When Michael Ignatieff announced last week that he and his party would no longer support Stephen Harper's minority government, he was -- at least among the chattering classes -- universally condemned. Even commentators on the left offered no support. "Heaven knows the country needs big changes," Gerald Caplan wrote in The Globe and Mail. "But the last thing we need is yet another election that will change nothing." And Tom Walkom wrote in The Toronto Star: "We do not need an election because, in the broadest sense, the choices have altered little since 2008 when Canadians last went to the polls."
Both men are essentially correct. So far we have not been given clearly defined choices -- even though, as Caplan says -- we need to make big changes. Nothing underscores that need more than Marlene Jennings description of Human Resources Minister Diane Finlay's reaction at the most recent meeting of the EI Commission, whose formation saved us from an election last spring. When Jennings challenged Finlay during the meeting, Finlay -- according to Jane Taber's report in The Globe and Mail, "started screaming at [Jennings] at the top of her lungs. . . . 'I have a right to my opinion, she screamed,' said Jennings. 'You are not going to tell me what to think.'"
That is an attitude which starts at the top with the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, Finlay's ardent defence of her right to an opinion is of little comfort to the 500,000 Canadians who have -- according to The Toronto Star -- lost their jobs since the last Labour Day. And it is Harper's opinion -- that the best government is the government which governs least -- which is responsible for our present financial morass. That opinion is also why his response is so out of touch with the times. It would, indeed, be fitting if both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Human Resources woke up to find themselves unemployed.
Now Mr. Ignatieff and his party believe they can hasten that outcome. But, to date, they have not presented Canadians with an alternative vision. Yesterday, the Liberals began running ads under the banner, "We Can Do Better." The slogan is even more alliterative in French, "Nous meritons mieux." But Ignatieff will need more than poetry and soaring rhetoric to succeed. We await his program, even as the Conservatives ready their personal attacks. Let's hope that this is an election about ideas, not about adolescent insults.