Coalition government still a good idea January 29, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canadan Coalition, Economic Crisis.
Tags: bloc quebecois, bob hepburn, Canada, canada budget, canada coalition, conservatives, harper budget, Jack Layton, liberals, michael ingatieff, NDP, roger hollander, Stephane Dion, Stephen Harper
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When Michael Ignatieff opted yesterday to support the Conservative government and its new budget, he was making what may be the most critical decision of his career as Liberal leader, regardless of how long he holds the job.
By siding with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Ignatieff was rejecting calls to join the New Democrats and Bloc Québécois in defeating the budget, thus bringing down the Tory government and paving the way for an election or a coalition government.
Ignatieff based his decision to a good extent on internal Liberal politics. Basically, the party is broke, disorganized and still licking its wounds from last fall’s disastrous election under former leader Stéphane Dion.
But rather than propping up Harper’s government, Ignatieff should have seriously considered voting down the budget and forming a coalition with the NDP, as Dion proposed last December.
Despite the earlier tepid response, especially in Western Canada, to the coalition touted by Dion, there are many reasons why a Liberal-NDP coalition, with the unofficial backing of the Bloc Québécois, is still a good idea.
First, a coalition that guarantees two years of continuing government, as the Liberals and NDP did in their accord signed in December, would be a stabilizing element for the country during this financial crisis. Stable governments are essential for businesses and financial markets to start recovering.
Without a coalition, Canada will be under constant threat of another election. That vote likely would result in another minority government and more instability.
Second, coalitions are appropriate in a time of national crisis, such as Canada is experiencing.
In Canada, the only federal coalition was the Union government of World War I, which saw the Conservatives led by Robert Borden join with some Liberals and independents to deal with the controversial issue of conscription.
In other countries, similar coalitions have been formed during a national crisis, such as in Britain during the Great Depression when Labour and Conservatives joined forces to tackle the economy.
Third, a coalition of Liberals and the NDP could bring a combination of fiscal responsibility and an economic stimulus package that could better address the needs of Canada than the Harper budget.
Last December, the proposed coalition promised to pump much-needed money into infrastructure projects, such as housing, roads and public transit. It also vowed to improve social benefits and provide help to troubled industries.
The program was so good that Harper stole many of the ideas and put them into Tuesday’s budget.
Fourth, Harper has shown himself to be unqualified to deal with the economic mess. The best example of that was the mini-budget last November, which was devoid of any sense of the crisis the country was in, despite massive job layoffs, a weakening dollar and rising bankruptcies.
Also, top economists are criticizing Harper for pushing massive tax cuts. They argue it is folly to slash taxes while increasing government spending by record levels.
Fifth, and most important for Ignatieff, the Liberals will reinforce their image established under Dion as a party of wimps afraid to face Harper in an election.
By forming a coalition, Ignatieff would signal he is ready to govern.
By refusing, he ends up being outmanoeuvred politically by Harper, who in a year or two will claim credit for what will then be an improving Canadian economy.
That would be a powerful campaign theme that could ensure Harper wins the next election and bring an abrupt end to Ignatieff’s reign as Liberal leader.
Bob Hepburn’s column appears Thursdays. firstname.lastname@example.org