Bring on the storm and fury

Ignatieff says he won’t try to trigger an election this week if he gets some answers

OMG, you guys — can you feel the political electricity in the air as we count down the hours before Michael Ignatieff is slated to take the stage in front of a standing-room-only throng of journalists with the fate of the country — or at least, this government —  resting on his patrician shoulders? Or, alternately, have you already been spoiled by Le Devoir, which is reporting that the prime minister is about to score another point in his ongoing blinkoff against the Official Opposition?

Anyway, on the off chance that this press conference turns out to be something more than an attempt to rationalize his party’s now seemingly pathological cognitive dissonance over its confidence in the PM’s competence, ITQ will be liveblogging from the NPT, so be sure to check back at 11am for full coverage.

In the meantime, the ITQ polls remain open, so feel free to cast your vote if you haven’t already done so.

10:47:58 AM
Greetings, and welcome to the must-see political news probably-non-event of the century, or at least the first part of the day! ITQ is on location in the fourth row of the historic National Press Theatre, where the tensions are — pretty much nonexistent, although the intragallery pre-pesser banter is no less witty and erudite for all that. Before we get started, though, an equally witty and erudite reader sent along the following bit of verse. Competing jingles, limericks or epic poems welcome:
ITQ’s Poetry Corner,
The grand old Count of York(ville)
He had ten thousand men
He marched the up to the edge of the cliff
And marched them back again.

10:55:51 AM
You know, for a guy who’s about to make the opposite of news – or so, I should note again, for the record, we all assume – this Ignatieff fellow sure can bring in the crowd — I’ve not seen the press theatre this full since our last parliamentary crisis, and that one was actually *interesting*.

Actually, the very latest word is that there may be “conditions” on the timelapse capitulation, which could, in theory, prolong the excitement — or, depending on your perspective, the eventual embarrassment — for a few more days. I am, incidentally, sitting just two seats away from David Akin, who is all atwitter with his laptop at the ready, so you may want to pull up his feed as well so you can experience the magic in stereo.

Two minute warning! At least Ignatieff is usually on time. If this was Harper, we’d be probably still be waiting for him to show up for his *last* presser.

11:03:08 AM
And here we go! He just showed up on stage, an ever so slightly manic smile plastered on his face and jaunty red and white striped tie. He starts with a bit of bumph about how the Liberal Party doesn’t want an election – no sir -and professes a touching belief that, despite all evidence to the contrary, the government may someday be willing to work with other parties to get things done for Canadians.
A brief recap of the horrors of last fall – the EFU, prorogation, the c-word that apparently cannot be mentioned – and a reminder of why it is that we’re getting these accountability reports in the first place: a motion amending the budget, put forward by the *responsible* opposition party. (That would be the Liberals_.

Oh, apparently the c-word *can* be mentioned: this is not, Igantieff would like us to note, a coalition — after all, the other two parties rejected the report without even bothering to read it.

That said, the Liberals have “serious concerns” about the progress made thus far.

And – here’s the list, starting with employment insurance. So – point to the Toronto Star; Le Devoir bet it all on backing down, making their leak a pass/fail grade.

11:09:39 AM
On EI – he wants to hear what the PM is proposing, as far as reform of the existing system, now – not in three months, and he’s willing to sit longer if necessary, which prompts a collective silent scream from the hostages currently mentally rebooking their summer vacations.

Second – he wants to make sure shovels are in the ground — no specific demand that I can make out, just a general gripe.

Third – our public finances, and the governmen’s hamhanded handling thereof. What’s up with that?

11:13:14 AM
Okay, he seems to be asking for a more detailed five year plan to get the country out of deficit — more detailed than the accountability report card, that is — but no firm deadline on when he’s expecting to see it.

Also, isotopes; the alternative supply of, and a plan for the future.

11:14:52 AM
Once again, he stresses, he’s not seeking an election, nor are the people of Canada – but he has to defend the principles of Canadians when the government lets them down. They can’t control the date of the next election — it’s up to the PM and his party to keep the confidence of the House. He’s here to make Parliament work for Canadians. (Note to NDP: Call your trademark lawyers!)

11:17:51 AM
First question is the obvious one — What will he do if he *doesn’t* get the answers he wants? Well, he won’t support the estimates, that’s what. Huh.

Second question — is this really the “up or down” answer he promised? Well, it’s *an* answer — the ball, he doesn’t say but may as well have, is now in the prime minister’s court; he’s not looking for confrontation, but he will be the judge of the proposals that the government brings forward, and *he* will decide if it will help the unemployed.

If the answer doesn’t suit you, are you ready to vote against the estimates, a reporter asks again, just to be clear, and the answer is even more succinct: Yes, he’ll vote against the estimates on Friday.

Also, there have been apparently been no negotiations with the government leading up to this — although he’s open to the prospect. “He knows my phone number.” Uh, I very much doubt that’s the case; my goodness, I doubt the PM knows *his own* phone number. He’s the prime minister! He doesn’t make calls, he gives orders.

11:23:41 AM
You know, you could make a pretty good case for the argument that this is exactly what he should have done back in *January*, as far as his party’s response to the budget.

Oh, he doesn’t like the word “preconditions” – this is about accountability and transparency. Alright, I think I’m going to have to give this one to the Toronto Star, as far as quality leakage — sorry, Le Devoir.

11:27:31 AM
Amid the low moans of horror – some audible, even – of the gallery at the prospect of a never-rising House of Canada, the suddenly serene Ignatieff reminds us that he’s not a stubborn person — he’s willing to talk, and if there are “technical reasons” why it can’t come before the fall, he’ll take that into consideration. But he believes that the EI system has been the single most effective stimulus mechanism employed so far, so – he’s pretty serious about it, yeah.

CP’s Joan Bryden wonders whether *he* would consider accepting counterconditions — taking some money out of the infrastructure fund to pay for enhanced EI, for instance. It turns out that’s a proposition he’s willing to look at, but he points out that this is supposed to be a productive Parliament — they – he and the PM, that is – haven’t sat down and talked things over since January.

11:33:33 AM
Another reporter wonders if he will “lose momentum” if the government does meet his demands, and Ignatieff – who is getting the teensiest bit impatient at the recurring themes in the questioning – dismisses the notion; he bristles when the Toronto Star’s Les Whittington points out the lack of specific “markers” on employment insurance, particularly given the iffyness on the part of the minister. “Let’s come back with something now,” he concludes — not in three months.

Oh, and as for the isotope dilemma, he wants “clear answers to simple questions” – just put them on two sheets of paper, and hand them over. It’s not partisan politics — it’s a public health issue — and if he was the prime minister, he’d expect Harper to ask for the same thing.

11:38:19 AM
We apparently can’t ask him enough about what he means by “vote against the estimates”. Somehow, we’re sure there’s a silent asterisk, and that he’s leaving himself and his party an escape hatch should the PM respond in a manner similar to the suggestion made by the transport minister to the City of Toronto.

11:41:37 AM
And – well, I guess that’s it, which shouldn’t be read as a complaint; he stuck around long enough for us to start repeating our questions, which is usually the sign that it’s time to wrap up.

That’s it for ITQ – I’ll be back with actual thoughts once I’ve had time to parse the nuance, although the stream of muttered curses coming from one of our most election-sceptical colleagues would indicate that for some of us, the writing is on the wall – and it doesn’t say “Have a Fabulous, Restful Summer and We’ll See You In The Fall!”