Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Notes From A Consitutional Crisis Zone

In our system of parliamentary democracy, we do not elect a government; we elect a parliament. The government is formed when a group of members of the parliament can demonstrate that they have the support of the majority of the members to carry on a legislative agenda: to govern.
When the government no longer has the support of the parliament, the government falls and is replaced. The creation of a coalition of opposition parties to defeat and replace a sitting government is not illegitimate; it's how our system is meant to operate.
What it is, of course, is highly unusual in Canadian politics. Nothing like this has been done in the memory of most living Canadians. That doesn't make it illegal.
Canadians did not give Harper's Conservatives a mandate to run the country single-handedly. Canadians may be willing to let Harper sit in the driver's seat for a while, but after two elections they sure don't seem willing to let him have the keys on his own. Harper has spent the last three years forming coalitions; in a minority situation, the survival of his government has depended on it. Not one piece of his legislation could have passed the house without at least some opposition members voting along with the government. Harper may not have formed a formal coalition as the opposition has now done, but every piece of government business he presented to the House necessitated the forming of an ad hoc coalition with one of more opposition parties.
Harper's mistake is the age-old mistake of hubris. With Dion a lame-duck leader of the weakened Liberals, Harper believed he could push through with his damaging agenda, using a crisis to push through ideologically-driven economic measures.
Harper's economic statement originally proposed a three-year ban on the right of civil servants to strike, limits on the ability of women to sue for pay equity and eliminated subsidies for political parties. How does denying pay equity for women help stave off the effects of the worldwide economic meltdown? It doesn't, of course. It's just classic neo-conservative tactics -- use every chance to propel your ideological agenda. It's not about the economy, stupid; it's about using the economy to score every little political point you can.
Harper follows every page of the neo-con text book. He says one thing, but does another. Fixed election dates, anyone? He spent two years (and millions of dollars) on an ad campaign deriding Stephan Dion with personal attacks before the election was even called, despite his previous campaign promises on returning civility to politics. He accuses Dion of sharing power with seperatists, yet he and his party suck up to them in Quebec every chance they get. They have to, because that's the only group where he will get any support from in Quebec. His party has a long history of courting with the seperatists; it was Brian Mulroney's inability to control the seperatists MP in his Tory ranks that resulted in the formation of the Bloc.
In his acceptance speech this year, he said we work with the other parties in the House, yet his first economic announcement includes the cutting of party subsidies. How is this going to return civility to the House? Or more importantly, how does this help stimulate the economy when opposition parties have to lay-off low-level party workers during a recession? This is just petty nastiness.
And he lies, of course. He lies when he says that the coalition agreement was not signed in front of Canadian flags because of the presence of the separatist party (a lie - there were two Canadian flags). He lies when says he would never enter deals to govern the country with separatists. He signed a deal with the BQ to do just that in 2004, and his predecessor Stockwell Day arranged one with the BQ in 2000.
When confronted with criticism, he and his lackeys do not confront the issues, instead they issue personalize attacks on the messenger. How many Harper ads did you hear during the last campaign attacked Dion the person, yet how few did you hear actually debating the merits of Dion's proposals and presenting alternatives?
The crisis here is one of a reckless leader over-reaching for his dubious goals. It is a crisis of agenda, not process. You may argue that the Liberal/NDP coalition (with Bloc support) is fraught with dangers, and it is. They have matches and there's a lot of gasoline pooled about. But even that does not make their proposed actions any less legitimate.
And I'll take that over a leader who gives every indication of his intention to burn down the progressive house that we Canadians have spent 141 years building.

Percentage of Canadians who did not vote for Harper's Conservatives in the 2008 election: 62.4%


  1. Andrew Murdoch3:31 p.m.

    After the 2006 election, Liberal MP David Emerson didn't even wait to get to the floor in order to cross it; he became a Conservative before he was even sworn in.
    Constituents were livid, and rightly so. They called for a byelection that never came, in order for Emerson to face the will of the electorate on his decision to switch parties, and with it, party lines.
    Was it legal? Yes. It was also deceitful and unethical.
    It is no less deceitful and unethical for a coalition of two parties, one of which lost more seats than the Conservatives gained, attempt to take power in Ottawa after the voters have spoken. Even as it stands, the coalition is only between the Liberals and the NDP, who between them still don't have as many seats as the Conservatives. (The Bloc have only agreed to prop these other two up for 18 months. After an announced 30 Billion dollar deficit spending spree, it's not hard to guess why.)

    Percentage of Canadians who did not vote for Dion's Liberals: 73.76%
    Percentage of Canadians who did not vote for Layton's NDP: 81.8%
    Percentage of Canadians who did not vote for Duceppe's Bloc Quebecois: 90.03%
    Percentage of Canadians who voted for a coalition of all three: 0%

  2. And your point?
    No, seriously. No party won a majority. The voters did speak. They said that no party may govern this country without at least some support from another party. This includes Harper's Tories. If Harper cannot get that support in the House, he cannot govern. And if another party can demostrate that they have support in the House, they get to govern. That's how it works in this country.
    No MPs are crossing the floor and switching parties, unlike Emerson, so that is a false comparison.
    This is not decitful or unethical, it is what happens in parliamentary democracies all over the world.
    If there ever was a time for running deficits, it when there is a mjor economic slowdown. Now is not the time to cut spending like Harper wants to do. That's just foolish.
    You may not like it, and that's fine. That doesn't make it unethical.
    Is it a smart political move for the Liberals? Probably not. Unless the coalition manages to work some sort of miracle in the next 18 months, it will probably blow up in their faces. That doesn't make it unethical.
    What is unethical is Harper asking the GG to shut down Parliament because the other kids are sick of his bullying.
    The GG made a mistake do not shut down the house because the Government may lose a confidence vote. What a terrible precedent.

  3. I think your shock capitalism analysis hit the nail on the head; and I like your driver seat, but don't trust him with the keys by himself analogy a very clear one. Nicely done!