Coalition Deserves a Chance December 3, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canadan Coalition.
Tags: bloc, bloc quebecois, Bob Rae, Canada, canada government, coalition, coalition government, conservatives, Economic Crisis, gilles duceppe, governor general, house of commons, ignatieff, Jack Layton, leblanc, liberals, NDP, new democratic party, new democrats, non-confidence, parliament, roger hollander, Stephane Dion, Stephen Harper, toronto star
The Conservatives’ reaction was fast and furious to news that the opposition parties have signed off on a historic deal to kick them out of office and replace them with a coalition government.
His voice dripping with scorn, Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday accused Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion of playing “the biggest political game in Canadian history” and of relying on “socialists” (New Democrats) and “separatists” (Bloc Québécois) to vault himself into power. Harper’s ministers and MPs used language like “deal with the devil” and “secret cabal” to describe the arrangement.
The suggestion was that the coalition deal was illegitimate and undemocratic, a coup d’etat.
It is nothing of the sort. It is the way our parliamentary system works, especially in the immediate aftermath of the election of a minority Parliament. Furthermore, the Harper government created an opening for the opposition parties last week by tabling a provocative “economic statement” that failed to address the economic crisis but contained poison pills it must have known they could not swallow.
Harper and his government took some steps away from those toxic measures last weekend, but it was too late. The opposition had made up its collective mind that Harper could not be trusted.
With their demise perhaps less than a week away (a non-confidence vote is scheduled for next Monday evening), the Conservatives are arguing that a change of government at this moment would be “very destabilizing” for the economy. As if to underscore that point, the markets plunged yesterday (although most analysts attributed the bulk of the losses to bad economic news from the U.S.).
But consider the alternatives to a change in government: either there would be another election (which would leave the affairs of state suspended for the duration) or Harper would remain in office with the opposition ready to pounce and defeat his government at every opportunity. That is as unstable as it gets.
The coalition, meanwhile, has agreed to hold off elections until at least June 30, 2011 – 2 1/2 years from now. (The Bloc, which would not have a cabinet seat, has signed on until June 30, 2010.) That should provide the stability needed for the government to grapple with the economic challenges facing Canada.
And grapple they promise to do in their accord, which features an economic stimulus package that includes “substantial new investments” in infrastructure and housing, support for the forestry and auto sectors, and enhancements in Employment Insurance. All this should have been included in last week’s economic statement.
To be sure, there are questions to be answered about the coalition. Canadians will want to know whether there are any worrisome side deals with the Bloc. (Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe said yesterday there is no agreement on “concrete” measures to enhance Quebec sovereignty.) And what about the coalition’s foreign policy, notably on Afghanistan, where the Liberals and New Democrats have differed sharply in the past?
Also problematic is the fact that, under the deal, Dion, the Liberals’ lame-duck leader, would serve as prime minister, at least until the new party leader is chosen next spring. In the Oct. 14 election, Canadians resoundingly rejected Dion, who finished a poor third behind both Harper and Layton as “best prime minister” in all the opinion polls. A wiser choice for interim prime minister might have been a Liberal stalwart like former finance minister Ralph Goodale.
It is also unclear whether the Liberal leadership candidates – Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae and Dominic LeBlanc – would be given cabinet posts. Again, it would be wise to keep them out, as they are going to be busy campaigning for the next five months.
Issues like these could still derail the coalition before the crucial vote next Monday.
That being said, a coalition government of Liberals and New Democrats is preferable at this time to a Conservative regime led by Harper, who has demonstrated that ideology and partisanship are more important to him than providing good government.