As the story goes, our star-studded fledglings in Ottawa are starting to look like the gang that can't shoot straight. Stumblebums. On a number of important files they've been dodging and weaving, dithering and delaying, sending off contradictory signals.
There's been the months-long deficit dance, an undoing of the campaign pledge, a mix of messages on the bad numbers that Finance Minister Bill Morneau set about clarifying on Monday. Beyond that, there's confusion over the Saudi arms contract, the Bombardier bailout file, F-35 fighter jets, the vote on assisted dying legislation, electoral system reform, refugee settlement numbers, the administration of the Senate and, before we run out of breath, pipeline positioning.
The rap is that while the Liberals are scoring on style, they're sputtering on content. By pedigree their cabinet of well-schooled and fresh-thinking types compares well with almost any. But shortage of experience there and in the Prime Minister's Office is showing. The rookies on the team are losing sight of the puck and the net. The risk, while we're on hockey analogies, is that this outfit will become the political equivalent of the Edmonton Oilers. A much ballyhooed team of young stars impressive everywhere except in the column that counts. Results.
When I put this postulate to one of the party's insiders, out came the "now wait a minute" response. "You pundits really like going off the rails, don't you?"
"May have happened once or twice," I said.
He started throwing the word "perspective" around, a term that, truth be told, has gotten in the way of many a good story.
Take the Bombardier bailout question, for example, he said. Critics, conservatives and many others are set to send up a huge howl of protest if the government comes to the rescue of the aerospace sector in Quebec. But wasn't it the Conservative government, he noted, that bailed out the auto sector in Ontario? And wasn't it, as it turned out, not such a bad thing to do?
He was right, although in broadening the perspective we do recall that the U.S. auto bailout left the Harper government with basically no choice in the matter.
Take the deficit numbers, the insider argued, citing all the criticism of his team before the Morneau appearance on Monday for relenting on deficit pledges. Doesn't sound public policy demand that when economic circumstances change – oil prices, growth forecasts and the like – finance policy need change as well? Few would argue with that. But Mr. Morneau could have spared himself a lot of criticism had he been more up front earlier.
The Saudi arms contract? True, the insider said, there's a lot of weaving going on, but when making previous noises about this deal, the Liberals didn't know the contract details and other pertinent information. That information makes for no easy way out.
On the question of muddled messaging on some files, the Liberals have a built-in alibi. It's the new era of openness. When you draw down the curtain on control-freak kingdom and give policy makers voice and provide open media access, some contradictions and doublespeak are going to result.
Another point from the lesson-giver on perspective was the old one about politics being the art of the possible. Many of the problems facing this government, such as commodity-price plunges, are of an intractable nature. No easy solutions are available. On files such as energy and carbon pricing and pipelines and climate change, there are so many competing interests – the oil sector, the indigenous peoples, the environmentalists, the provinces – that finding a consensus will be difficult, if not impossible.
The interlocutor made some pertinent points on perspective, but didn't mention the most basic and predictable of them all: ideological perspective. From a liberal viewpoint, the government of course is doing just fine. It had a weekend poll showing 49-per-cent support to back the claim. From a conservative perspective, as the stumblebum list illustrates, it is a malfunctioning lot.
In other words, it's politics as usual in the nation's capital. The dogs bark, the caravan moves on.