Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Conservatives' choice: Harper, or a chance to govern effectively

Blame Stephen Harper for the mess in Ottawa.
Faced with a minority government and an economic crisis, his first acts acknowledged neither.
When the Conservatives delivered their economic update last week, they didn't announce plans to help people worried about their pensions or losing their jobs.
Instead, Harper launched a sneak attacks on his "enemies." In the name of spending restraint, he said, federal government employees would lose the right to strike.
And the government would end the five-year-old public financing of political parties. That arrangement, introduced when union and corporate donations were banned, provides parties that get at least two per cent support nationally get $1.95 per year per vote they received in the preceding election.
The move had little to do with saving money. The goal was to weaken the opposition parties to the point that they could not function and consolidate the Conservatives' grasp on power. The Conservatives raise more donations. The change would have left them with about $19 million a year in revenue - four times as much as any other party.
Vote for the measures, he said, or he'd call an election, likely figuring the bully tactics would work.
It was a stunning blunder. The Liberals, who had been dispirited and content to drift along until next May's leadership convention, were fuelled with moral outrage. The New Democrats reacted in the same way.
Harper did the almost impossible in re-energizing the parties, driving them together and giving them a legitimate pretext for action by failing to respond to the economic crisis with a stimulus package. Dumb, vindictive and arrogant - a disastrous combination.
Within 48 hours, the Liberals and NDP had cobbled together an agreement for a coalition government to rule for 18 months, with the support of the Bloc Québécois. Stéphane Dion would be prime minister until May, when the new Liberal leader would take over. The NDP would get about one-third of cabinet seats.
The opposition parties would defeat the government and advise Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean that they had the support of a majority of MPs and should get a chance to govern.
It's a legitimate legal claim, according to most experts, and Jean has considerable discretion.
But a rickety coalition of parties with little in common but a loathing of Harper is not the government Canada needs at this time.
A critical element in dealing with the economic crisis is stability. Investors, already skittish and cash-poor, are going to shun jurisdictions where policy is unpredictable.
And despite the coalition's manifesto, the situation remains inherently unpredictable. The new government, if it emerges, will only survive if all three parties stay onside.
That includes, of course, the Bloc Québécois, a party with no commitment to the national interest.
The coalition government would also result in a profound sense of betrayal by many voters who were elated by the Conservatives' win, particularly in the West, where the party won almost 80 per cent of the seats. There are lots of references to coups on the letters' pages. They're wrong, but the sentiment is still real.
Harper's response has been to fight. He's expected to ask Jean to shut down Parliament before there can be a confidence vote, which she might or might not do. It will reconvene in January and the Conservatives will use the time to attack the coalition proposal.
Harper is showing bad judgment, again. The campaign probably won't succeed.
And it removes any chance for what's really needed - a Parliament that works, where the Conservatives govern like a party that received a minority of seats and the popular vote.
It's hard to see a ready solution. The Conservatives need to persuade the opposition parties - and Canadians - that the bullying and arrogance will end.
Which means, realistically, that Harper needs to go, to give the party a fresh start.
Now that's a test of leadership.
Footnote: What does it mean for B.C.? The bad news would be the focus on Quebec and Ontario and the overall risk of instability. The good news would be some strong cabinet ministers, aid for forest communities and a government that has to work hard to keep MPs and supporters onside.


Anonymous said...

Well, the complete destruction of Canada in a hurry under a coalition seems to me to be a reasonable tradeoff for getting rid of the satanic Harper, whose aim seems to be the complete destruction of Canada over a slightly longer timescale.

Anonymous said...

I've heard a lot of angst-filled rhetoric from callers to Vancouver and Victoria radio talk shows characterizing the current proposal for a coalition government, propped up by the Bloc, as a "deal with the devil". In one breath they condemn membership in Quebec's separatist party as if that was a Mortal Sin, and then in the next suggest the West should now separate. But no one I've heard has yet described Harper's huge blunder as a "Freudian Slip". Harper has proven what the majority of Canadians have suspected about him all along - he is untrusworthy, mean and vindictive, and has an agenda that does not include good governance for all of us. Heaven help his enemies if he ever gets a majority of seats in parliament! But don't you just wonder what Harper's current cabinet ministers are saying about him when he's not there to listen (unless he's tapping their phones too) as they ponder their own imminent demotions, thanks to his lack of leadership.

Bernard said...

We have a problem in Canada when there is a group of MPs in Ottawa that are not interested in good governance for the whole nation.

In the 18 years the Bloc has been in Ottawa we have not seen anything constructive come from them in the context of all of Canada. Having 259 MPs looking at the bigger picture but having them be dependent on 49 that express no opinions on anything outside of Quebec is a problem.

Mylegacy said...

For Canadians, the Conservatives have been wrong on almost every issue that has defined what Canadians believe in. On the questions of universal healthcare, and small "l" liberal community standards, the Tories have been swimming upstream. As a result they've spent 90% of so of the last century on the outside looking in. Those of us "of a certain age" remember the vicious lying fight they put up against universal health care.

Harper has "won" two minority governments. Despite an historic Liberal collapse in Quebec he was unable to win a majority. Why? Because Canadians are not ready to hand over our "social network" to the "tender care" of the Religious Right and the Reaganite "Trickle Down, Deregulate, Government is the enemy" crowd.

As in the USA, the "right" doesn't want government "leaner" it wants Government "gone." The US shows us the end game of that philosophy. Canadians know better.

Polls always show a majority of Canadians as being "center/left." Harper's hatred and disrespect of the opposition may have now created the "New Liberal Democratic Party" of Canada.

Thank you Mr. Harper, your disrespect is going to give Canadians the opportunity to elect, "Change we can believe in!"