There is no policy or issue silver bullet in Canada. There's no one policy position that Michael Ignatieff can take that will put us back into power. Similarly, there is no one position Stephen Harper can stake out that propels him to a majority. It just doesn't exist and anyone who claims "if only he would say X, everything would change" doesn't understand the trench warfare that is now Canadian politics.
That having been said, consider the opportunity that has just been handed to Michael Ignatieff:
» One of the least popular companies in Canada - if not the least popular company in Canada - has decided to make the Liberal Party its public enemy. Air Canada's chief operating officer has stepped into the middle of a contentious debate over whether to allow UAE airlines additional landing rights and he's chosen sides. "I would caution the government from taking advice from a party [the Liberals]that oversaw about a dozen Canadian airline bankruptcies during its tenure in office from 1993 to 2006," The fact that Air Canada's COO is a former Liberal staffer is interesting but absolutely beside the point here. He's decided his friends are the Conservatives (and NDP who support the government's protectionist position) and the Liberals are an enemy who need to be attacked. It is surely no coincidence that his friends in the Harper government are taking a blatant protectionist stand to protect Air Canada's market share against the interest of consumers. Well, us Liberals can either join the political group hug that Air Canada is getting from Harper and Jack Layton or we can remind Canadians how much they hate Air Canada, the surly service, the absurd prices. I know what side of this debate I want to be on.
» Good public policy is on the Liberal Party's side. Introducing more competition is good for consumers. Consumers should be the main focus of Canada's air travel policy, not Air Canada employees. The government's own Competition Policy Review Panel argued in favour of more foreign competition. It wrote "an air transport sector characterized by competitive choices, fares and costs will be critical for Canadian businesses to realize their ambitions in foreign markets." That panel was appointed by Harper, was welcomed warmly by the government in its Speech from the Throne ("Our Government will proceed with legislation to modernize our competition and investment laws, implementing many of the recommendations of the Competition Policy Review Panel") and then subsequently ignored. Facts and good policy are on our side.
» The job numbers are massively overstated. The same Air Canada executive who attacked the Liberals also repeated John Baird's overheated job claim that "hundreds of thousands" of direct and indirect jobs are at risk here. The problem with this claim is that Air Canada's entire workforce is, according to their own numbers less than 23,000 jobs - or just over 10 per cent of the lowest possible number that "hundreds of thousands" could represent. Where are the other 90 per cent of jobs at risk? Where is the evidence that if the UAE airlines get additional landing rights that a single Canadian job will be lost, never mind 200,000 or more jobs? If we normally believe that foreign investment and competition is a net good for the economy and employment, why is the airline sector different?
» Staying focused, this is Air Canada. We are standing up for consumers who hate Air Canada. Make this bigger than the UAE dispute. We are in favour of airline competition. We don't think Canadians are well served by the overpriced, poor-service status quo. We will bring about change. The change will lower prices and bring more options than consumers currently have. Air Canada is attacking us because we want to bring change. Stephen Harper and Jack Layton care more about Air Canada, their executives and big unions than they do consumers. How do we lose this fight?
Update Even more reason for the Liberals to pick the fight with Air Canada: although Duncan Dee worked for Sheila Copps in the early 1990s, he has been a prominent Conservative since 2006. Dee has donated $7,450 to the Tories in the last five years and recently called himself a "friend" of Nigel Wright (Globe & Mail, Sept 24, 2010). Dee earned a patronage appointment from the Tories in 2009. He was appointed to a three year term on the Board of Trustees of the Canadian Museum of Civilization by Heritage Minister James Moore. That adds some additional flavour to this morning's comments.
While Dee blames the Liberals for overseeing "about a dozen Canadian airline bankruptcies during its tenure in office" the Tories have overseen the demise of 8 airlines, in just 5 years:
1. Skyservice - Founded in 1986, ceased operations in 2010. Based in Toronto, fleet of 21
2. Harmony Airways - Founded in 2002, ceased operations in 2007. Based in Vancouver, fleet of three
3. Zoom Airlines - Founded in 2002, ceased operations in 2008. Based in Ottawa, fleet of five
4. Peace Air - Founded in 1962, ceased operations in 2007. Based in Peace River, fleet of four
5. QuikAir - Founded in 2001, ceased operations in October 2006. Based in Calgary, fleet of four
6. NAC Air - Founded in 2000, ceased operations in 2008. Based in Thunder Bay, fleet of 13
7. Maestro - Founded in 2006, ceased operation in 2007. Based in Québec City, fleet of one
8. Corporate Express - Founded in 1975, ceased operation in 2009. Based in Calgary, fleet of seven