We play the tune, prime minister, you dance.
That was the message from Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff yesterday. He doesn’t want an election, he told Stephen Harper, but if you don’t meet our demands, there will be one.
That got Harper’s attention. Though he doesn’t like dancing to anyone’s number but his own, it appears he’s prepared to put on his waltzing shoes this time.
The two leaders are to meet today to try to work out a deal. It looks, for the moment at least, an election will be avoided. That’s probably good for the Conservatives, not so good for the Liberals, who have that precious political commodity known as momentum working for them.
Most senior Liberal strategists want an election but feared being seen as forcing one against the public’s will. They didn’t want their leader to look like just another rank, opportunistic politician. Hence the compromise proposal. From the prime minister Ignatieff wants easier eligibility for employment insurance, a plan for the long-term elimination of the deficit, more specifics on stimulus spending and a plan to deal with the isotope crisis.
Employment insurance is the big one and the PM indicated he is amenable to changes. If he gives enough, Ignatieff will declare victory and everybody can relax until at least the fall. That will give the Conservatives a chance to recoup.
Tracking polls put the Liberals six or seven points in front. The Lisa Raitt affair gave them a boost. And just this weekend, Tom Flanagan, Harper’s longtime mentor, gave them another lift.
In an updated version of his book, Harper’s Team, the senior Tory strategist essentially concedes the Harper critics have been right — that the PM has no vision, that he is guided only by political considerations, and that he dealt a terrible blow to the party with his boneheaded fiscal update of last fall.
Coming from a Conservative, that’s great ammunition. The Liberals would like to use it now. If the prime minister is smart, he won’t give them the chance — not until the autumn leaves fall.