Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Running in Place

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, Gaia (Tuesday October 31, 2006 at 11:10 pm)

The Liberal Party of Canada, still convinced that their credibility on Kyoto is crucial to defeating the perennial also-ran New Democrats in the next election, are on the attack.

His usual two-step of borrowing others’ ideas and buffing credentials with left-wing voters has brought NDP Leader Jack Layton to his latest pas: introducing a private member’s bill (borrowed from recent Liberal successes) to establish periodic review and standards for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

While Mr. Layton’s efforts are notable for their attempt to capitalize on recent coverage of other private member’s bills, it seems unlikely to be more than a holding action. As the Green Party’s credibility builds, the NDP will find it harder to keep their environmentally-minded constituency. Since recent events have given a lustre of positive action to the normally humdrum private member’s bill, it’s a good move for Layton.

But standing pat on the environment isn’t a strategic issue for the Liberal Party. There’s little question that the Liberals have more credibility than the Tories on environmental issues; but as it’s unlikely that those who choose based on environmental issues vote for Conservatives, there’s little to gain from the Liberals’ primary opponents by building credibility.

The only strategic hope for burnishing the party’s Kyoto credentials is therefore to swipe potential NDP votes; and that’s not a great plan. Layton has attacked the Liberals before, and Kyoto is an issue on which the Liberals have no real credibility and several weak points. Beyond the old standby of “Why didn’t you do anything while you were in office?”, Layton can now rely on the auditor-general’s report and the fact that it was under the Liberals that Canada failed to meet specific Kyoto requirements which could trigger future problems.

When your opponent has that kind of armament to wield, it’s wise not to get into that fight. It’s all well and good to trot out a government minister to buttress a point, but the Liberals no longer have Ministers at their disposal. Fighting over environmental voters with the NDP isn’t going to sway them — especially since they’re likely to be well-educated enough on the issue to be impervious to Liberal efforts to muddy the waters (like this recent attack). Besides which, it’s not clear that the small group of voters who put the environment first but know very little about environmental policies are enough to make a significant impact at the polls.

Fighting over the NDP’s polling scraps isn’t the way for the Liberals to retake the House. If it worked, it might shift a dozen or so seats, but it could let Tories come up the middle in as many seats as Liberals could win. If the Liberals really want to get into fighting trim on environmental issues, they need to stay well away from provoking the one party with the credibility and will to protect their constituency. They’re not the ones who should be struggling to stand still.

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