Thursday, May 19, 2005

Non-confidence defeat should end the Ottawa sideshow

VICTORIA - The bizarre soap opera in Ottawa isn't just embarrassing, it's hurting Canadians.
The Liberal government survived a non-confidence motion Thursday by the narrowest margin in Canadian history. MPs were split evenly on whether the government should fall, and the deciding vote to keep it alive was cast by Speaker Peter Milliken, a Liberal MP.
The spectacle has been dismaying.
The Liberals, facing defeat, stalled desperately to avoid facing this test. They lined up NDP support by promising to add $4.6 billion in social spending and to cancel promised corporate tax cuts. This week they persuaded Belinda Stronach to abandon the Conservatives - and jilt lover Peter Mackay, the deputy Conservative leader - and take a senior cabinet post in the Liberal government.
If she hadn't jumped, British Columbians would be heading into another election campaign today.
Meanwhile, sick MPs - including Independent Chuck Cadman of Surrey, weak from cancer treatment - were dragging themselves into the House of Commons for the vote. (Cadman cast a critical vote to save the government. His constituents
don't want another election right now, he said.)
What's striking is the desperation on all sides. Conservative leader Stephen Harper has made bringing down the Liberals his over-riding priority, sacrificing any attempt at making Parliament work in the meantime.
Prime Minister Paul Martin has been busy buying the support of MPs, promising Stronach her cabinet post, the NDP billions of new spending and courting Independent MP David Kilgour with promises of increased aid for dying refugees in the Sudan. Think about that for a second. People are dying in a war zone, but Canada's help depends on how badly the governing party needs to stay in power.
And all this is playing out as the Gomery Inquiry hears evidence that taxpayers were routinely ripped off in the sponsorship scandal, and that some of the money ended up in the hands of Liberal operatives.
The last month has seen just about every desperate, discouraging political moves that you could imagine.
What Canadians haven't seen is a working Parliament, or one that is focused on their interests. The Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois have made toppling the government their over-arching goal; the Liberals have placed clinging to power
above all else. (Only the New Democrats have demonstrably worked towards practical goals, by shaking down Martin for more spending in the budget.)
Provinces have been lining up to extract promises of cash from an obliging Martin, who figures that opposition MPs from those regions will be reluctant to topple the government before the spending legislation has passed. B.C. will likely add its demands now that the election campaign is over.
It's a mess, and there are only two ways out.
Martin could give up, and call an election. Instead he wants to wait until Gomery reports - and the Liberals have a chance to improve their standing in the polls. As prime minister, if he can get the votes in Parliament, that's his right.
Or Harper could accept the verdict, give up on forcing a non-confidence motion until it would clearly be successful and get back to the normal work of the House.
The second option makes the most sense. The Martin government is wounded, and fragile, and clinging to power. But it has demonstrated the support of Parliament - thanks to some dubious dealing - so it can survive.
And at this point, forcing an election seems politically reckless. Canadians are angry and disillusioned, and any election would be wildly unpredictable. Harper is as likely to be punished as rewarded.
Martin has promised an election within 30 days of receiving the Gomery report. Unless new outrages emerge, or the situation in Parliament changes, Harper and Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe should settle for that. It doesn't really matter who
is to blame. What Canadians are looking for now is an end to destructive squabbling.
It's time for Parliament to get back to work.
Footnote: The Stronach defection added the crowning touch to this soap opera. She apparently dumped the Conservative party and Mackay at the same time, sending him back to his family home for a few days to mend a broken heart. His
interviews from there were sad and touching, and added a weird twist to the whole affair.


Anonymous said...

As uncomfortable as it might be to comprehend, the system is doing precisely what it was designed to do in response to these allegations of fraud. The mills of justice are grinding their slow way.

Try and recall the Commissions that were set up by Mulroney during his reign when allegations of fraud were made.

Can't remember?

For the first time in our history two PM's testified under oath to a Commission of Inquiry. The Auditor General's report wasn't sent to committee once it was delivered, it went straight to the floor of the Commons. Martin has vowed publicly and repeatedly that an election will be called within 30 days of Gomery's final report. Criminal trials are on the court schedule right now and more charges may yet be laid possibly against more people.

The "sideshow" isn't Gomery. Gomery *is* the government's business and a vital part of it at that. The question never should be about whether there's fraud going on. Of course there is, somehere, probably all the time and probably in every endeavour that humans engage in. The question should always be about what's being done in response. What's being done by Gomery is appropriate but I repeat it *is* government business.

The sideshow is Harper's baby.

Which would be OK too if I believed that he had the best interests of the citizens of Canada at heart. I simply don't believe it.

His entire professional life and reputation has been founded on an expressed contempt for Canada, it's institutions, traditions and people.

His recent one time attempt to rehabilitate that reputation rings as hollow as an upturned bowl and simply reinforces my opinion that he is a hypocrite as well.

In ways both subtle and gross he is a threat to the fabric of this country. Perhaps even a greater threat than the Quebec seperatistes because he has been given permission by the press to operate in deep stealth mode under the comfortable yet misleading moniker of Tory.

Why else were all his writings and speeches removed from the website of the Citizens Coalition within hours of his ascendancy to the leadership of the Conservative party?

I say bravo Belinda. Having been involved in the creation of the party she now finds that it's in the hands of carpetbaggers, fools and charlatans. What person in their right mind would stay?

wstander said...

I am surprised that Willcocks does not see the irony of juxtaposing his column in support of STV with his criticism of the budget voting process in Ottawa. With STV we could look forward to that kind of goings on every week- if any party could avoid having to call an election every six months.

Life in Victorola said...


Minority governmnet is not a 'sideshow'. The margins of error are tighter so that routine political manoeuvres (alliance shifting, vote scheduling, by-election campaigning) acquire a greater significance.

Both the Bloc Alberta and the Blog Qu├ębecois gambled and were outmanoeuvred by the absolute slimmest of margins. Politics 101. Win to Martin, Chessmaster 2006.

Even better, if Stronach regains cabinet after the next electioin, she'll be implement the Gomery recommendations. No liberal strings attached, beyootiful.

Harper can just glower from the sidelines as he does so well, western, alienated and out to lunch.

Though you insist on treating it like a 'soap opera' (throwing in the Harlequin Romance observation that poor Peter Mackay is a 'jilted' victim) and contrive to be dismayed that international aid and indeed the budget has a political dimension it's a simple political reality.

Would you prefer a Fiberal bulldozer manned by Campbell or Chr├ętien and his cronies for another 4 years. The people of BC certainly don't.

So the NDP 'shakes down' the Liberals for social investment but no mention is made corporate lobbyist shaking down the Liberals for tax subsidies.
That's a one sided analysis.

Harper stands us for the corporate everyman yet it's Layton who's apparently "bribing us with our money" as the old Tory saw goes.

If anybody looks good in this, it's Layton and he deserves a better look come next election.

As you've said it's time to get back to work and give us ROI in this working parliament.

And please spare us the 'little lost boy" stuff.

Poor Peter, back at the spud farm in his fortress of solitude is so broken up that he'll take interviews and give us all an 'Oprah' moment.

Keep up that kind of 'reporting' and you'll soon be able to display the 'Oprah' seal of approval on your website.