"The hawk turned butterfly yesterday," Lawrence Martin writes in Thursday's Globe and Mail. "In making his first major decision as opposition leader, Michael Ignatieff checked his vertebrae at the press theatre door. In failing to demand strong amendments to the Conservative budget, in requiring only periodic report cards, he left himself open to ridicule - fig-leaf stuff, Jack Layton called it - from other opposition leaders and many a critic.
"But behind scenes, Liberals were explaining - and they may be right - that there was method in his mellowness. The Iggy strategy is to give the government a lifeline until the fall or thereabouts, and then pounce. The Liberal Leader didn't want to bring things to a head now. At this juncture, Canadians don't want an election. Nor are they enthusiastic about a coalition option. Mr. Ignatieff needs time to establish himself as leader and to reorganize and refinance the party.
"During that time, the economic conditions could worsen and hunger for a new government grow.
"By putting the government on probation, as he called it, he was attempting to control the agenda, to keep the sword of Damocles at his disposal. He is hoping Canadians will see his decision as the act of a responsible opposition leader as opposed to one who is prematurely power-hungry.
"He likely would have been better served had he combined the report-card requirement with a demand for amendments on a couple of the budget's more striking shortcomings. But he didn't want to give Stephen Harper any chance to call a snap election, one that likely would favour the governing party. There was a chance, had he decided to go the coalition route and topple the government, that he could have been prime minister by next week. It must have been an immensely tantalizing thought. But the chance of the Governor-General allowing a coalition to take power as opposed to sending the country to the polls was far too uncertain a prospect.
"In announcing his decision, Mr. Ignatieff was trenchant, a welcome departure from Stéphane Dion's style. If his message wasn't strong, his delivery was potent, and it is becoming apparent that he is the best communicator the Liberals have had in the leader's seat since Pierre Trudeau."
Whether you agree or not, it's a provocative thesis and globeandmail.com is pleased that Mr. Martin will joined us online Thursday to take your questions about his column and the federal budget in general.
Your questions and Mr. Martin's answers appear at the bottom of this page.
Mr. Martin is an Ottawa-based public affairs columnist for The Globe. His column appears on Thursdays.
A best-selling author, Mr. Martin has written 10 books, including a two-volume study of Jean Chrétien and two books on Canada-U.S. relations.
He served as correspondent for The Globe in Moscow, opening the paper's bureau there in 1985 and as bureau chief in Washington and Montreal.
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Stephen Wicary, globeandmail.com: Lawrence, thanks for joining us today. It's been a busy few days here in Ottawa, and I'm curious what you make of the odd order of yesterday's events? Michael Ignatieff's press conference was delayed slightly, giving CTV enough time to report the NDP delcaring the coalition dead before the Liberal Leader laid out his position.
Lawrence Martin, columnist: Stephen, there was a technical problem in the media theatre which delayed Ignatieff's press conference. The NDP has an effective public relations team. They were quick in getting their message out and Layton was effective throughout the day in condemning the Liberal decision.
Ignatieff did not say the coalition was dead. He left the door open to reviving it at a future date.