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Norman Spector

Two cheers for Mr. Ignatieff Add to ...

First cheer: Last week, Michael Ignatieff defended prorogation as a legitimate prime ministerial power, but said he would never use it simply to avoid "a tight spot" as Stephen Harper has done.

Yesterday, in contrast, Jack Layton said that he wants to put constraints on prime ministerial power and vowed to bring in new legislation to allow prorogation only after a vote in the House of Commons.

From the difference in their positions, we can conclude two things:

1. Mr. Ignatieff actually has a chance of becoming prime minister of a minority government.

2. The Liberal Leader has a better understanding than Mr. Layton of the workings of Canada's Constitution - notwithstanding that his PhD is in history (not political science), or that his degree is from an American not a Canadian university, or that he's spent most of his career abroad.

Perhaps this is because our Constitution is similar in principle to that of Britain, where Mr. Ignatieff spent a good part of his time abroad. Or maybe it's the difference between a Harvard PhD and one from York - which, as has been observed, was handing them out to potted plants in the 1970s. Not to speak of the comparison with a Master's degree from the University of Calgary - a strength that Liberal spin doctors seem increasingly comfortable showcasing in selling their man. And wisely so.

Second cheer: Yesterday, Mr. Ignatieff outlined his priorities for the March budget, but refused to put "conditions" on supporting it; rather, the Official Opposition will take a decision after seeing the contents.

Had he taken that position with respect to confidence votes in general last September, he could have spared himself and his party a lot of misery. Best of all, he would not have sacrificed in any way the Official Opposition's margin of manoeuvre in bringing down the government at the right time and on the right issue.

Perhaps Mr. Ignatieff has learned from his mistake. Or maybe it's the result of having wiser and/or more experienced advisers. Whatever; it appears to be working.

The missing third cheer: Mr. Ignatieff has had a good couple of weeks - starting with the recognition that non-partisanship is sometimes (as in the Haiti earthquake) the best partisan strategy. What remains to be seen is whether he and his Chrétien-era advisers - who pioneered James Carville-style attack politics in Canada - now recognize that restoring the inborn civility of our political traditions is not elitist but could actually be good politics in our country.

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