Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Travers: Political Expediency has a price.

This is from the Star.

It is not clear at all that letting Dion hang on was a matter of political expediency. If the Liberals had put more pressure on to force him to resign that might very well have been more expedient than letting him hang on while there was continual backbiting within the party and little support for the leader. That hardly seems expedient or any help to the Liberals in the polls.
Obviously Travers has little liking for the coalition arrangement and in describing it he sounds like the reactionary that he is. However, he is right about the triumph of expediency in elevating Ignatieff to the leadership. Travers cynicism about the convention perhaps reflects media disappointment that there will probably be little to excite media appetites and public desire for some sort of drama. Travers will no doubt stay home and pen dreary commentaries such as this.

Political expediency has a price - Canada - Political expediency has a price
April 28, 2009 James Travers
Expediency carries a political price. This week the bill comes due for federal Liberals.
Canada's natural governing party, as it still thinks of itself, opted twice for convenience after last fall's election. First it let St├ęphane Dion hang on after a shattering defeat rather than force him to follow Paul Martin's example of an early exit. Then it rolled over rules, precedents and the right of members to pick the new leader by letting the elite anoint Michael Ignatieff.
Most flawed decisions seem sound at the time. Those two are not exceptions. Allowing the intelligent and honourable, if inept, Dion to save face seemed the decent thing to do before discarding him to history this spring. With the pre-Christmas coalition crisis still unfolding, the Liberal priority was to return to Parliament rallied around a leader who could credibly form a government or fight an election.
Of the two decisions, the second best defends itself. Since elevating Ignatieff, Liberals have enjoyed a modest opinion poll bump. They are imposing discipline on the leader's office, bringing fundraising into this century and slowly leaving behind their unholy union with, as Stephen Harper theatrically put it, socialists and separatists.
Still, following the path of least resistance has consequences. Only the most loyal Liberals will trek to Vancouver this week for what's being called the Seinfeld convention. It will crown the leader and won't set policy. It's essentially about nothing.
Along with being as exciting as heaven on Saturday night, this gathering threatens to make the party a victim of its own cynicism. Having skirted the crucible of a leadership contest, Liberals don't know nearly enough about the leader or where, exactly, he wants them, and all Canadians, to follow.
Left largely untested is Ignatieff's emerging vision of a future built on Canada's Last Spike past. Wire and steel will bind the East and West of a Great White North drawn south by U.S. opportunity. Among other things, a leadership contest would have challenged the economics, as well as the nation-building strategy, of high-speed rail through the Quebec-Windsor corridor and a Canadian power grid more plugged into politics than consumers.
Lost, too, is an opportunity. Ignatieff is more than a public intellectual, the saccharine label stuck to those who export their ideas beyond academia's ivory towers. He's also the political personification of the borderless citizen, the expatriate who flourishes globally before lugging experience and expertise home in a prodigal's suitcase.
Canadians, not just Liberals, need to know how Ignatieff's life journey meshes with the national dream. Is he fulfilling noble, old school obligations or personal ambition? Is he a patrician stooping to conquer or a catalytic agent of a Canadian work in progress?
Leadership races are notoriously imperfect. More about popularity and organization than policy or values, they obsess on the candidate's ability to win elections, not their capacity to govern wisely. Even so, the cruel length and close scrutiny combine to strip veneers and expose character.
In twice choosing the easy route home Liberals cheated Ignatieff, themselves and the country that seminal exercise. Now they and the rest of us will have to learn more about Ignatieff from what he says in Vancouver and after, where he leads Liberals in the next election and, perhaps, how he performs as prime minister.
That may not prove to be a deal-breaker. But it's a high public price to pay for political expediency.
James Travers' column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

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