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Liberal Leader Micheal Ignatieff speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Monday, Oct. 19, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick)
Liberal Leader Micheal Ignatieff speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Monday, Oct. 19, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick)

Adam Radwanski

Don't be insecure Add to ...

Amid all the other silliness they've been getting themselves into, their propensity for self-inflicted wounds evidently still limitless, Stephen Harper's Conservatives have done at least one thing that appears to have been borne largely of principle.

A national securities regulator has been an ambition of their government, and of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in particular, for years. As John Ibbitson explained this past weekend, it'll be a huge headache to get through. But at a time when we expect governments to be taking measures to make us more competitive in the post-recession world, a little heavy lifting seems worthwhile if it will help make it simpler and more inviting to do business in Canada.

That being said, political considerations are never far from the equation in Ottawa. Which raises the question: What's Michael Ignatieff going to do about all this?

For the Liberal Leader, there may be some temptation - despite all the good economic arguments in favour of a single regulator, and the lack of good economic arguments against - to oppose it. After all, there are few things he'd like better right about now than to regain some momentum in Quebec. Considering the degree to which nationalists are already whipping up a furour against this incursion on provincial turf, Ignatieff may see his opportunity.

At first glance, there would seem to be little strategic downside to taking that position - or, more to the point, little upside for the Liberals in supporting it. It's not as though the opposition is going to get any credit for a policy being initiated by the government, and neither is a national regulator a red-hot topic in the provinces that support one.

You have to wonder, though, how such small-mindedness would affect the broader impressions being formed of Ignatieff (which are not exactly universally positive to begin with). Here would be the Prime Minister, perceived to be taking a risk for something he believes is essential to enhancing national competitiveness - and here would be the opposition leader, playing region against region for short-term political gain.

To date, the limited comments the federal Liberals have made on this subject have been decidedly ambiguous. Presumably, they're currently trying to figure out how best to play it. Their decision will give a good indication about what type of party they're trying to build.

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