Prime Minister Stephen Harper has lost the confidence of the house of commons, or so says the opposition. He addressed the country tonight, which is an unusual step for Prime Ministers not fighting an election (although, depending on how things shake out over the next while, it’s possible that he will be fighting one very soon), as did the leaders of the opposition. I have a few thoughts.
(In case you’re not from the little country called Canada and don’t know what the deuce I’m talking about, here’s a good primer.)
Harper is making three assertions about this mess (I refuse to use the term “crisis”, because crisis implies a breakdown of the system, and the system is working exactly as it is supposed to) that I find problematic. First, he pretends his present troubles are not of his own making. He has provoked the opposition parties time and time again, forcing them to sit on their hands instead of voting against confidence motions for the entire life of his government. With the recent economic update, Harper pushed the opposition just a little too hard, and they decided to push back. Harper has had a minority government for two years and has tried to run it like a majority. Sooner or later that strategy had to break down, and he shouldn’t be so surprised.
Second, he tries to paint the proposed coalition between the Liberals and NDP with the backing of the BQ as being somehow “undemocratic”, which is at the very least, disingenuous. There is nothing unconstitutional about the actions of the opposition parties – their job is to “hold the government to account”, and sometimes that means voting against them. For better or worse, under our system, we don’t vote for a government, we vote to decide who goes to parliament, and parliament decides who governs. If the majority of parliament wants to change that government, it is their prerogative to try. While it is true that, as Harper says, the coalition was never approved by the voters, neither was Harper’s own government. I didn’t vote for or against Stephen Harper as Prime Minister, I voted for my local representative. We often talk about voting for party leaders as convenient way of speaking, but that isn’t how the system works and you can’t blame the opposition for following the rules of the game. (Now, if we had proportional representation, things would be a bit different…)
Third, I’m tired of hearing about how “The Separatists” (cue the bogeyman music) have pulled off some kind of great sneak-attack on our country by signing up to back the coalition. If I understand it correctly, all the coalition has got from the Bloc is a promise not to bring down the house in the next two years. That’s good, right? We’ve got “The Separatists” playing along for once, instead of being contrarian. Like it or not, the Bloc are members of the house and a force in Canadian politics. I don’t agree with them either, but I don’t think demonizing them is doing Harper any favors, and I don’t like the scare-mongering.
Don’t think I’m giving the opposition a pass here: the Liberals and NDP are playing a very dangerous game. Dion lost the last election badly and is going to step down in a few months, and Layton can’t be riding a big high in popularity with his party either, after failing to increase the NDP seat count. This whole coalition deal smells a little like two has-been leaders trying to grab a little glory for themselves and improve their own positions – Dion gets to be Prime Minister, and Layton gets to be the man who brought the NDP into power for the first time. They run the risk of looking like they are playing political games in the middle of an economic downturn, and if we end up with a new election in the near future, the voters might punish them badly (or just not show up to vote), finally giving Harper the majority government he’s long desired. If that happened, Dion and Layton would look like idiots, and Harper would once again look like the brilliant tactician he’s made out to be.
Tomorrow morning, the Prime Minister will go to the Governor General and ask her to suspend Parliment until next month, delaying the coalition’s opportunity to topple his government. No one knows what she will do. Who says Canadian politics are boring?