Jim Flaherty
2 min

Liberals of the round-tables

Michael Ignatieff, flanked by his two economic powerhouses, Scott Brison and John McCallum, held the first of a series of round-table discussions on the economic situation last night. This one was held in Halifax, and shortly thereafter, Brison was on Politics (with Susan Bonner as Don Newman is ill), talking about the meeting.

Brison was very quick to point out that Ignatieff is a “leader who listens,” unlike Stephen Harper. The round-table tour will head to Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver before in the next few days, with the aim to get input as to what Canadians are looking for in the budget.

 “Canadians are helping us build the ideas that we want to see in that budget,” Brison said. “We’ve been very clear with the government – we want to see investments in people, in education in training and re-training; we want to see investments in support programmes like EI. We want to see investments in infrastructure and getting shovels in the ground sooner. That’s critically important.”

The other thing that Brison let it be known was the fact that after their one meeting with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, they expected future meetings to follow. After all, they had questions on budget numbers and the issue of future asset sales, and so on. So far, the response has been “deafening silence” as to the possibility of future meetings. Good to know that Flaherty is actively seeking the input of opposition parties.

Meanwhile, with the ideas from the round-tables in hand, Liberals are still talking broad-strokes in public, and aren’t laying out any specific benchmarks or specifics of what is going to make or break their support for the budget.

Kory Teneycke, Harper’s communications director, invited the Liberals to put forward their ideas on the public record if they can’t get another meeting with Flaherty. But this is something they precisely don’t want to do.

Well, why not? Why not call out Flaherty in public and give a list of demands? Pretty much because such a tactic is going to tie their hands, and it’ll be an excuse for Harper to play Vulcan 3D chess-master again, and do something cute like give them most – but not everything – that they’re demanding in order to test their resolve to bring his government down. If they don’t, then they’ve got a weak leader who’s content to sit on his hands, and so on.

It’s no surprise then that Ignatieff doesn’t want to tie his hands. If he has room to manoeuvre, then it means that Harper is less likely to try something cute and/or hyper-partisan, like he did with the Fall Economic Update. After all, he doesn’t want to tip his hand too soon – especially when it comes to the issue of a potential coalition government – if he doesn’t have to, thus giving Harper any new ammunition.

In the meantime, his plan appears to be to make these round-tables, organise his new office, and prepare for the budget, which is now less than three weeks away.