Michael Ignatieff’s policies target Jack Layton’s base

TorontoSun.com – comment – With this new Red Book, Liberal leader has set the stage for union with the NDP
Last Updated: April 4, 2011.   By Michael Den Tandt, Toronto Sun

Until Sunday, when Michael Ignatieff released his 94-page policy book, this election campaign was about nothing.

Now it’s about something, and the choices are rather stark.

We can vote for a centre-right party, the Harper Conservatives, who represent steady-as-she goes, cautious economic management, lowish taxes and a philosophical bent towards individualism and smaller government.

Or we can vote for a centre-left party, the Ignatieff Liberals, who represent a significant increase in the role of the state in Canadian life, with ramped-up social spending on education, health care and pensions, and a much more active role for government in the economy.

By far the biggest loser in this will be Jack Layton’s New Democrats. But the Greens, and to a lesser extent the Bloc Quebecois, will also suffer.

Ignatieff is consolidating the Left without merging parties. He’s engaged in a hostile takeover of their voter bases.

In effect, Ignatieff is doing precisely what Stephen Harper has accused him of doing — forming a coalition — but without the clutter of merging parties. The Liberal leader has something much more ambitious than a coalition in mind. He wants to wipe out his opponents on the Left by claiming all their supporters as his own.

Liberals in the past have tried to do this. Stephane Dion, Iggy’s predecessor, tried it with his Green Shift. The Green Shift was too narrow, however, and Dion the wrong man to sell it.

The New Liberal platform is far broader in its thrust. This is flat-out taking from the rich, in particular corporations, and giving to the poor — or rather the middle class. It signals a significant break with the Liberal Party’s rightward cant during the Chretien years.

Under Chretien, the Grits actually shifted rightward of where Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives had been in the ’80s.

Chretien, his finance minister Paul Martin and then-industry minister John Manley were a trio of pragmatic, right-leaning liberals whose focus was squarely on slashing the national debt, lowering taxes and boosting productivity.

Indeed it was Martin’s bold tax-cut plan in the 2000 election campaign, lifted holus-bolus out of the Reform Party playbook, that gave Jean Chretien his third majority.

This new Liberal Party, with its generous grants for university students, federal support for elder care, more money for pensions, and amorphous commitment to deficit reduction, is in effect doing the same thing to the New Democrats’ playbook.

Look for the NDP to lose many seats, and be looking for a new leader, after May 2. Or perhaps, as Stephen Harper has suggested incessantly for days, Layton will be nosing around for a spot in an Ignatieff-led coalition cabinet.

The Liberal policy book now brings into focus Harper’s tactic in the first 10 days of hammering the theme of coalition. Did he have internal intelligence about what the Liberals were planning?

You have to wonder. Because, with this new Red Book, Ignatieff has set the stage for union with the NDP. Whether it happens sooner or later is anybody’s guess but sooner would make sense for him. It may make sense for a greatly diminished NDP as well, after May 2. As of Sunday there is no longer a need for the NDP.

If Canadians reject Ignatieff’s vision, the Liberals are toast. They will become a fringe party, with the Conservatives firmly established as Canada’s new natural governing party.

If enough voters buy Ignatieff’s vision, then Canada is headed for something quite different from what we’ve lived for the past 25 years.

michael.dentandt@sunmedia.ca

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