I stand corrected. My post yesterday appears to be wrong....The Globe and Mail has other thoughts.
Stéphane Dion plays it smart
Globe and Mail Editorial
February 28, 2008 at 6:42 AM EST
The critics are lining up to take aim at Stéphane Dion's refusal to bring down the Conservative government over its budget. Pundits suggest the Liberal Leader is hypocritical for allowing a plan he called "one mile wide and one inch deep" to pass. Members of his caucus fret that he is sapping their party's credibility. There are whispers that he is weak, even cowardly. Mr. Dion has deserved much of the criticism he has received over his 15 months as leader. But not this time. Not only did he make the right decision, but he made it in a manner that suggests a word not usually associated with Mr. Dion -- leadership.
On what pretense could the Liberals have forced an election on this budget? It is true that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was compelled by his own overreaching tax cuts last fall to deliver a thin document. But with the government forecasting a decline in revenues, there is little different the Liberals could have offered. As Mr. Dion has been eager to point out, what new spending Mr. Flaherty managed was directed largely toward Liberal priorities such as infrastructure and research and development.
The biggest difference of opinion between the two parties is over how to spend this year's surplus. Mr. Dion would have put more money toward infrastructure and less toward debt repayment. But that isn't an issue to run a campaign on. Besides, it would be too late to assign that money to anything other than the debt by the time the Liberals took office.
To some Liberals, deputy leader Michael Ignatieff reportedly among them, it doesn't matter that the budget is relatively inoffensive; they believe it's simply time for an election. But Canadians apparently beg to differ. There is no strong sense of dissatisfaction with this government, no pressing issue on which the parties are at an impasse and no burning desire for change. Polls suggest an election would produce a Parliament closely resembling the current one, with the Tories maintaining minority power.
A delayed election plays to the Liberals' advantage, and not just because an economic downturn could sour voters on the Tories. Novice opposition leaders usually have about three years from the leadership convention to their first election, and even then are often ill-prepared. Mr. Dion has had much less time, and it shows. The Liberals' policy, their organization and his own communication skills are not election-ready. It may be that no time will be enough, but each passing day can only help.
Mr. Dion's immediate reaction to the budget, in fact, suggests he is improving. In the past, he might have vacillated for days. By announcing his decision just minutes after Mr. Flaherty had finished speaking, he appeared decisive. And for a leader sometimes accused of stubbornness, reports that senior caucus members swayed him from his initial inclination to bring down the government are encouraging. Perhaps he is learning.
Most Canadians will only really start paying close attention to Mr. Dion once the writ is dropped. By choosing that time to his party's best advantage, the Liberal Leader is giving himself a fighting chance.