Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Some notes on the Ignatieff speech yesterday

Update (7:00 p.m.).

Just a few points on the speech by Michael Ignatieff to the Toronto Board of Trade yesterday. You can read it here. It reminded me a bit of a speech Ignatieff delivered last year around this time in Toronto during the election campaign that was a good one too and was really the first time I paid much attention to him because I liked it very much. So I don't know what it is about Ignatieff speeches in Toronto at this time of year but they tend to go well.

First point is that there was a bit of news that won't get a heck of a lot of attention but is worth noting. I recall some jabbing at Liberals in the blogosphere recently over the issue of the independence of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Ignatieff made a flat declaration about the office's future, in the context of opening the books and avoiding games like we've seen over the past year over ever-changing deficit numbers for which the Parliamentary Budget Officer has always seemed to be right:
Upon taking office, we’ll conduct a full audit of our public finances. We’ll open the books and find out where we really are.

That’s step one.

We’ll also make the Parliamentary Budget Officer independent, so that we never have to go through this again. No more wishful projections. No more false promises.
In fact, some of us, ahem, even predicted in July that the position on the PBO that Liberals were pilloried over at the time was not finished at all. OK, I'm done, moving on...but seriously, this is one of those open government issues that the secretive and information stifling Conservatives are ripe to be hammered on. Good to see this issue being seized and hope there's lots more in this vein to come.

Second point, the Nortel failing of the Conservatives figured prominently in the speech as a metaphor for the Conservative approach to government and their belief that "...the only good government is no government at all." Andrew Willis wrote a pretty good column on Ignatieff's speech and its Nortel focus yesterday: "Ignatieff picks up Nortel gauntlet." One aspect of Willis' column reinforces the problem of the hands-off approach of the Conservatives:
Last week, Avaya won Nortel’s enterprise unit, which makes routers and telecom hardware, for $900-million (U.S.) The New Jersey-based company plans to move head office functions south of the border.

Rival Siemens Enterprise Communications made a cash-and-debt offer that proved weaker than the pitch from Avaya. However, Siemens Enterprise planned to combine its Munich head office and Nortel executives currently based in North Carolina at a new global headquarters in Toronto. The resulting Canadian company was expected to employ thousands, and boast $5-billion annual revenue. The Ontario government was willing to put up to $75-million into that plan.

But the federal government declined to provide post-merger loans or even verbal backing for either side. Sources close to Siemens Enterprise say that lack of support from Ottawa doomed a Made-in-Canada solution to this tale of woe at Nortel.
Contrast that "no we can't" set of facts with this:
“A Liberal government will stand up for flagship Canadian companies,” said Mr. Ignatieff, and that sentiment will play well on the Street, not because it is protectionist, but simply because business leaders want to see a degree of support from politicians.

“Stephen Harper dropped the ball on Nortel. He let a Canadian champion fail, and sat back while invaluable pieces of intellectual property were sold off to foreign bidders,” said the Liberal Leader. “The fact that the Conservatives have refused to even review that sale is astounding. It’s dereliction of duty. It’s the Avro Arrow all over again.”

“Nortel wasn’t a one-off mistake,” Mr. Ignatieff said. “There is a pattern of dereliction. Inco and Faconbridge, Stelco, Alcan, Canadian nuclear medicine. The Conservatives are not standing up for Canadian industries and Canadian workers.”
There's a good opening for such arguments, no doubt about it. We have witnessed throughout the summer the failings of the Harper government on the isotope file, with Harper essentially turning his back to fifty years of Canadian leadership in that industry. It's been a remarkable "no we can't" attitude of hands-off government that's having significant consequences on the nuclear medicine industry and our health care system. One more industry the Conservatives have failed to stand up for, allowing for their own prior election sloganeering to be turned against them. They haven't lived up to their rhetoric in their approach to industrial policy at all. So there's a positive and somewhat patriotic economic message for others to make as a result.

Oh, and it could pay off in certain key areas in Ontario too.

Update (7:00 p.m.): Pogge will believe it when he sees it. That's cool. Wonder how long we'll have to wait.