped to deal with crisis. It's reasonable for us to expect our government to act prudently as well. We won't be forgetting the Conservatives' own subprime mortgage fiasco either.

The Conservatives have a sorry record that is begging for accountability and it will be a ripe issue in the next election, unlike the last when the full extent of their budgetary mismanagement hadn't yet come to the fore. The crafty PM ensured he would have his election before such negligence could be exposed.

Also worth noting in the Canwest report above, a few other points. This:
Ignatieff also announced four new federal election campaign co-chairs. They are former longtime Alberta MP and cabinet minister Anne McLellan, veteran Liberal campaign organizer Senator David Smith; former New Brunswick deputy premier Marcelle Mersereau; and former MP Remi Bujold.
McLellan backed Rae in the recent leadership race.

Secondly, Ignatieff's speech to the caucus was open to the media. Wha? That's a nice contrast to someone else...

Finally, from this CP report, evidence of more clear messaging that Liberals have been lacking:

"This budget has three simple tests that it must pass," he told Liberal MPs and senators at his first caucus meeting since assuming the leadership last month.

"Will it protect the most vulnerable? Will it save jobs? And most important of all, will it create the jobs of tomorrow?"

Ignatieff, who has been conducting a cross-country "listening tour," said Canadians "sense a storm is gathering, they know the rain is going to fall."

"There is fear in the land. There's anxiety and worry in the land," he said.

Echoing the message that has worked well for president-elect Barack Obama in the United States, Ignatieff added: "We know the only antidote to fear is hope, and this party will be the party of hope for all Canadians."
Fear in the land. Evokes Keith Spicer's "fury in the land" many years ago when speaking about another Conservative Prime Minister.

Ignatieff's no Obama, no one is. But Ignatieff is incrementally demonstrating that he will likely outdo Harper in terms of speaking to Canadians' hopes and fears and actually sounding like he means it. I recall reading someone over the past month or so who pointed out that Ignatieff's background as a journalist would help him as leader, enabling him to create a narrative, tell a story on any given issue. I think we're seeing the beginnings of that, an incredibly important quality in an era when communications efforts so predominate our politics and one that in Ignatieff has been largely underestimated.