There’s a quote I once read about sharpening one’s olive branch into the point of a spear. It’s all about what you do when talking doesn’t avert the war, but somehow I don’t think Stephen Harper has it quite right.
One minute, Harper extends his olive branch, saying “here, let’s talk about the budget, bring me your ideas and I’ll listen. Really!” But at the very same moment, he tries to poke it in his opponent’s eye, as his war room churns out their first attack ads against Michael Ignatieff.
In the words of Conservative campaign chair Doug Finley: “Stéphane Dion has resigned as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and by extension, of the Liberal/NDP/Bloc Coalition. In another stunning and unprecedented demonstration of Liberal contempt for our democratic rights, they’ve decided to appoint a new leader in place.”
Finley’s fundraising letter goes onto implore supporters to donate $100 or $200 to help them “spread this message to Canadians.”
It also seems that their attempt to frame Ignatieff will be that he’s “not a democrat” – much like Dion was “not a leader.” They even got their little partisan attack dog, Pierre Poilievre, to tell reporters today “Mr. Ignatieff is leading an undemocratic and un-Canadian coalition.”
Really? Seriously? You think that's actually going to fly?
At his inaugural press conference as party leader, Ignatieff was asked what he would do to counter these kinds of attack ads before they were even fully unveiled.
“It would be unwise,” Ignatieff said, for Harper to engage in such attacks. And there was a deadly seriousness in his tone of voice. One might even say menace, with an unspoken “if he starts this, rest assured I will finish it” left hanging.
Added to that, Ignatieff said “I don’t take lessons in legitimacy from Stephen Harper.” In other words, don’t even try me.
But they are.
The rest of the press conference gave a few other clues about the direction that things will be heading. He’s fully prepared to vote non-confidence in the government and assume leadership of a coalition if that is what Her Excellency asks, but he won’t announce here and now that he’ll bring them down over the budget. It wouldn’t be responsible in the eyes of Canadians, he tells us.
He also refuses to engage in “public negotiations” over what he wants to see in the budget. Except that his finance critic, Scott Brison, is meeting with Jim Flaherty next week as has been previously arranged. But Ignatieff said the message Brison is carrying will be clear: “Let’s see the books please.”
You see, he doesn’t believe that the numbers that Flaherty has presented the public are accurate. And he has no reason to believe they are, given the kinds of reservations that the Parliamentary Budget Officer has raised in public, given that he doesn’t have the data that they’re basing the numbers on because they won’t release it. And that doesn’t bode well for “transparency” and “accountability,” and it’s hard to give input on a budget if you don’t know whether the numbers are real or fictional.
Ignatieff also talked a lot about “moving beyond left or right,” and cited that the twin rails that Liberal policy falls between are the principles of national unity and fiscal responsibility. He wants to restore the party’s stature with Western Canada and rural Canadians. He says that “the way for us to rebuild is for us to be everywhere.”
But above all, the message he drove home was that the ball is in Harper’s court. Whether his government survives or falls will is up to him.