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Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

A Copenhagen interpretation of Canadian politics

At this point in the game, I feel sorry for small C conservatives. Part of the problem for liberal voters in the last election was that we had a choice for whom we could vote. Aside from abstaining, voting for a conservative independent, or voting for someone who is probably more left of centre than one's ideology would like, conservative Canadians are stuck with Harper. And that sucks.

Stephen Harper has wrought considerable damage to the Conservative Party of Canada. He has tarnished its reputation and diminished its influence. The Conservatives had a real opportunity in the past years after the fall of the Liberals and the adscam; Stephen Harper squandered that opportunity. The result? There may be another election in a couple of months!

In Question Period today, rather than try to address tangible disadvantages to a Liberal-NDP coalition--and there are such disadvantages, for sure--Harper led the Conservatives on a spurious, ad hominem attack round against the opposition parties. He accused the leaders of being un-Canadian because they refused to sign their coalition agreement in front of a Canadian flag--this accusation is also false, incidently. Of course, accusing one's opponent of being unpatriotic is the last defence of a desperate politician; we saw similar tactics in use during the American presidential election.

Similarly, the Conservative party line regarding the coalition is that it is a "separatist coalition", a coalition in which "a separatist party would have veto power." These phrases came up over and over during Question Period, and Jim Prentice repeated them during his interview on CBC Newsworld. The Conservatives insult the intelligence of Canadian voters by promoting such nonsense. Yes, the Bloc Québécois supports the coalition. But they don't get veto power--on the contrary, the agreement binds them to support the government on confidence motions until June 30, 2010. Recall that the Conservatives currently have a minority government, and the Liberals and NDP don't feel too amenable right now. If the Conservatives hope to pass any legislation, they need another party to support them--by alienating all the opposition parties, they are essentially guaranteeing an election or a coalition government.

Mr. Harper does Canadians a disservice by engaging in such slander and rhetoric. In order for Canada to be a strong democracy, we need dissenting points of view: liberal and conservative. So my heart goes out to you, Canadian conservatives, for what you are enduring right now, what amounts to the mockery of a once proud founding party of this country. We can only hope that whatever the outcome of the current situation, it will result in improvements to the leadership of the Conservative party.

And that pigs will fly.

Let's talk now about those possible outcomes. There are essentially three scenarios, and it rests largely on the shoulders of our Governor General. Firstly, Harper could ask the Governor General to prorogue Parliament. Should the opposition parties defeat the government, the second and third options, respectively, would be to call an election or invite the opposition parties to form their proposed coalition.

Proro-what?

Many politically savvy Canadians, myself included, were not familiar with the term proroguement until this week. When parliament is prorogued, the current session ends and all bills die, but Parliament is not dissolved and we do not have an election. Harper could request the Governor General to prorogue parliament in order to avoid losing a confidence motion.

To me, this seems like the least democratic of the three options. Essentially it's Harper requesting a do-over of the past two months. Since we do we give politicians do-overs? The promise that Harper made was that his stronger minority government would work with the entire parliament to actually govern. Harper has failed to deliver. Now instead of changing his tact, he's just going to delay governing more.

Plus, I fail to see how this will solve anything. It seems like it will delay the inevitable: barring a major dispute, I doubt the opposition parties will abandon their coalition plans in the course of a couple of months. So they will just defeat the government at the first opportunity in the next session of parliament. Harper can't stall forever. I suppose he could wait until the economic crisis grows dire enough that the parties have to support whatever economic plan he proposes, simply to take action to help the country. But since when has holding the country hostage been democratic and in the best interests of Canada?

It Was So Fun the First Time

Some of the rhetoric today in Question Period leads me to believe that Harper has already geared up his campaign machine again. Let's just go back to the polls--October's election was too ambiguous; let's do it again. Because it was so much fun the first time around. Let's see: same leaders, same platforms, essentially the same (if not worse) economic situation. How is the outcome going to change significantly? Moreover, last election saw the lowest voter turnout in history. Somehow I suspect that an election so soon on its heels would break that record.

Let's Work Together

By now it's obvious that I'm incredibly biased in favour of a coalition. Let me quickly point out why that is so before I take a moment to critique such a coalition.

Aside from the reasons I mentioned yesterday, a coalition carries with it the implication that we will get things done. Many Canadians expressed anger at our last election because it meant several more weeks without any effective governance from ... well, from our government. Similarly, many Canadians now are angry at all our parties for playing games with our political system. And rightly so.

But as I pointed out above, prorogument and an election both result in further delay. A coalition has no such delay: together the three opposition parties can pass legislation whether the Tories like it or not.

It's true, however, that a coalition is not without its disadvantages. There is the uncertainty surrounding leadership: Dion lost the confidence of the Liberal party, but under the current plan he would become prime minister (at least until the Liberals choose a replacement in May). Will a synthesis of Liberal and NDP economic plans successfully help see our economy through these difficult times?

I can see why some people just want the Governor General to call an election--they don't necessarily want an election, but since one of the above three scenarios has to happen, an election is, to them, the least of the three evils. I'm still in favour of a coalition. It's the most interesting of the three options, and I like interesting.

And hey, at least the three opposition leaders are trying something innovative! All Harper has been doing is whining. It's getting very tiresome.