Pollster Bruce Anderson has an article in today’s Globe entitled “John McCallum shoots economic blanks for Liberals”, which argues that the Liberals are unable to exploit the bad economic times to their political advantage because John McCallum shoots blanks. While I agree with the symptoms. I don’t agree with the diagnosis, as those are real bullets that John McCallum fires into every good populist idea that crosses his path. Two examples are noteworthy. The Liberals support for HST and the Liberals pathetic handling of the income trust file. Handled properly, these two issues alone could have propelled the Liberals into a 10 point advantage over the Conservatives, but the Liberal think they can propel themselves into victory by kow towing to a handful of Canadians like Ed Clark (he of the HST) and the Life Co CEOs who were intent on killing income trusts for their narrow self interests. Sheesh. Good luck with that strategy.
My most recent encounter with John McCallum was in Peterborough a few months ago during the time that Parliament was prorogued and the Liberals were engage in a faux exercise of pre budget consultations. William Barrowclough (pictured above) of Peterborough and I formally presented John McCallum with the concept of the Liberals getting behind the win win win proposal known as the Marshall Savings Plan that had nothing but upside for Canadians and was hailed by Diane Francis of the Financial Post and others as “brilliant”. What was John McCallum’s argument for not embracing the Marshall Savings Plan? He argued it was “complicated”, and promptly fired a bullet into a great idea.
My response to John McCallum at that meeting was to say that the Marshall Savings Plan (MSP) is no more complicated than an RRSP, as the Marshall Savings Plan is simply an RRSP with one change and a change that accelerates tax collection for Ottawa at a time when budget deficits scream for the $6 billion in annual tax revenue that the MSP would have provided for. In so doing, John McCallum fired a bullet into an idea that would have addressed Canada’s deficit crisis AND Canada’s pension crisis. How dare Bruce Anderson argue that John McCallum shoots economic blanks for the Liberals.
Meanwhile what became of that petition that was handed to John McCallum in Peterborough by William Barrowclough that was signed by over 3,000 Canadians that called for inclusion of the Marshall Savings Plan in Budget 2010, a measure that also was supported by 79.3% of Canadians in a Environics Research Poll? Did John McCallum think we were just shooting blanks when we went to the immense effort to gather 3,000 signatures, only to have it completely ignored?
John McCallum shoots economic blanks for Liberals
May 11, 2010
Globe and Mail
Liberals looking to understand why their party has made no headway in the last year could do worse than to focus on why they seem to have a tiny "share of voice" on economic issues.
Some ask what it will take for Michael Ignatieff to hit 35 per cent in the polls, if a recession, two prorogations and a massive deficit aren't enough. Solid, clear ideas, in-the-moment agility and a penetrating communications style are all important. As is assembling the right talent on his front bench and making their efforts count.
Last week was another one where people around the world felt rising anxiety about the economy, as concerns about a debt crisis and global contagion spiked.
Yet, the day after stunning stock-market gyrations threatened yet again the retirement savings of many middle class Canadians, in the House of Commons the only questions asked about the economy were asked by Conservative back-benchers, and answered by the Finance Minister's parliamentary secretary. The Liberals used their time to grind on a handful of issues that, given the context, were not likely to generate column inches or TV and radio clips.
Over the weekend, the political news in Canada was about Mr. Harper's approach to the G20 meeting, his conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and his determination that nation-state indebtedness must be a focal point of the upcoming meeting in Canada. The coverage was straight up, there was no opposition point of view on offer, and the impression left is of a Prime Minister as a bigger-picture kind of guy, developing constructive relationships with the most important leaders in the world.
Mr.Ignatieff, for his part, was in the news for being sworn in as a Privy Councillor, and for touting the virtues of high speed broadband in rural Canada.
John McCallum, his finance critic, is rarely in the news. To be fair (I don't know him) I wanted to be sure this wasn't owing to media filters, so I took a quick tour of his website. Listed there are a handful of news releases, speeches, and questions he has asked (including a number of non-functioning links), but nothing more recent than March of 2008. I'm sure that the realitiy is he hasn't been silent for two years, but at the very least, this is not the level of promotion you might expect from someone with such a key responsibility.
It seems to me there's a fair bit of talent in the Liberal caucus, and given the importance of economic issues, Mr. McCallum is the most baffling choice Mr.Ignatieff continues to make. The economy is likely to remain at the top of the public agenda for some time, but the team of Ignatieff-McCallum seems unable or unwilling to muster an argument or a point of differentiation about it. The conclusion one might draw is that they either don't know how they would improve upon Harper economic policy, or can't articulate the difference they would make if elected.
I'd wager there are at least 10 Liberal caucus members who could do a more energetic and effective job with the finance critic role. As Mr. Ignatieff works to build the skills to be a potent opposition leader (few are perfectly cut for that role), he can't afford to ignore underperformance on his front bench. Having overhauled his office in recent months, he might usefully apply the same diligence with his shadow cabinet.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Posted by Fillibluster at 9:44 AM