Monthly Archives: February 2009

Ignatieff takes heat for allowing rebellion

Ignatieff takes heat for allowing rebellion

From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former right-hand man warned Michael Ignatieff Tuesday that his leadership could be in peril after his decision to allow a rebellion by his Newfoundland and Labrador MPs.

Tom Flanagan said following the “dictates” of Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams by allowing the province’s six Liberal MPs to vote against the Harper budget was the “easier course” to take for the Liberal Leader and will work “okay” in the short term.

“But it is a sign of weakness in the brutal world of politics and will create problems in the longer run. Harper would never do something similar,” said Mr. Flanagan, now a political science professor at the University of Calgary.

The budget passed Tuesday night with the support of Mr. Ignatieff and his Liberals. The six Liberal MPs from Newfoundland and Labrador stood with the NDP and the Bloc Québécois to vote against the budget.

There was outrage in the province over measures that will cost Newfoundland and Labrador about $1.5-billion in federal transfers over the next three years.

Mr. Ignatieff allowed his MPs the unusual move of breaking with caucus after several days of frantic negotiations and a telephone call by the Liberal Leader to the Prime Minister asking him to delay the measure that penalizes the province. Mr. Harper refused.

“After much discussion of this issue with my colleagues from Newfoundland and Labrador I decided to permit them in the budget vote … a one-time vote of protest to signal their displeasure and my displeasure at these unilateral actions, which in my view weaken our federation,” Mr. Ignatieff said Tuesday.

Just a week ago, the Liberal Leader announced his party would support the budget – with an amendment calling for three updates – in a confidence vote. He argued that Canadians didn’t want another election.

But on Monday night, over a glass of Ontario Chardonnay and a dinner of hake on white bean and roasted cherry tomato salad, he changed his mind. The Liberal Leader had invited the six MPs and his chief of staff, Paul Zed, to his official residence at Stornoway for a “working dinner” on the issue.

“It was a very cordial and friendly dinner,” said a guest. “A consensus was reached.”

Some of the MPs, such as Scott Andrews, had been prepared to be punished. He had campaigned in his Avalon riding on the issue of equalization payments and was not changing his mind about his vote.

Mr. Ignatieff called Mr. Williams yesterday morning to inform him he was allowing the MPs to oppose the budget.

Elizabeth Matthews, a senior aide to Mr. Williams, rejected the notion that the decision will undermine Mr. Ignatieff’s leadership.

“We certainly aren’t running the Liberal caucus,” she said. “The Premier has said he does trust Mr. Ignatieff, obviously as opposed to the Prime Minister. We clearly see this as the PM’s problem. He made the promise, he broke the promise, and now he has made unilateral changes to punish us.

“Liberal MPs are in a tough spot to be sure,” she said.

Mr. Flanagan, who served as Mr. Harper’s chief of staff, said that the Prime Minister, faced with a similar situation, would have told his MPs: “It’s my way or the highway.”

“He wouldn’t have let a premier pull the strings on the members,” he said.

However, it was Premier Williams’s rage against Mr. Harper and his “Anything But Conservatives” campaign that led to the Conservatives being shut out in the province in the last election.

Even some Liberals are questioning Mr. Ignatieff’s decision, saying that in this first real test of his leadership, he couldn’t keep his MPs in line.

“It looks bad on Ignatieff and his control over his caucus,” said one long-time Liberal.

The optics of going against a leader in a budget vote are not good, which is why MPs are usually disciplined. In 2007, former Liberal MP Joe Comuzzi was kicked out of Stéphane Dion’s caucus for pledging to support the Conservative budget. In 1996, John Nunziata was kicked out of Jean Chrétien’s Liberal caucus for voting against the government’s budget over what he considered a broken promise not to rescind the GST.

Others among the Liberals are wondering where it will stop. Could Newfoundland MPs break ranks again on another issue? And what about Quebec MPs, who are upset with some of the budget measures?

For now, the Quebec Liberal caucus is supporting the budget despite opposition to certain provisions by Premier Jean Charest. However, Mr. Charest did not pressure Quebec Liberal MPs to vote against the budget.

“The Premier has always said that it isn’t up to him to tell federal MPs how to vote in Parliament. We said we disagreed with the unilateral changes made by Ottawa on equalization payments …We expressed our opinion. It is now up to the federal MPs from Quebec to vote according to their conscience,” said Mr. Charest’s press secretary, Hugo D’Amour.

Quebec Liberal MP Denis Coderre, the leader’s Quebec lieutenant, said that the issue involving Quebec is not the same as the one regarding Newfoundland.

“I truly feel there is a political vendetta between Harper and Williams,” he said, adding that the budget must be supported because there is an “urgent need” to “fight against the recession.”

“We’re [Quebec Liberal MPs] all going to vote for the budget issue to take our responsibility to show total solidarity,” he said.

With a report by Rhéal Séguin in Quebec

Ignatieff allows Liberal MPs to vote for their ridings – but one time only

Ignatieff gives Nfld MPs blessing to oppose budget

By Martin O’Hanlon And Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


OTTAWA – Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff dodged some friendly fire and took a shot at Stephen Harper as he gave his Newfoundland MPs a “one-time” pass to break ranks and vote against the federal budget.

The Liberals say they will support the Conservative budget in a key parliamentary vote tonight so that the country isn’t plunged into political instability in the midst of an economic crisis.

But Ignatieff is making an exception for his six MPs from Newfoundland and Labrador to let them protest the government’s “radical” cuts in federal transfer payments to the province.

“This is not just about Newfoundland and Labrador, this is about the way Stephen Harper runs this federation,” Ignatieff said.

“This tendency for unilateral, surprise action is damaging to the national unity of our country.

“Tonight, they will have a one-time vote against the budget in order to send a clear signal to Newfoundland and Labrador and the rest of the country that this is no way to run a federation.”

Ignatieff said he met Harper on Tuesday and asked him to “pause” the controversial measure, but the prime minister refused.

The Liberal leader’s decision manoeuvres him out of an awkward political fix.

Four of the Newfoundland MPs had already said they would vote against the budget, reluctantly defying Ignatieff’s authority as he faced his first test of control over an often-fractious caucus.

By agreeing to a compromise, he avoids the dual daggers of disciplining his MPs and alienating Newfoundland voters.

The Newfoundlanders insist that the budget singles out their province and robs it of some $1.6 billion in federal funding.

Critics accuse Harper of using the budget to settle a political score with Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams, who launched an “Anybody But Conservative” campaign during the federal election.

Williams hailed Ignatieff’s decision.

“He shows real courage this early in his leadership to be making a move like that. The MPs are being allowed to do what they need to do on behalf of their province and I think the fact that a national leader recognizes that is very important.”

Williams accused Harper of being divisive, a threat to national unity, and of pitting provinces against each other.

“I’m a big boy. I understand that if you give an elbow, you’re going to get an elbow back. But you don’t get hit over the head with a sledgehammer, and that’s what this guy does.

“The Conservative party has to dump Harper or otherwise they’re going to find themselves back in a phone booth with a caucus of a couple of people.”

The budget is poised to win approval in principle despite mounting anxiety among Liberals about propping up the minority government.

A Liberal amendment to the budget sailed through the House of Commons on Monday night, supported by the Tories.

The amendment – requiring the government to submit periodic progress reports on the budget – was passed by a vote of 214 to 84, with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois voting against it.

The amendment was the price Ignatieff set for his party’s support in the main budget vote tonight.

On Monday, Ignatieff suggested he could defeat the government in future if it continues to refuse to rectify the transfer payment problem.

He noted that regional fairness is one of the issues that must be addressed in the progress reports demanded by the Liberals, the first of which is due in late March.

There’s still no sign that the government is willing to bend on the issue, which involves a change to the complicated formula for calculating equalization payments to have-not provinces.

Newfoundland no longer collects equalization but Williams said the change reduces related payments under the 1985 Atlantic Accord, which determines the province’s share of offshore oil revenues. He said Newfoundland will lose $1.5 billion in offset payments and another $80 million in health care transfers.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who held a private briefing for opposition MPs on the matter, said the change stems from his decision to cap the growth of equalization payments to the rate of economic growth. And he said he won’t back off that to satisfy one province.

After being briefed, Liberal finance critic John McCallum said it appears Newfoundland will lose $1 billion over three years – not the $1.5 billion estimated by Williams.

Nevertheless, he said the province has been unfairly penalized, unlike Nova Scotia and Manitoba for whom Flaherty has agreed to cushion the blow from the equalization changes.

“Party solidarity if necessary, but not necessarily party solidarity

Third Newfoundland Liberal breaks ranks

and voting against the Liberal party.

“Congratulations to Mr. Simms he is doing the right thing by representing the interests of his constituents. This is the way a democracy should function, the vote for the Party Line, has died in many countries, we don’t need a rebirth of it in Canada. Lets hope many more MPs, no matter what the party vote in the interests of their constituents”

The Canadian Press

ST. JOHN’S — Newfoundland Liberal MP Scott Simms says he will break party ranks and oppose the federal budget if it isn’t amended to protect $1.6-billion for his province.

Mr. Simms said the budget unfairly targets his province by threatening to take away $1.5-billion in money from the 1985 Atlantic Accord, and another $80-million in federal health transfers.

Mr. Simms, who represents the central Newfoundland riding of Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor, said he made the decision with some difficulty because he’s been shown much respect from new Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

The MP joins fellow Newfoundland Liberals Judy Foote and Scott Andrews in opposing the federal budget.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams says the federal budget should lead Tories to think about whether Stephen Harper should lead them. Shaun Best/ReutersNewfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams says the federal budget should lead Tories to think about whether Stephen Harper should lead them. (Shaun Best/Reuters)

Imagine MPs doing what they were elected to do!