Ignatieff’s shift right angers Grits


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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is shifting his party to the right. He's killed the centre-left coalition. He's defended the tar sands. Now, he's supporting the Conservatives' law and order legislation.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/06/2009 (4924 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is shifting his party to the right. He’s killed the centre-left coalition. He’s defended the tar sands. Now, he’s supporting the Conservatives’ law and order legislation.

He’s taking a big risk.

When Liberals “tack right” ideologically, or have a leader whose image is right-of-centre, like John Turner and Paul Martin, they lose elections.

A solid 30 to 35 per cent of Canadians always vote for the party of the right, now the Conservatives. The main political game is the 65 to 70 per cent of Canadians on the centre and left. When the Liberals pursue the conservative vote, not only do they fail to make inroads, they lose a big chunk of their base, and their potential base, to the three left-wing parties.

It was the Liberals’ legendary “Rainmaker,” Keith Davey, who formulated their famous “tack left” strategy, turning it into one winning campaign after another throughout the Pearson and Trudeau eras. Jean Chrétien’s left-wing populism helped him cruise to three consecutive majorities. Turner and Martin couldn’t tap into that. Their image was too “business Liberal.” Poor English doomed leftish Stéphane Dion.

Ignatieff occasionally talks the progressive talk, but he has yet to walk it. He’s also repeating Dion’s biggest mistake, crying wolf. He keeps threatening to bring down the government and then backs away, to rising ridicule.

Rank and file Liberals are getting restive and angry. A published report Monday hinted at a grassroots Liberal revolt over the caucus decision to support the Conservatives’ legislation imposing mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes. Bill C-15 sets a mandatory six-month jail term for anyone growing just one marijuana plant for sale purposes. The Liberals are also expected to support abolishing the faint hope clause. It means individuals convicted of murder will serve their entire 25-year sentence and then be released, no strings attached, onto the general population.

Toronto lawyer James Morton, deputy chair of the Liberals’ council of riding presidents, blogged that voting for C-15 is “a terrible idea.” Former Niagara Falls riding president Jim Curran called it “one of the dumbest things I’ve seen the Liberal Party of Canada support in decades.”

Added another anonymous Liberal: “I think the party will lose support over this.”

Blogged another: “True courage is standing up against a failed policy that is detrimental to Canadians even though you know you will be painted as ‘soft on crime.'”

Many Canadians will be surprised to learn that the Rainmaker’s son, Ian Davey, is Ignatieff’s principal secretary.

Paul Adams, director of strategic communications for Ottawa pollster Ekos Research, thinks he knows why even Ian Davey is prepared to abandon his father’s political maxim.

The Liberals are convinced they lost the last election because they lost the “business Liberals” to the Conservatives, Adams says. And, in the new, post-Davey rulebook, losing a Liberal to a Conservative vote is akin to losing two votes: one because you’ve lost; the other, because you’ve given it to your chief opponent.

The Liberals believe they can’t become truly competitive unless they first recapture business Liberals. “Then they feel they can present a strategic alternative to (the Conservatives) that will galvanize support on the so-called left,” Adams continues. “But at the end (of the last election) the Liberals lost in every conceivable direction, Conservatives, Greens, NDP and the sidelines.”

Ekos’ April poll gave the Liberals a 6.5 per cent lead over the Conservatives — 36.7 per cent to 30.2 per cent. But its June sample of 11,000 Canadians for the CBC showed the two parties tied: 33.5 per cent Liberal and 32.3 per cent Conservative.

Adams attributes the shift to upper income retired business Liberals. “They are more driven by the Toronto Stock Exchange than unemployment numbers.” The TSX was booming during most of the polling period.

News of the $50-billion deficit hit just at the poll’s close. Ekos’ daily tracking since shows “those people suddenly stampeded back to the Liberals, so they are a very volatile group,” Adams said. “If the Liberals think they’re going to get to their 37 or 38 (per cent) with those folks, well, good luck to them.”

The Rainmaker would agree. It’s not just a tall order. It’s practically impossible.

Frances Russell is a Winnipeg author and political columnist.

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