Perhaps another analogy fits. Ignatieff broke the coalition and there is no guarantee he will be able to put it together again at least not just when he might want it.
As for giving a one time pass, it is not at all clear that this entails he will not be able to keep the Liberal caucus together again. I fail to see that it has all that much significance as Ignatieff still had plenty of votes to ensure the budget passed. Solidarity is important when it will make or break a vote but otherwise it seems to me often to cause unnecessary resentment and also often forces members to vote against the wishes of their constituents. This is from the Toronto Star.
Humpty Dumpty's lesson for Ignatieff
Feb 08, 2009 04:30
A Liberal strategist called me last week reciting this nursery rhyme: "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall; Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the King's horses and all the King's men, couldn't put Humpty together again!"
I didn't understand this lyrical introduction, but he explained that he was referring to Michael Ignatieff's statement about allowing some Liberal MPs to break party solidarity on a "one-time pass."
Ignatieff is a strong and eloquent leader at a time when it's difficult to lead the Liberal party. The party is financially weak, the new organization is not yet in place, and unity is still a work in progress. He needs time and everybody's co-operation to bring the party back to solid ground.
Nonetheless, the decision to allow his Newfoundland MPs to break party solidarity is the most serious political mistake of its type that the Liberals have made since 1988. It might have consequences not only for Ignatieff's leadership, but also for the concept of Liberal federalism that Pierre Trudeau epitomized in attacking Joe Clark's vision of Canada as one "... where the federal government should be the maître-d' to all the provinces."
Ignatieff's decision will foster regional over national interests, and it could set the stage for the creation of future political regional lobbies, like the Bloc Québécois, in other provinces.
In 1988, the Liberals forfeited one of the most significant characteristics of their party: unconditional respect for the leader. Even Lester Pearson and Trudeau had opponents within their ranks, but those divisions were never allowed to get in the way of a strong leadership.
In 1988, 24 of the 40 Liberal MPs signed a letter asking then leader John Turner to resign. Since then, every leader became disposable.
What saved Turner's successor, Jean Chrétien, was not loyalty to him as leader, but loyalty to the party. Paul Martin's supporters were rough and unscrupulous against Chrétien, but they always toed the party line even in very difficult moments. They went through dramatic votes on hepatitis C, gay marriage, even the Clarity Act and, earlier, abortion, but the Liberals always managed to come out united. Two MPs who challenged the party line were unceremoniously kicked out. John Nunziata in 1996 voted against the Chrétien government's budget and was expelled. In 2007, Joe Comuzzi was expelled from the caucus by Stéphane Dion for planning to vote for a Conservative budget. Despite strong dissatisfaction with Dion, not a single MP dared to vote against one of his initiatives.
But the consequences of last week's decision are more serious because it weakens not just the power of the leader, but also a concept that Liberals have always fought for, namely, always putting the interests of Canada ahead of those of any particular region.
At this point it is irrelevant to know who is right and who is wrong in the dispute between Newfoundland and Ottawa. The fact of the matter is that Ignatieff has authorized his MPs from Newfoundland to put the interests of their province ahead of those of Confederation. This is a dangerous precedent for a national party. The only other example of this behaviour is the Bloc Québécois, but to create that party, Lucien Bouchard (Conservative) and Jean Lapierre (Liberal) had to leave their respective federal (and federalist) organizations.
Ignatieff made the decision to keep the party united. I understand that, but from now on the unity of the Liberal party is not in his hands, but in those of his MPs and the premiers. He must hope they will not ask for the same rights he accorded to their colleagues from Newfoundland.
Ignatieff's decision also weakens the concept of Canadian federalism as we have known it, and brings us closer to the approach followed in the United States, where members of Congress regularly put the interests of their state and constituency ahead of those of the country.
Ignatieff said this is a "one-time pass," but Humpty Dumpty's experience proves that's impossible. The decision made last week might change the Liberal party forever – unless we think it's normal that Liberal MPs can vote against constituents and God, but not against Danny Williams.
Angelo Persichilli is the political editor of Corriere Canadese. His column appears Sunday.