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Monday, January 17, 2011

Iggy Channels the Gipper

Not very well:

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is in Winnipeg today as part of his “20/11” tour to bring the Liberal message directly to Manitobans as the only national party that can deliver real, progressive change for Canada.

“When we ask Manitobans if they are better off – and if Canada is better off – today under Stephen Harper compared to five years ago, the answer is resoundingly ‘no’,” said Mr. Ignatieff.

To some of our younger readers, this is a riff on Ronald Reagan's famous electioneering question of 1980: Are you better off than you were four years ago? The Gipper then repeated the question during his re-election campaign in 1984. The clear answer of the American people in 1980 was No. In 1984 it was an emphatic Yes. 

Problem: For Press Gallery scribblers, political junkies and blogging hacks like yours truly, the reference to Reagan is bizarre. Michael Ignatieff is a Liberal - albeit a somewhat bluish one. Reagan is considered the sine qua non of modern American Conservatism. Given that the left-wing of the Liberal Party already considers Iggy to be a neocon Yankee agent, is this really an impression the Grit leader wants to give? It annoys far more people than it reaches out to.

Alternately, to the general public the poll question "Are you better off than you were five years ago?" is confusing. Going by the numbers, most people are a little better off than they were five years ago. Going by the gut - the essential political organ for most voters - they don't feel better off. Looks like a slam dunk for old Iggy, eh? Just run on the other guy's record and Zsuzsanna can get measuring for the curtains at 24 Sussex.

Not so fast. Sure, Canada has done pretty mediocre over the last five years. But what about everyone else? Europe? The Euro is on the verge of collapse. The PIGS are broke. The Germans are pissed (not a bunch you want pissed). America? They've taken a shellacking - to borrow from the current American President - over the last few years. Housing hasn't recovered. The stock market has basically moved sideways over the last few years, with some stomach churning moments to liven up the boredom. By comparison, at least among other rich countries, Canada is the sane and stable one in the economic Bedlam of the G7.

Reagan's famous question worked because Americans were worse off in 1980 than 1976 and they blamed Jimmy Carter for it. Canadians might feel worse off now than in 2006, yet they know much of the rest of the world really is much worse off. As such they don't blame the PM.

Running on his record is exactly what the Prime Minister wants the Liberals to do. The record shows a safe pair of hands in dangerous times. This latest Liberal gambit merely reinforces the Prime Minister's core strength: The public's perception of him as a competent administrator and shrewd political strategist.

For hard-bitten libertarian / classical liberal types, Stephen Harper is a traitor. His five years in power a huge wasted opportunity. Had the Prime Minister moved hard to the right during the 2008-2009 crisis months - rather than panicking and resorting to Keynesian themed porking - Canada would have been very placed for the decades ahead.

While the rest of the world was digging itself out of a fiscal and regulatory hole, Canada could have emerged as a vast northern Switzerland, a refugee for capital and talent from through out the world. A fiscally strong, relatively low taxed jurisdiction will be in an ideal position over the next decade.

Why risk investing in America? Investing in Canada would be the safer and smarter bet, with the added bonus of essentially unfettered access to the American market.  A free market moment that could have given us a decisive edge in the emerging Asian century. Instead Canada just kept plodding along under Stephen Harper. As FR Scott said of Mackenzie King: "Always he led us back to where we were before."

Here is a somewhat comfortable place today. Tomorrow it won't be.

Posted by Richard Anderson on January 17, 2011 | Permalink


"Had the Prime Minister moved hard to the right during the 2008-2009 crisis months"
Posted by PUBLIUS on January 17, 2011

With a minority government ?. He would have been turfed out and Iggy would be the PM. If or until Harper gets a majority he will try not to offend any more voters than he has to and stay on that center line. If he ever gets a majority we will see what he really wants to do.

Posted by: peterj | 2011-01-17 6:37:38 PM

stay on that center line

He past the center line a while ago and is no closer to majority government now that he was some 3 years ago. You are delusional if you ever think Harper will get a majority.

Harper could have used the Bully Pulpit to advocate for rightist economic policy but folded because he has no communications or political skill.

Posted by: Cytotoxic | 2011-01-17 7:26:25 PM

"Harper could have used the Bully Pulpit to advocate for rightist economic ..."

Posted by: Cytotoxic | 2011-01-17 7:26:25 PM

Not when the other parties have the majority between them and are looking for any reason to show the electorate how mean and evil he is. Bullies do'nt do well in politics unless the country is at war.

Posted by: peterj | 2011-01-17 9:28:20 PM

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