And the answer is…
To no one’s surprise (except, judging by his reaction, Jack Layton’s), that horrifying experiment in democracy is now over with. In the end, the coalition threat certainly deserves some of the credit/blame for Harper opening the spending floodgates, so the whole exercise may not have been in vain.
So what is to be made of Ignatieff’s response today? Well, for starters, he looks better backing down than Stéphane Dion ever did. I think the lesson to be learned is that you always need to cling to some kind of moral victory. Of all the Dion cave-ins, he got the most praise for what may have been his worst strategic move – Afghanistan – because he got to talk about “putting politics aside for the greater good”, “compromise”, and all that jazz. In the same vein, Ignatieff can take some credit for pushing Harper in this direction, and by “putting him on a leash” he does it from a position of strength rather than weakness.
That said, the whole concept of Ignatieff putting Harper on probation is kind of silly. I mean, in a minority government, the party in power is always on probation. Beyond the good sound byte, what this does is plant a few election triggers down the road. Just as the Gomery Report was a ticking time bomb on the Paul Martin government, a high publicity negative whateverwe’regoingtocallthis report is a pretty good springboard to an election campaign, if you’re planning to fight that campaign on the economy.
I would have liked to see Ignatieff push the envelope a bit further, in the hope of squeezing out another concession or two, but after two months of brinkmanship in Ottawa, this was probably the proper course of action. For the first time in a while, our politicians are acting like grown-ups.
Well, except for Jack Layton anyways. But we all know that Jack, despite his mustache-accentuated frown, is secretly giddy at the prospect of being the one voice of opposition to the Harper Conservatives. So, in the end, everyone probably walks away from this budget showdown somewhat pleased with how it unfolded.