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Rex Murphy (Deborah Baic)
Rex Murphy (Deborah Baic)

Rex Murphy

The fog of Iggy Add to ...

From demanding Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's resignation the Liberals have moved on to demanding that of Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt - this latter over leaving documents labelled "secret" at CTV's Ottawa bureau for more than a week.

An opposition party demanding the resignation of a cabinet minister is as uncommon as a cry of double-double at Tim Hortons, and in most cases nearly as consequential. "The minister must resign" is a near-inevitable coda to any Question Period aria - a predictable and conventional end flourish of outdated theatricality, a parliamentary cliché in the same class with rising on a spurious point of order.

The resignation calls, the increasing energy of their parliamentary performance, are but the outward signs of the Liberals' new confidence, coupled with the always heightened partisan fever that accompanies the last days of any parliamentary session. You see it from their leader too. Michael Ignatieff is rumbling about his "probation report" worrying out loud whether he will force a summer election. "We have a problem, a serious problem about this government's confidence. Next week they have their second report card, right? We're holding these guys on probation."

He professes shock at the appalling proportions of the ever-expanding deficit, and wonders whether the horror of a government so "flagrant" in its incompetence must be remedied by the great boon of a summer election. I'm assuming that's a bit of end-of-session theatricality, too.

The grinding dynamics of the recession are still playing themselves out. Unemployment is hitting every area of the country. The multibillion-dollar auto bailout has and will inescapably bring other sectors of the economy to ask why they are not receiving the same deluxe attention as the car industry.

The forestry industry, in particular, which has been battered for years, worn itself out with various free trade disputes, and is now unfairly positioned vis-à-vis its American counterparts, has a very good case to make. It's large. Whole communities and regions depend on it. It's traditional. But it has neither the glamour nor the physical concentration of GM and Chrysler - doesn't have the vote-swaying force, in other words - and so it's been left, forgive the metaphor, swinging on the vine for years.

These are not ideal conditions for an opposition party with a new, placed not elected, leader to turn to Canadians, as they grab a few weeks of fine weather, and ask them to put off camping for a trip to the polls.

Mr. Ignatieff has shown an admirable dexterity in the transition from academic to politician. But it's only been a month and four days that he's been, officially, the Liberal Leader. Eternity for a lettuce leaf perhaps, but not quite a seasoning period for a future PM. And then there's the point, hardly incidental, that while he's rich with the details of Stephen Harper's defects, he hasn't presented much of a policy counter-case of his own.

We don't know what he thinks. What is the Liberal position on bailing out the auto sector? When he rails against the spiralling deficit does that mean that he opposes the $10-billion GM bailout? Would he, as PM, cancel it? Does he, like Mr. Harper, believe "we had no choice" but to follow the Obama administration's lead?

Where is he on the entirely justified case the forest industry is making for a parallel remedy? Can we presume, since he is appalled at the swelling deficit, he's against any assistance, equivalent to that offered auto workers, for forest workers? He flails Mr. Harper for his repeated failure to project accurately the course of the recession? What did he predict? Were his projections better? Does he disagree with the government's attempt to meet each new spike of the crisis with a new response, or would he have drawn a line last December or February and held to it?

We do not know, because on so many issues he has not told us. In other words, his critique of the government is just that - criticism. He is very good at ardently sketching the defects of the government he opposes, but equally a virtuoso at shielding us from what he would do differently.

Is the GM deal bad for Canada? Will he offer proportionate help to the forest industry? These are but two blatantly consequential questions, which can stand in for a dozen others, on which the majority of Canadian voters have no idea of how Mr. Ignatieff thinks. His attacks are sharp. His positions are a blur and a fog.

So if he is really thinking about forcing a summer election, if he is going to give that prospect the best of his "serene and clear" contemplation, maybe a little forthrightness on what he and his party stand for could be part of that exercise. Start with the auto bailout.

So far, all he's really telling us, is that he's not Stephen Harper. A comforting insight, for both men perhaps, but hardly one worth ruining anyone's summer.

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