View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – A summer of discontent – Cornwall Ontario – June 24, 2010

Cornwall ON – As summer returns to Canada, Liberal MPs have scrambled for the exits and fled our capital city. No doubt they will be doing a lot of navel gazing this summer and probably a lot of plotting too.

Liberals will have a chance to review their very dismal performance over the last session and contemplate what to do about their leader. Meanwhile, Ignatieff will have plenty of opportunity on his “boonie tour” to re-evaluate his staff, his front bench and perhaps deal with his internal critics. There may even been some time to get some new and rational policy discussions going.

Fortunately for the Liberals, the government handed them some great issues that they could get their teeth into in Question Period and in committees. However, the Liberals have not yet figured out how to really make Question Period work in their favour.

They still run on too many topics, with little focus and they keep topics going far past their effective date. Plus, the topics of choice are often of little or no interest to average Canadians living outside of the Queensway here in Ottawa. I doubt that spending months worried about the fate of the guys who killed 148 of our brave men and women in Afghanistan is going to get Canadians all excited to vote Liberal next time.

The same is true for Jaffergate. It was interesting for a couple of days and then Canadians fired up their BBQs and turned off from the subject. All of which took valuable time and media attention away from other issues such as the economy, taxes, jobs, pensions, health care, food recalls etc. If health is moving back up to being one of the most important issues for Canadians, where was the focus on it?

To succeed the Liberals need to prove to the public that they are a government in waiting and right now they are incapable of doing that. They don’t have their own policies in place to back up their attacks, nor do many of their shadow cabinet look like ministerial material.

Their whole Question Period team and structure needs to be re-evaluated. Critics need to be moved and a fair number dropped which is also one way Ignatieff can deal with his detractors in the caucus. A few might sulk and stay home, but he needs to rule with an iron hand. Do you think Chretien or Trudeau would have hesitated for a moment to deal with disloyalty towards the leader?

While the Tories gleefully beat up on Iggy at every opportunity (and I must say he does give us a lot to work with) don’t get cocky and count him out just yet. Remember Preston Manning’s first days as Opposition Leader or Stockwell Day’s or even Stephen Harper’s.

Manning went on to become an effective leader, Day is one of the best ministers now and Harper was repeatedly written off by the media with plenty of stories that predicted he would never become Prime Minister. Leaders can change, their senior advisors can change and their tactics can change too.

And for all those Tories wishing for a Fall election so that they can win a majority against such a weak leader, think again. Be damn sure that you are right this time because that’s exactly what you were saying about Dion. Whether led by Ignatieff or someone else, the Liberals will always be a dangerous foe and elections have a funny way of leveling the playing field and not always going according to your game plan.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.

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