Canada Kicks Ass
Iggy’s a control freak -- he’s worse than Harper, said MP


ridenrain @ Fri Jan 30, 2009 1:53 pm

John Ivison: Ignatieff takes a cue from Harper in slapping the muzzle on unruly caucus
Posted: January 30, 2009, 12:54 PM by Kelly McParland

Michael Ignatieff might consider it his manifest destiny to be Prime Minister one day. There even seems to be an emerging media consensus that views this prospect with a certain inevitability.

But the new Liberal leader is going to face some stiff challenges as his honeymoon period winds down. First among them is going to be discontent in a caucus that is not used to being told what to do.

Judy Foote, a Liberal MP from Newfoundland and Labrador, has already said she will vote against the Conservative budget, in contravention of her leader’s wishes, unless it is amended to delete language she says will cost her home province $1.6-billion in federal transfers over the next three years. She said her constituents want her to vote against the budget, even if it means she has to sit as an independent. Five other MPs from the Rock face a similar dilemma -- defy the wishes of their new leader or face the wrath of Premier Danny Williams, who could use his considerable clout to back NDP candidates at the next election.

But the issue of internal discipline is not confined to the budget. One disgruntled Liberal MP called to say that all opposition critics and senior committee members will soon be issued mandate letters to explain their roles and responsibilities. The move is unprecedented, the MP said. “Trudeau said MPs are nobodies 50 yards off Parliament Hill. This guy [Ignatieff] wants to make us nobodies on Parliament Hill. It’s outrageous and he’s heading toward a mutiny in six to eight months, unless he’s high in the polls,” he said.

Mr. Ignatieff has followed Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s lead in establishing rigid internal discipline, including slapping down MPs who have spoken out on issues when they were not authorized. “Iggy’s a control freak -- he’s worse than Harper,” said the MP.

But Jill Fairbrother, Mr. Ignatieff’s director of communications and media, said that many MPs have indicated they are glad the centre is co-ordinating a communications strategy. “The caucus and the leader are working together to figure out who’s speaking out where and when.”

She said the issuing of mandate letters was “standard operating procedure” and was designed to give critics an outline of what was expected by the leader. She cited the recent budget process, where Mr. Ignatieff consulted with his caucus before deciding whether he was going to support the Conservative plan, as an example of the Liberal leader being a good listener.

Another MP, who disagreed with Mr. Ignatieff’s strategy of supporting the Conservative budget, said the imposition of some discipline and professionalism to the party’s communications was “a good thing.”

“I disagreed with the decision but it was handled extremely well from a political point of view,” he said. “There were a surprising number of people in caucus who wanted to bring down the government but I suspect you will see discipline going forward.”

The Liberal Party has made much of Stephen Harper as the “master of the muzzle” in recent years. It looks like Mr. Ignatieff considered it a compliment.