Michael Ignatieff’s press conference this morning was quite the performance: the Liberal interim leader told the assembled press that he was putting the prime minister “on probation.” Which is an odd metaphor to use, since probation usually follows punishment. The decision to amend the budget and pass it is more like rewriting the law after the crime has been committed so that it’s no longer illegal. (I’d stop short of actually calling the budget a crime, however — even one this disappointing).
You can tell that Ignatieff wants the “probation” line to be the soundbite that sticks today, because that’s the line he posted on his Twitter account this morning. But the substance of the announcement is more complicated. The Liberals will introduce a motion this afternoon with specific amendments to the budget — investments in affordable housing and postsecondary education are welcome sights here — at which point the ball is back in the Conservatives’ court. The poison pill in this arrangement is the ultimatum that the Grits want reports on the budget’s stimulus measures every three months, and that each of those updates will be an opportunity to pull the trigger on a non-confidence motion.
In other words, we’re getting the worst of all possible outcomes: a cut-and-paste budget that lacks coherent focus and still suffers from gaping holes and inadequacies, plus permanent electoral brinksmanship, with the Liberals and the Conservatives playing parliamentary chicken every 90 days. It’s fashionable to deride the NDP these days — in conservative and progressive circles alike — for the party’s clumsy power plays such as the now-dead coalition, and their apparent surrender to the role of perennial bridesmaid to the Liberals. But at least the NDP has had the simple integrity to say No to a budget they think is wrong.