By Jim Travers, Toronto Star, September 23, 2010
With decisive help from Jack Layton’s NDP, Liberals rescued the registry from Conservatives last night by narrowly winning a weak argument. Backed by gun crime victims, police chiefs and metropolitan voters, Michael Ignatieff forced a nervous caucus to accept that, on balance, saving the registry Jean Chretien introduced in 1995 is worth the rural political risks.
For Michael Ignatieff, the vote was partly about whether he could command the leadership moral force to insist that his members of parliament accept the discipline that he sought, while demonstrating that Liberal ideas still have value, even if the last fifteen years of the registry have been both costly and somewhat ineffective. His hand is different than Jack Layton's. Whereas Layton could permit members to vote their conscience, hoping that enough of them would "see the light" and vote to retain the registry, Ignatieff could not afford that luxury.
When asked, as he was more than once, "Will all your members show up to vote with the party to continue the registry (and defeat the private members bill that would scrap it)?" he could and did answer, "Yes!"
And then he delivered!
And it is in the delivery that his leadership actually began!
This was one small step for a man, and one giant step for the party.
Recall it was the Liberal party, under Ignatieff's leadership that called for a "coalition if necessary but not necessarily a coalition" in late 2009, and then the idea withered on the vine before it could become incarnate.
Also recall, it was the Liberal party who suffered serious electoral set backs because of the sponsorship scandal and as a consequence of the conservative character assassination of Stephane Dion's person and leaderhip.
Harper's single most important political "credo" is that he wants to destroy the Liberal party forever and will do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal.
A bus tour does not a leader make. A single vote demonstrating party discipline does not a Prime Minister make. However each is a step up the mountain, closer to establishing the kind of credibility, gravitas and political savoir-faire necessary to begin to speak publicly of a Liberal vision to which both Mr. Ignatieff and his foot soldiers can commit, during an election campaign and subsequently, should they win the election.
(There is also the appearance of "working together" with the NDP should an election produce a minority parliament with a Liberal Prime Minister.)
In securing the gun registry, Ignatieff also demonstrates his capacity to narrow the divide between urban and rural, a divide that Harper seeks to exploit. While there are inequities that need to be fixed in the registry, the larger argument for a Canadian point of view, on any single issue, through an open commons vote, signals something for which Canadians yearn...strength at the centre, when all about us is flying off the rails.
It is a slow process, even with instant communication, in a 24-7 cyber world, to build the kind of respect, confidence and credibility in a political world deeply embedded in a culture of whining, bitching and fragmentation and Ignatieff shows signs that 'he gets it'....about time!