Michael Ignatieff began his press conference in the National Press Theatre in Ottawa today by saying that the Harper government's budget was deeply flawed. For a moment, I thought he was about to do something interesting, to propose serious and substantive amendments to the budget. But then he dropped the clunker. The Liberals, he said, will propose an amendment requiring the government to provide periodic updates on how the budget is working.
There you have it. Michael Ignatieff went away last night, laboured, and brought forth a mouse.
Explaining himself in answer to questions from the media, the Liberal leader was embarrassingly sophomoric. The Liberal-NDP coalition had been useful, he said, because it had forced the government to put many useful measures in the budget. On the other hand, he said the budget remained a "Conservative" budget that likely would not work. Nonetheless, he said he intended to vote for it. Provided, of course, that his "Mickey Mouse" amendment is acceptable to Stephen Harper. By turns, Ignatieff sounded like Demosthenes, thundering down condemnation on a government that has repeatedly failed Canadians, and then like an apple-polishing pupil asking for a report card from the head master. Rule number one in politics: you can't have it every which way. If you vote for the Conservative budget, it becomes your budget Mr. Ignatieff, no matter what font the government uses to print its reports for you.
In answer to questions that suggested that perhaps he had thrown the game away, Ignatieff could have replied in the manner of Hamlet: "Do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe."
Having decided "not to be" as a serious opponent of the Harper government, Michael Ignatieff could consider a career on the stage.
Meanwhile, Jack Layton has become the real leader of the opposition. He showed courage when he reached out to the Liberals to form a progressive coalition that could provide Canadians with the leadership they need to cope with the economic crisis. He tried the option of working with the Liberals. Michael Ignatieff has walked away from that option. Layton has retained his integrity and his clear understanding of what the country needs. Progressives now have one party and one party only available to them: the NDP.
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