Monday, December 15, 2008

The Coalition Was Necessary... Period

What Canadians seem to be forgetting is that the coalition was necessary. Stephen Harper, after three years of bullying, disrespecting and riding roughshod over the majority of MPs in parliament, went way way too far in his November 28 economic update. Had the opposition parties continued to play along, the fabric of democracy would have been torn asunder; the statement that the economy does not need fiscal stimulus would have been allowed to stand; the government would have been allowed to give the finger to women and unions. The opposition parties would have been completely irresponsible and spineless if they hadn't said No to Harper on the economic update.

Saying No meant voting against the economic update, and since it was a confidence vote, that meant voting out the Conservative minority government. There is no other way to do it. But instead of just waiting till the vote and kicking out the government, thus triggering a second election in less than two months, they did the responsible thing and decided to exert pressure. They (1) announced in advance that they wouldn't agree to the update, giving the PM time to back down; and they (2) said they would form a coalition government so that an election would not be needed.

Talking about this as Liberal opportunism and Dion making a power grab is nonsense. Dion had announced just weeks before that he didn't want to be part of a coalition. It did not provide any benefits for the Liberal party and it was full of risk. The Liberal party took on the challenge of a coalition because it was the only responsible reaction to Stephen Harper's economic update.

Michael Ignatieff has never been a proponent of the coalition and now appears to be backing off. The question is whether he has other means to keep the PM in line, especially in his January budget. Is the threat of a coalition enough, or have the public opinion polls removed that means for exerting pressure?

Harper's current appointment of senators is puzzling and I haven't found any commentator who understands what he's up to. The most obvious explanation, which may or may not be true, is that he's playing his favorite game, "Dominant Dog," and letting everyone know that he won the scrimmage. Sort of like, after emerging victorious from a fight, the top dog pees on the loser. By doing something that constitutional scholars think is suspect during this sort of prorogation, he is demonstrating his power.

Another explanation for his bizarre behavior is that he is scared he'll lose the budget vote, and is shoring up support - support for his party, his leadership, or maybe even his career post-politics. Neither explanation seems likely. With Harper, we have a national leader whose ego, arrogance and adherence to extremist ideology transcend the rational.

Update: Chantal Hebert explains the senate appointments as being unrelated to the current crisis, and something he signaled he would do prior to this.

###

9 comments:

Ron said...

Actually, the THREAT of the Coalition was necessary. The acutal forming of the coalition and its grasp for power has been a disaster. Several weeks ago the threat of the coaliton got Harper to back down on several issues and could have forced him to present a budget favorable to the Liberals. Today, it is a spent force with no punch. Canadians expressed their contempt and opposition to the coalition and even Jack Layton is climbing down that hill, having heard from his MPs and constituents. Dion's ambition to be PM and Liberals greed for power led to them launching the only weapon they had. It failed. All Harper needs to do now is present a budget that most Canadians deem reasonable in today's economic situation and what can the opposition do? Vote it down? Not likely - the GG would be under enormous pressure from the public to order an election; do the Liberals truly want to run an election where they have to defend the policies and platforms of the Bloc and NDP? - It would be an election between the Coaliton and the Conservatives - not Liberals and Conservatives. The threat was a weapon - the coalition is a dud and resulted in a weaker opposition.

Yappa said...

Hi Ron -

Thanks for your comment. The signing of a coalition agreement was necessary for the coalition to be a realistic threat. The coalition government has never been more than a threat - it hasn't taken power.

Your assertions about Dion's ambition are just a repeat of the Harper PR campaign. They fly against the facts. They're also fairly irrelevant. Every member of the Liberal caucus signed the coalition agreement, and believe me, they didn't do it out of fondness for their lame duck leader. The coalition was the only responsible reaction to the economic update. (If you disagree, tell me what else they could have done. Calling an election 7 weeks after the last would have been political suicide.)

Whether the threat of a coalition has ultimately weakened the opposition is the $64,000 question. It all seems to be up to Ignatieff and how he handles this.

Anonymous said...

Why was Harper allowed to bully and ride roughshod over MPs? Maybe because the Libs didn't do their jobs by VOTING on anything and putting the party before the country.

The Rational Number said...

I think the fact that Harper prorogued parliament is evidence that he took the threat at least somewhat seriously. Why else would he have done that?

I think Harper and Iggy are playing 'hot potato' with the budget. Harper wants to add spending from the opposition so he can take credit for the stimulus if it works, blame others if it doesn't, and blame others for the deficit either way.

And that is why Iggy, Brison and McCallum are pushing for numbers from Flaherty. If Flaherty won't come out with the numbers, the government looks uncooperative and the Liberals don't have to contribute. If Flaherty does come out with the numbers, the Liberals will deep-fry him like a Christmas turkey. Well, a turkey nonetheless.

Put a little less partisan, how can you make a good contribution without the assumptions and models used in developing the update/budget? Anything else would be an uneducated guess.

Perhaps the computer (Harper) has found it's match in Mr. Spock (Iggy, think eyebrows) in this game of 3-D chess.

Anonymous said...

I think the Lib's best bet now is to take Iggy's position and say "Hey guys, it was only a threat. We didn't really mean it. It was just a club to hit Harper with, don't you know..."

As far as Layton and Duceppe were concerned, it was all real and there was no threat component at all. At the fabulous signing ceremony, Layton started going on about how "it all began with Tommy Douglas and just look at us now!" Duceppe looked like he had just won the lottery. Oh, it was real alrighty.

Was it real for the Libs? Considering Dion had by then started referring to himself and his party as "Democrats" at all press conferences, I would say it was the real deal for them as well. Dion couldn't wait until the day he could stick it to Harper and sit as the unelected PM.

Like a guy holed up in his house saying he will kill his wife and kids. Is it a threat or is he serious? Who knows, but people will never look at him the same way again, that's for sure.

Yappa said...

Anonymous at 12:16 said it all. The Liberals are blamed for voting with the government, and they're blamed for trying to not vote with the government. In the former case, they're called wimps. In the latter case, they're called power-grubbing opportunists.

Canadians keep listening to Harper's lies - even Liberals get sucked in to the spin.

Yappa said...

Hi Rational Number -

I think you're right. One of the most important and overlooked parts of the economic update was that it did not contain true numbers. The forecasts for a surplus in 2008 and 2009 just don't seem plausible. We can't make any plans about a stimulus package without knowing what's really going on. The coalition provided general guidelines for what they thought should be done on the economy, but couldn't do more without some facts.

janfromthebruce said...

"Dion couldn't wait until the day he could stick it to Harper and sit as the unelected PM."

Last time I checked Dion won his riding, and we only elect members to parliament and not PMs. I guess you are a part of the group of Canadians who are ignorant of your government and constitution, as per the Dominion survey. Nice try though!

Yappa said...

janfromthebruce is completely right, and this is just another case of Harper's PR machine spreading lies. Just because the masses believe something doesn't mean it's legitimate. We're a democracy, not a demagoguery - not that you'd know it these days.