Are we having fun yet? The past week has been filled with reproach, rebuke, rhetoric and, some say, revolution. The opposition parties, in a seemingly magnanimous response to Jim Flaherty’s economic update, have prepared a accord detailing their intent to replace the government of Stephen Harper. The Conservatives, rightly seeing an end to their governmental (if not political) lives, have stopped just short of accusing the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois of staging a coup d’etat. In this morass of politics and nonsense, what major issues should one consider when deciding whether or not to offer moral support to the proposed coalition?
Out of this whole mess, there are 4 points which I think shape this debate.
1a) The Conservatives Are Bullies
In combining so many contentious issues into one statement, one could fairly accuse the Conservatives of trying to create a “omnibus bill of intent”, like a second Speech from the Throne that if adopted would hamstring the Opposition into voting with the Conservatives or voting against bills to which they’d already agreed in principle. It’s a shrewd move from Mr. Harper, who generally reads these situations pretty well. Had it been immediately successful, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see many more of these types of “statements” presented; as they allow the government to preview upcoming policy and gauge the reaction of parliament and the public. But just as Mr. Harper is a shrewd tactician, he’s also a bully.
At times I get the impression that Mr. Harper would prefer his legacy to be the total annihilation of the Liberal Party to be his legacy, rather than the substantive betterment our country. He has never passed up an opportunity to hit the Liberals where it hurts and in doing so he has become one of the most belligerent partisans in Canadian history. My Father argues that this incarnation of the Conservatives doesn’t want to govern, they want to rule. When, in a time of unprecedented economic strife, the government chooses to devote a prominent portion of a platform statement to lobbing grenades at the Liberals, how could anyone claim that the Tories haven’t forgotten their duty.
1b) The Conservatives are Dumb Bullies
It’s probably correct to wait and see the Obama administration’s economic plan before proceeding with our own. (More on that next…) Whether you agree with that or not, it doesn’t change the fact that a government has to—at minimum—make people believe they’re on that case. Sometimes that means buying time and a government buys time by making it appear as though their doing something. Strike a committee, convene a conference or organize a few learned individuals to go on TV and espouse the merits of the Finance Department. For a few weeks, it looked like the Conservatives understood that, then the Economic Statement came along and they threw away all their good will. Inexplicably, The Conservatives contradicted everything the public’s seen on TV about the economy. Has the Tories just played simple politics, we’d still hear the Opposition scream and shout, but I doubt we’d see them shaking hands.
2) This Is Not An Assault On Democracy…
…or rather, ask yourself this: Which is a bigger assault on democracy; using a rule of parliament (one that exists in our constitution) to assume control of the government OR using the power of government to bankrupt your opponents? Party financing ensures democratic diversity and a degree of freedom for political parties from private interests. If every political party had to shill for every dollar, what kind of backroom deals and underhanded nonsense would be have to live with? Simply look to America to see the effects of too much reliance on private money.
3) The Conservatives are Right…on one point…
We should wait to see the complete economic plan to be put forward by Mr. Obama and his all-star team. To think that Canada can act unilaterally to fix its economy is frighteningly stupid. By agreeing to disastrous accords like NAFTA we’ve handed over control of the growth and progress of our economy to foreign powers, the largest of which is the United States. As we no longer use our own resources to sustain ourselves, we are reliant on having a market into which to sell them. By suggesting that we can’t wait for America, Mr. Dion and the rest of the Opposition have demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of Canada’s economic place in the world. Lastly, it isn’t as if we’ll have to wait long for the US plan. Mr. Obama is also under considerable pressure to debut his complete package.
The Coalition is also foolish to think they can act any faster than the Conservatives. The simple passage of time prevents them from even being in a position to govern before the end of next week. They will then have to reconvene parliament, present a Speech from the Throne, debate that speech (sure to go smoothly, eh), have it ratified, present their economic plan, have it ratified and then begin implementation. It took the Conservatives 6 weeks just to cover half that list. Are we to believe the Liberals can do it in 6-10 days? They will be lucky to have a budget out before Jan. 28th, the new date the Conservatives proposed for their budget.
After all that, do I support the coalition?
I’m not so naive as to think that the Opposition parties are acting purely for the benefit of Canadians. There has never been a leader of the Liberal party that hasn’t become Prime Minister and Mr. Dion now has his chance to maintain the streak, this must influence him.
Conversely, Mr. Dion’s colleagues in the NDP must be aware that this is their best (perhaps only) shot at government. They would be wise to look at this as both a good learning experience and, if they’re really smart, they’ll work their butts off and show up the Liberals. An outstanding performance in key ministries would provide endless ammo in the election that sure to be forthcoming.
The Bloc on the other hand has the purest motivation…humiliate the Conservatives and retain total political dominance over Quebec. Mr. Duceppe is also easily the smartest and more calculating of all the party leaders and will have to be closely watched.
All that being said, why do I support the coalition? First, I believe the Conservatives’ unhealthy focus on destroying the Liberals has made them unable to govern. Their hatred has so blinded them that they missed an exceptionally simple opportunity to buy time and appear responsible. If Mr. Harper wasn’t such a bully he would have done the smart thing and let the Liberals consume themselves, let the NDP wallow in protest and obscurity and ignored the Bloc (but not Quebec) completely. If a political party has forgotten how to be political, it’s time for them to go.
Secondly, I am heartened by the way in which this “crisis” has caused the Liberals to pull together, even if only in public. I strongly believe that when Mr. Chretien was asked for his council last week he advised the caucus to get together or die. In his time as PM, Mr. Chretien never tolerated dissent, especially public dissent as he rightly believed that a party can only call itself the “natural governing party of Canada” if it appears to always be in order. Canada, although it might have forgotten, needs the Liberal Party, or at least needs a centrist party that will fight to keep us from leaning to the political fringes. The weakening of the Liberals contributed to the disturbing right-wing shift in parts of Canada.
Finally, I think the coalition could be a tremendous government. I love the idea of parties having to work together for their survival. It’s wonderful way to promote consensus building, move the country back to the centre and reassert a more Canadian way of running our great land.
It’s an exciting time for Canadians, and we should embrace the health of our democracy even if it’s currently being expressed with turmoil.