Saturday, February 21, 2009

With distinction

The Jurist is picking up today on an item in the transcript of the briefing given by a White House official to the press corps on Air Force One as they headed back to the U.S. That briefing was somewhat detailed and gave we Canadians a better sense of what was said in the day's meetings as we couldn't hope to receive the same from the Harper government. However, in picking up on this excerpt, it's a little disingenuous to put the word "bipartisanship" in Ignatieff's mouth and to import broader purposes into it:
Mr. Ignatieff spent a lot of time talking about the importance of bipartisanship in Canada on foreign policy and how they had made the decision to back the government on the deployment after the Manley Commission, and that they saw this as not a partisan issue; it was more important to get the country together on issues like the budget and on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that this was a commitment that they were sharing across the parties, and that they wanted to work together with the United States.
It's clear from Mr. Ignatieff's tenure thus far that there's a different tone the Liberals are taking, you see that in the daily questions in Question Period, you hear it from Ignatieff and other ministers. But to read into this White House official's use of the word "bipartisanship", which he would naturally hew to with his American perspective, that Ignatieff was talking about a "Con/Lib team effort" is stretching. The use of that word may be the official's alone, we don't know. And even if Ignatieff did use it, he may have used it to engage in some "American-speak," to make the point very clearly during the meeting with Obama.

I don't read the raising of a less partisan approach (and it looks like it was limited to two issues) as signifying a harmful approach for the Liberals which cedes political ground. The evidence from Canadians surrounding the budget was that they wanted to get it done. A desire for a less partisan approach, to me, is a direct reaction to Mr. Harper and his tactics of three years. He's seriously damaged by his actions in that November update, the prorogation and various other incidents over the years, taunting the opposition as Taliban sympathizers, the unprecedented Cadman lawsuit he launched against the Liberals, etc. He's going to have a very tough time spinning this web that it's now all a "fresh start," that he can wipe the slate clean and be trusted. He has obvious negatives that Canadians know. He's damaged himself in Quebec.

The question going forward in respect of partisanship is who is best placed to give Canadians a serious government that will dispense with the nonsense. To date, the Harper crew has not been able to do that. Ignatieff is attempting to offer that alternative. By speaking to that broad goal of a less partisan approach, that doesn't create a hard and fast alliance with the Conservatives, no matter how much the NDP wish to continue pushing that characterization. It does need to be done skilfully, however, and not in the Tom Daschle mode of opposition. To date, it's not looking like the weakness of the past few years is recurring.

And in contrast to the concluding thought of the Jurist, ("rather than using his time with Obama to lay the groundwork for any future improvement on Harper's vision of Canada/U.S. relations, Ignatieff has instead done little but to highlight the similarities between himself and Deceivin' Stephen."), Ignatieff drew a strong contrast with Harper in respect to a future foreign policy direction for Canada. Expressing support for the closure of Guantanamo Bay and a desire to help the U.S. with that effort:
Ignatieff said he told Obama if the Liberals form a government in the future that "we would be helpful to the Americans in respect of this and other matters relating to getting us beyond the Guantanamo Bay world." (emphasis added)
That's the beginning of a return to support for the rule of law internationally from Canada, a major flaw in the Harper government's foreign policy approach and a major face of their government. Which would not only be in respect of Guantanamo, but would play out with the detainee issue in Afghanistan, the Canadian position on the application of the death penalty abroad for Canadians in jeopardy, and on environmental cooperation to name a few areas where the Harper Conservatives have fallen down.

So, not surprisingly, I would disagree on this effort to "twin" the Libs and Conservatives. Too much of that going around this week...