Saturday, November 29, 2008

More thoughts

Let me start off by saying that, despite my partisan preferences, I have some serious reservations about the idea of this coalition of parties deposing Harper. Not that I'll be sorry to see Harper go if he does, but this really is unprecedented in the Canadian small-c constitution. (Think conventions, not text.) Generally, I'm wary of things that can be accurately described as "unprecedented" when they have to do with our structure of government.

Basically, all three political parties ran on the implicit, and sometimes explicit idea that there would be no coalition. This isn't just a Tory talking point -- the voters endorsed a Parliament where the Tories would have a minority and the opposition were divided. None of us know what it would be like if Dion hadn't ruled out a coalition during the campaign.

All of that said, Harper really has no one to blame but himself. Attacking the public funding of political parties was nothing less than a declaration of war against the opposition. It follows that the opposition would react as strongly as possible, and it further follows that the opposition simply cannot trust the government from here on out.

But I think we're beyond the question of the public financing by now. This is pure speculation on my part, but I think the Liberals and NDP were both surprised to discover how willing each party was to form a coalition. This was the kind of thing that until about 9pm Thursday nobody was even talking about, that's how unlikely it was. Then suddenly by about noon yesterday it was practically a done deal. With power seemingly within their grasp, why would the left back down -- aside from the fact that we always do?

Well, there's one good reason: only an idiot would want to be responsible for the state of the economy right now. Not only is the coalition taking over at the beginning of a recession, they're explicitly claiming the mantle of financial responsibility. This seems to me worse than buying the rope to hang yourself with -- you're buying the rope at a premium.

Then there's the fact that this will be a really fragile coalition. What happens if some blue Liberals or Bloquistes defect? Admittedly there aren't too many of the former left, and I don't know how many of the latter there are, but it wouldn't take much to bring the coalition down.

So the next week is going to be a raging shitstorm of anger on the right, and probably some relative timidity on the left. And I don't blame the right for being angry -- it looks like they're going to lose power in an unprecedented fashion. But there's nothing illegal or unconstitutional about what's happening, and it wouldn't have come to this if their leader could have been even moderately less offensive and partisan in the middle of a crisis. This is the first time that I've thought the Harper-Bush comparison was really apt: Harper, like Bush/Rove, saw an opportunity to eviscerate his partisan opponents, policy or necessity be damned. And he went for it. The problem is he isn't a President, and the opposition is actually stronger than he is.

Which is why you don't do shit like this in Canada. Steve, this country took Mulroney and reduced the Tories to 2 seats in the Commons. You think we're gonna be really that upset to see the last of you? Before you answer, remember that more than 60% of the country voted for another dude or dudette.

One last point of seriousness: I am concerned that this is basically going to look like (fuck it, it's going to be) an Ontario/Quebec plot to keep Alberta from running things for too long. I have substantial policy differences with the current Conservatives, but given that Albertans are still bitching about the NEP, I suspect if this happens I'll be hearing it until I die...

7 comments:

Steve Muhlberger said...

You will be hearing some variation of Alberta complaints till you die, anyway. Every Canadian has that problem -- regional complaints they don't sympathize with -- no matter where they come from.

As to the coalition -- BRING IT ON!

JHMB said...

My mom called me this morning - before reading your post, I swear - and as excited as we are of the notion of seeing Harper go from PM to leader of the opp. in a matter of weeks, I shared with her my fears of what may come after trading spaces, HoC edition.

I await the public's response with a bated breath in the worst kind of way. Steve and Jim the bullies or an opportunistic, self-serving opposition looking to gain power at all costs.

Please let it be the former.

olaf said...

John,

This seems to me worse than buying the rope to hang yourself with -- you're buying the rope at a premium.

Yea, I don't get this. I mean, why would they possibly decide that now would be a good time to take the reins? Makes zero sense to me.

I have substantial policy differences with the current Conservatives, but given that Albertans are still bitching about the NEP, I suspect if this happens I'll be hearing it until I die...

We won't let you off that easily...

skdadl said...

I couldn't disagree more about the constitutional issues. It distresses me deeply to read so many Canadians who seem not to grasp that we do not vote for leaders or parties or mandates in this country -- we vote for MPs.

Some people may be voting by party (I do, actually), but many, perhaps most, don't. I personally don't care much about "leaders," but then I'm the old-fashioned sort who believes in democracy.

The point is, there is nothing difficult or unprecedented about this situation in parliamentary democracy. The majority of MPs in the Commons do not support the Harper government. That's what counts.

North of 49 said...

Olaf asks: ...why would [the Opposition] possibly decide that now would be a good time to take the reins? Makes zero sense to me.

One could as well ask why PM Harper is so eager to keep the reins. The answer to both, of course, is the economy.

PM Harper sees the economic crisis as an opportunity to further parts of his social and political agenda, using it as an excuse for "austerity" measures that, strangely enough, bash unions (the no-strike edict for federal civil servants), bash women (attacking pay equity), and eviscerate his political opponents (the elimination of public financing for political parties).

My take is that the Liberals, NDP and Bloc were galvanized into action initially by that last bit, but once they got looking at the economic update what they saw appalled them -- no stimulus, and Flaherty, the oh-so-trustworthy former Ontario deficit-hiding finance minister, claiming no deficit this time too.

It is entirely within the realm of possibility that the Coalition partners actually care about Canada and Canadians, as they say they do, and want to take the reins of power because they foresee PM Harper and FM Flaherty's approach as a disaster.

Or if that's too improbable, consider that most of their constituents live in either Ontario or Quebec, and they see PM Harper's non-plan as likely to hurt the very people who voted for them. (Duceppe fits this model too: consider what he is asking for -- help for forestry and manufacturing, and some social-equality stuff -- all things that matter to his constituents.) So one could argue that they all are simply looking out for their base(es).

Another thing. When Harper said that this new Parliament was going to be a more cooperative forum than in the past two years, in light of the economic crisis, I believe the Opposition parties took that intention at face value -- but waited for proof. They didn't get it, did they? Harper just couldn't resist the chance to play the same crass and cynical partisan political games he's been playing all along. He dropped the only real ball that matters right now, the health of the country's economy, and picked up -- again! -- the political opportunity ball. He broke his word -- again.

The Opposition parties, I believe, were willing to give him a chance to actually lead, and he blew it. So they're going to try to shove him aside and get on with governing, and more power to them.

So all that, I think, answers the "why now?" question. The pilot's gone nuts, and the co-pilots are grabbing for the stick to get us back on a safe course.

Chet Scoville said...

The one thing I disagree with is that this whole thing has anything genuinely to do with Alberta. Personally I don't care where the PM comes from or even where his regional base is; for me, this is largely about Harper himself. He's shown that he cannot be trusted with power, and that's about it.

thwap said...

I agree with pretty much, if not all, of what North of 49 said.

I think the opposition was more than willing to work with the government, but the government turned out to be full of incompetent, Rovian thugs.

I'm quite proud of them for standing up to these empty shells, right-wing bullies.