Monday, November 07, 2005

Layton On The Spot

Well -- it looks like things are about to get interesting. From the text of Jack Layton's speech to the Empire Club earlier today:

Last week, late Thursday night, the government responded to our specific proposals.

We’ve analyzed them over the weekend.

What the government is proposing is unacceptable.

To be fair, the government did go some distance on preventing doctors practising both in and out of medicare. But addressing one issue while failing to address the larger question of privatization isn’t enough.

There is no meaningful accountability. No real effort to monitor and track public medicare’s decline and private care’s rise. And today’s Liberal Party is unwilling to attach any conditions to prevent privatization to the funds it currently invests in health.

This isn’t good enough for people concerned about the erosion of public medicare ...

So reluctantly, we have sent a response to the government, outlining why we find their proposals unacceptable.

If the content of the government’s response to us on private health were a bill before Parliament, we would oppose it. They aren’t any better contained in a letter from Health Minister Dosanjh.

So, unfortunately, I don’t believe there are grounds to go forward.

And so, unfortunately, for those of us committed to getting things done in this Parliament, there’s no basis for our party to express confidence in this government.

We cannot express confidence in a government unwilling to act on such a critical issue.

And we cannot express confidence in a government under the leadership of a party that cannot be trusted to clean up the politics it tainted.

Doesn't exactly get much plainer than that, does it? Paul Martin can no longer count on the NDP to automatically support his government, because Jack Layton has concluded that he can't move the government's agenda any further on health care.

Now this doesn't necessarily mean that Jack is going to side with the Tories and the Bloc on a confidence motion; he doesn't say that. However, both Stephen Harper and Gilles Duceppe have decided that Layton needs to be the fall guy:

"It's the same soap opera. We will continue to assume that Mr. Layton is still bargaining with the Liberal government," said Harper.

The Tory leader said his party won't introduce a confidence motion before Christmas because he doesn't believe Layton will follow through with a three-party opposition attack.

If Layton is serious about bringing down the government, Layton has to present "a clear confidence motion that speaks to corruption in the Liberals," said Harper.

The Bloc Québécois leader, Gilles Duceppe, echoed Harper, saying that though he has no confidence in the government, Layton "has to make a move."

Harper's critics will of course say that he's abdicated his responsibilities as Opposition leader, by not initiating the vote of non-confidence. I say it's more a case of realpolitik. Both Harper and Duceppe know that a non-confidence motion is an empty gesture unless there's a very real chance that it will pass. Both also know that the very nature of their jobs in Opposition gives the Libranos a target to point to for voters irritated at having to trudge out in the snow for the ballot box.

On the other hand, Jack Layton's conduct in this session has been, from all accounts, pretty moderate, with none of the hysterical theatrics associated with the other parties. He still retains a higher degree of public respect than the other party leaders. So if Jack's the one to pull the trigger on the Libranos, it will have far greater impact on the electorate: it will mean that the Libranos can no longer be reasoned with. By anyone.

The first opposition day comes up in a week. We'll see.