Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Being first

This seems to be cropping up as a minor political consideration today, the jockeying between Liberals and NDP over issues and the territorial markings of each party on who is first on the given issue. Note the NDP press release on pension reform where they accuse Liberals of stamping their name on Jack Layton's baby. Note the NDP press release calling for Peter MacKay's resignation and some concern that Liberals aren't moving fast enough on such calls.

Let's also throw into the mix the fact that the NDP were the first to call for a public inquiry on the Afghan detainee issue of late. And Olivia Chow was probably the first to call for an ethics investigation into Lisa Raitt and the Toronto Port Authority allegations about the improper fundraising out of that federal body.

I used to have a graphic I used on the blog to mark the occasions where the NDP jumped in front first on an issue, it was a jack in the box but I stopped using it because really, it was childish. Fun. But childish. Anyway, this is what I wrote in October 2007 on this issue:
Was just finishing my post on Harper's politically driven decision to form this Afghanistan panel to take the issue out of the electorate's hands...when who do I hear who has phoned in to CTV Newsnet to speak on the matter? Why yes, it was Jack Layton, affirming his conduct of late which seems to amount to the following: I'm first to respond, I'm quick, I'm available. Elbowing out anyone else so that he can say the NDP is first, we have a position, pick me, not the other guy. Political optics always a primary consideration for Jack these days.
A little crude, but the point is that this dynamic is not new and as far as I can tell, the overall political situations of the parties, polling wise, have not shifted.

On the detainee issue in particular, where the NDP, Liberals and Bloc have been working well together in holding the government to account, the me-first jockeying can come off as unseemly. Is there some glory in having been first in calling for a public inquiry when, of course, the other parties would be calling for it too? Is it legitimate to get your political wings out of that? And now the credit is to be somehow granted to the NDP if - in the very unlikely event - MacKay were to do the decent thing and resign? Unlikely. The official stamp of being first is partisan irrelevance and excess on that issue, at least in my view. If MacKay were to resign, I wouldn't think twice about who demanded it first. (We could indeed get picky and point to Liberal bloggers, for e.g.) But this issue is still unfolding, there's nothing imprudent about holding back on that resignation call. When the chorus grows publicly, that just results in the PMO digging in. So nice optics but what result will you achieve? It's a duty in the parliamentary system to call for a resignation...but there are no such reciprocal thoughts that will come from the Harper Conservatives. So what will come of the call?

Further to this point about being first, on the Chow call for an investigation into the Raitt/TPA fundraiser, Chow may have been among the first to be calling for an ethics investigation on that issue, but it was Paul Szabo who did heavy lifting in filing copious written support to four commissioners of Parliament on the issue ("Szabo, the chair of the parliamentary ethics committee, filed a 42-page document questioning..."). Two investigations have resulted now, Ethics and Lobbying, undoubtedly due to both Liberal and NDP complaints, yes, but Szabo's work was likely instrumental. Happy to be proven wrong if someone can show me comparable detailed evidentiary submissions to the Ethics and the three other Commissioners on that issue from the NDP. All I know of is a brief letter by Chow.

On the pension thing...I suppose the Liberals should just cede the issue then to the NDP and sit quietly in the background? You see how ridiculous the topic becomes?

If the NDP are constantly intent on being first on issues, that's something Liberals might consider factoring in to their daily political machinations for the sheer optics considerations that it presents. But the overall work and stance on the issues are likely what's going to be important in the long run.