Sunday, November 30, 2008

How this should play out

The first two days of political insanity are recapped here. Since then, the Tories have shelved the campaign finance changes, Flaherty has said he'll bring in a January 27th budget, and rumours of "secret" NDP/Bloc talks have spread.

So what does it all mean? The hell if I know.

So how will it play out? The hell if I know.

But here's how I think this thing should play out.

The three things I think we should keep in mind in all of this are:

a) Despite being in a minority parliament, the Tories were given a strong mandate to govern in the last election.

b) To govern in a minority parliament, you need to earn and maintain the confidence of the House of Commons.

c) If the party in power loses the confidence of the House of Commons this soon after an election and a stable alternative governing coalition can be found, that alternative should be given a chance to form government .

Clearly, the campaign finance cuts were a poison pill no opposition party could ever swallow. The legislation was nothing more than Harper trying to manipulate the rules of the land for partisan advantage - and he used an economic downturn as an excuse to do it, which is even more underhanded. The opposition parties had no choice but to vote against this legislation. But Harper has backed down, so the issue now turns to the rest of the F.U. and the lack of a stimulus package.

The Conservatives won the election so they certainly have a right to respond to this crisis as they see fit. And there's something to be said about co-ordinating our stimulus package with the American one. But regardless, the Conservatives need to earn the confidence of the House of Commons and the majority of the House (and the world for that matter) agree some form of a stimulus is needed now. So the responsible thing to do, in a responsible government, would be for the Conservatives to bend - remove some of the egregious elements of the update (say, banning the civil service from striking, pay equity changes, and the selling of crown assets), introduce a moderate stimulus now, and promise in concrete terms to do something larger in the January budget.

With those changes, no responsible opposition could bring the Harper government down. If they tried to, it would be seen as nothing more than a power-grab and the end result would probably be a Conservative majority government in a few months.

On the other side, if Harper doesn't bend, then the opposition parties would certainly have the right to form a coalition government, if they can promise a stable one. Harper himself said as much back in 2004. I'm not too excited about the precedence it sets and, if the situation were reversed, I'm not sure Liberals would have welcomed a Tory/Bloc/NDP coalition back in September 2004. But the opposition parties have the right to band together if they deem Harper's inaction on the economy to be so egregious that it warrants this unprecedented course of action.

So that's how I see the situation, from my vantage point. In the end, public opinion about the fiscal update and the coalition will probably dictate what happens next - and maybe that's not such a bad thing in a democracy. But I think the proper solution to all of this would be some real compromise on the part of Harper, and the passing of a revised fiscal update.

Will that happen? As I said above, the hell if I know.



  • One thing you left out.

    A coalition government with a party dedicated with splitting the country would be perilously close to the definition of a coup de'tat in many people's eyes. This is a dangerous game that is being played.

    There are consequences in playing this game especially if it's seen that Quebec is being payed off. If the liberals can't see this, they had better be prepared to take responsibility for the inevitable violence that "WILL" occur among radicals that will call themselves patriots.

    Lord help us if an incident ignites a populace increasingly seeing bleaker times and looking for a scape goat.
    My two cents.

    By Blogger Dante, at 8:33 PM  

  • I don't see how you earn the confidence of Parliament when you are recording the opposition's caucus meetings.

    Game, set and match. Harper is done.

    By Anonymous Art, at 8:36 PM  

  • If the liberals can't see this, they had better be prepared to take responsibility for the inevitable violence that "WILL" occur among radicals that will call themselves patriots.

    And thus the Conservative talking points officially went off the deep end...having their supporters suggest that violence is the only viable option if and when they don't get their way. I'd always thought that Harper modelled himself on Nixon, but that launches it well into the territory of fascism...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:49 PM  

  • I'm going to quibble. The Conservatives, in my opinion, do not have the right to respond to this crisis as they see fit. They have the right, by convention, at taking the first shot at creating a stable government.

    Nobody actually elected Stephen Harper to anything, except the people of his riding. His party chose him as leader; his party won a plurality of seats; they get first shot at governing. That's it. We need to be clear, since there have already been some serious attempts to distort how our system works.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 9:00 PM  

  • Let them form their coalition by all means but make all three of them live at 24 Sussex. I can just imagine Dion, Layton and Duceppe having to share power, he he he...with Layton holding finance he can bankrupt Canada the way he tried to do in T-Dot...ciao

    By Blogger Rositta, at 9:09 PM  

  • Harper proved last week that he is a not just a prick, but he's kind of a stupid prick.

    I really really hope the Canadian voters never hand Harper a majority.

    By Blogger LemonJelly, at 9:19 PM  

  • Dante,

    Drop the nonsense about the Bloc.

    There is no threat of 'separation' at this point in time and everyone knows it.

    As such, the Bloc fights for Quebec-positive policies at the federal level, including support for industry, culture, etc.

    As you very well know, this agenda matches the platform of the LPC and the NDP, so what's the problem?

    Get over the anti-Quebec, anti-Bloc nonsense.

    Forge an alliance on the basis of overwhelming common interests on the economy, the environment, culture, and foreign policy.

    Furthermore, their is no 'mandate' for the Cons to rule as they please.

    If they fail to win trust and support, then they can and should fall.

    The fact of matter is that we have three opposition parties, which form a majority in the house, who want to govern in the same spirit.

    This spirit is 100% alien to the fanatics in the CPC and gives the opposition every right to form of working Parliament.

    Why pull back now when we can turf Harper for good? He is on the precipice and should be pushed off by the centre-left majority bloc in the country.

    The opposition has every right to use the power it ALREADY HAS in Parliament to forge a new legislative agenda.

    That is the spirit and truth of a Parliamentary system.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:27 PM  

  • A coalition government with the support of the Bloc would be no different than when the conservative government was propped up by the Bloc at the beginning of Harpers first term.

    The Bloc would not be in the coalition, but they would agree to vote with the coalition government on confidence measures. Nothing wrong with that.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:28 PM  

  • Harper has openly declared he is going to kill you. It is now a simple game of kill, or be killed.

    By Blogger whyshouldIsellyourwheat, at 9:43 PM  

  • The bottom line is that in our system of government, the executive MUST ALWAYS have the confidence of the elected House of Commons; in other words, the executive must govern with the consent of over half of the House of Commons MPs. That, in a nutshell, is all that is required. That is the wonderful thing about responsible government. The commons does not OWE the Harper executive ANYTHING, because it is THEY who were elected, not the executive (hence unelected Senators can be Ministers). The ONLY thing that is an affront to democracy, or a “coup d’etat,” is when the “executive” tries to retain power WITHOUT the support of the majority of the House of Commons. So it is NOT a matter of whether or not Harper gives in to some of the problems that were raised by the opposition. The question is: what does Harper need to do to regain the confidence of the House? After fudging the deficit numbers in the fiscal update; trying to destroy the economic foundation of ALL the opposition parties; insisting that they would not back down on their economic package on Friday and then backing down on Saturday; eavesdropping on an NDP national caucus meeting, recording it, and then sending the transcript to the media (btw, Watergate and Nixon comes to mind), HOW CAN YOU EXPECT the opposition parties in the House to now say, “ok, they backed down at the last second on a couple of things, so we are now CONFIDENT that they will do the right thing in the future as they govern!” Trust is what the executive needs, especially in a minority situation. Do you really think the opposition can give them that minimal amount of trust after what they did?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:00 PM  

  • Holy cow are you partisan anonymous retards naive.

    Try traveling outside of Toronto and get a clue about the animosity that is felt about the Bloc. It's bad enough that they exist...but to have a formal say in how things are run? At the exclusion of any meaningful western representation?


    By Blogger Dante, at 10:13 PM  

  • Well said, CG!

    I suspect many Liberal, NDP, and Bloc supporters (and many more Conservative haters) are in glee at the prospect of the Conservative Government falling so quickly after having been handed a mandate to govern by the electorate. But I also suspect many of them are ignoring a critical aspect of what CG rightly highlights in the requirement for a "stable alternative".

    An earlier thread on CG's blog included a discussion of the constitutional requirements for the GG to ask a coalition to form a government after the elected party loses the support of the House, including a reference to "illusory support" in King-Byng. Again, we are looking at a requirement that all Liberal, all NDP, and all but a few Separatist MPs vote together in order to attain such stability. And in the absence of such stability, all that is accomplished by asking such a coalition to form Government is to delay the inevitable election and damage Canada with a government which does not enjoy stable support.

    Less discussed are the requirements that the alternative government have some (lesser) mandate from the people for the program they intend to implement. It is far from clear that such a mandate exists in any shared platform from the last election among the purported members of the proposed coalition. Certainly, the Opposition Parties campaigned on promises to not form a coalition; they have no mandate to form one now.

    Personally, I see no alternative but another election. It is unfortunate for those Canadians who need a stable government at this critical time, but the Opposition Parties currently appear to leave no option. Perhaps they can find their way to act responsibly before this government is defeated.

    By Blogger paul.obeda@, at 10:16 PM  

  • Harper has obviously already lost the confidence of the HoC. He lost it by using our economic crisis as an excuse to play political games. Backing down or promising what he thinks he needs to promise to save his skin will not change the fact that the opposition has lost confidence in his ability to put Canadians before his own political gain.

    He needs to go. Over 60% of Canadians wanted him out in October when they voted and now they have an opportunity to see it happen.

    The opposition backing down now would be tragic.

    By Blogger Erin Sikora, at 10:22 PM  

  • Paul - I tend to think there would have to be a letter from the Bloc promising to support this coalition, at least for the 3-6 months.

    Otherwise, I believe the GG would be correct in respecting Harper's call for another election. Just Duceppe saying "we'll take it day to day and see" probably isn't enough to justify asking Dion to form government. Just installing him only to fall on his first budget would also be debatable.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:29 PM  

  • Very fair analysis, CG, actually I think you were too generous to the Tories with the notion of a mandate. The way I see it, the opposition has the right to form an alternative government if they have the seats.

    To those calling for another election - what do you think the outcome of that election will be? Will it produce a majority government? Hardly. Most likely it will produce a chastened Harper minority, putting us back where we are (of course I would looove some polls).

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 10:29 PM  

  • That said, the Bloc wouldn't be a member of the coalition, so this wouldn't be dramatically worse than the Bloc supporting Harper budgets and such from the past.

    But I do think it would still bit a bit worse, if only because support from the Bloc would have to be a precondition to the GG asking Dion to form government, as mentioned above.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:30 PM  

  • H2H - I'm pretty such we'll be seeing LOTS of polls over the course of this week...

    An election over the holidays would be interesting - you'd probably have the parties scrambling from now to Christmas and just playing the blame game. Then you'd have a 2 or 3 week dash after the holidays to actually get the real campaign going.

    Result could be anything from Liberal minority to Tory majority imho.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:32 PM  

  • I'm getting a little sick of people talking about a "coup", or in the case of Kelly McPharland in the National Post, about a potential "junta". It's one thing for wack-jobs like Dante to rant on comment boards like this. It's another thing entirely for national newspapers to do so. I wish these people would get it through their thick skulls that there's a difference between taking power by force or threat of force, and doing so in legal and constitutional ways.

    There is indeed a dangerous game being played here, Dante, but the people playing it are those who are invoking the possibility of violence in the streets to argue against legitimate, legally and constitutionally valid political maneuvering.

    By Blogger Dale, at 10:55 PM  

  • Okay, Dante...I'm not anonymous. And I've lived in Alberta for 31 of my 50 years, so I think that makes me a "westerner".

    My comments vis-a-vis the Bloc can be found at It's the 24th of 28 posts.

    Alberta specifically will NEVER get "meaningful" representation if it continues to re-elect only one party which seems to take its support for granted.

    Especially since, with only 28 seats, even if the CPC gets a slim majority, 28 seats < (155-28). Even if the CPC were to get a massive majority of, say, 308 (!)...the math doesn't get any better for Alberta.

    It is only by making the electoral outcomes in Alberta UNPREDICTABLE that Alberta's representation could become more "meaningful"

    The other option is to somehow dramatically increase our population so that rep by pop would dictate more seats. 'bout massive immigration to Alberta. If we double or triple our population, we'd have the same clout as, well, Quebec!

    Are you in favour of that, Dante?

    By Blogger Party of One, at 11:00 PM  

  • I agree with Dale, the "coup" meme is kind of like Harper's child pornography accusation against Martin. It is so over-the-top it won't fly (who could call Dion a power-hungry bastard, though clearly he is one, willing to gamble party and country).

    Nobody cares about process. People care about substance.

    What kind of economic plan is the coalition going to have? Why is the Tory plan (which they should release) better? The coalition will need a one month transition period just to be remotely ready to govern (yet they believe the need for a stimulus is so urgent they must collapse a government - do you think the coalition will be able to table a coherent budget by Jan 27)? What was Duceppe's price*? What secret promises exist that haven't been disclosed (PR?)? Will the carbon tax return?

    *The BQ is not IN the coalition, but the coalition has far fewer options than the Conservatives do. Canada's two governing parties generally vote against each other as a matter of principle - they are oppositional by design. The NDP-Liberal coalition does not include separatists but it must either rely upon them or the CPC they just deposed to get things done.

    Yes this is probably the same situation that would have greeted Harper had 2004 gone differently. However, the case to be made is that Canada has an alternative - keeping the Conservatives - to being hostages of the Bloc.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 11:06 PM  

  • Random musing - Canada's new new government will be able to spend 40 million in the next election while Canada's old new government can only spend 20. Is it time for the Conservatives to make a fake placeholder party so they can spend more?

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 12:02 AM  

  • Dantie:

    If the liberals can't see this, they had better be prepared to take responsibility for the inevitable violence that "WILL" occur among radicals that will call themselves patriots.

    Sounds exactly like "Soldiers With Guns In Our Cities". This is why no one takes political hysteria seriously until it's too late -- liberals and conservatives are constantly crying wolf at each other.

    By Blogger Bo Green, at 12:21 AM  

  • And

    the Bloc. It's bad enough that they exist...but to have a formal say in how things are run

    How will this say be any different than the say they gave to Harper or to Martin? What is it that makes this situation so different? (Pardon my ignorance, I'm not a law student or Parliament expert...)

    By Blogger Bo Green, at 12:31 AM  

  • Paul Obeda:

    Perhaps they can find their way to act responsibly before this government is defeated.

    The only problem is that Harper has been equally irresponsible, and so it's up to ALL of them to co-operate, not just the Opposition.

    By Blogger Bo Green, at 12:33 AM  

  • Dale:

    get it through their thick skulls that there's a difference between taking power by force or threat of force, and doing so in legal and constitutional ways.

    I know, what is with these people. It's like calling Barack Obama a fake American terrorist -- who with an IQ is going to fall for that?

    By Blogger Bo Green, at 12:37 AM  

  • Help. I can't shut up.


    This is excellent, in my opinion. I could not agree more, and I think your take is quite objective and fair. I'm very hopeful for this precise outcome you outline. Let's see -- if it doesn't happen, it's sure to be exciting to watch!

    By Blogger Bo Green, at 12:39 AM  

  • I do not advocate violence in any way. I would certainly accept such a legal arrangement and work to topple this monstrosity during an election.

    I do not speak for everyone. I just know that this is shaping up to look like the perfect storm.

    By Blogger Dante, at 6:10 AM  

  • I can't help thinking of all the food banks having a hard time keeping food on their shelves with donations down because of the economy.

    Does no one in Ottawa have any sense? The last thing we need is another election and/or a unstable coalition government.

    We are still in the middle of an unnecessary election here in Quebec by another self-serving politician who has already ordered fancy cars for himself for after the elction.

    I think the leaders of all the food banks should go to Ottawa and tell these people to go on a diet of Kraft food and stale bread and get their heads a shake.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:53 AM  

  • hoosiertohoosier - I was thinking about that myself, but in broader terms.

    For the sake of argument, let's say the coalition does take power and is a success, giving us a couple of years of stable government.

    How do the Liberals and NDP campaign against each other in an election? They could easily reach an accord to not run against each other where they're incumbent, but what to do in Conservative-help seats they'd like to take?

    By Blogger Reality Bites, at 10:56 AM  

  • If the Bloc have a formal promise to support, they are part of the coalition, regardless of how few cabinet posts they sell Quebec for.

    But the Opposition have no inherent "right" to form a government: that is reserved to the Queen, through her representative in Canada (the GG). And she can ask anyone she sees fit to form a government, based on established principles.

    The current plans as announced don't pass the test, and asking this group to form a government without a mandate from the people through an election would be disastrous.

    By Blogger paul.obeda@, at 4:54 PM  

  • Paul,

    Precedents from the Westminster system, where governments were changed without a popular mandate:

    1873 Canada (quirk, John A. resigned over a scandal, was replaced by a Liberal caretaker government)

    1925 King-Byng (quirk, technically no VONC, though the PM requested dissolution).

    1975 Australia (quirk, technically no VONC, but upper house deferred voting on money bills)

    1985 Ontario (quirk, deposed Frank Miller did not request dissolution)

    Technically, Mackenzie, Abbot, Tupper, Bowell, Thompson, Meighen, St. Laurent, Trudeau, Turner, Campbell and Martin served for some period of time without a mandate from the people (plus many premiers). Of course that represented a change of PM but not party.

    Therefore, PM's do not need a "popular mandate" (Mackenzie Bowell wasn't even elected to parliament, but governed from the senate). They need the support (or at least deference) of a majority of MP's.

    Harper doesn't have that, even as he has watered down his update. Appointing the coalition is not just legal, it is probably the outcome most reflective of our principles of government.

    That said, the coalition is terrible for this country. That is the case Tories need to be making. I mean today the TSX tanked - despite Canada beating growth projections (and not being in a recession).

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 7:26 PM  

  • A coalition government led by DION !! check out the ctv poll, more people are worried about DION running the country then by the bloc. being part of the coalition. We have a parliamentary system in Canada and a house of parliament that is formed by the people of Canada at election time. LIVE WITH IT. If the 3 amigos have a problem with Harper and the conservatives then bring a motion of non-confidence, defeat the house, go back to the people and get YOUR mandate from them. Stop acting like a bunch of men with “small penis” syndrome.

    The reality is neither Layton nor Dion have a snowballs chance in hell of being ELECTED prime minister,
    So they cook up this scheme to steal the leadership. This will just be another nail in the coffin of the Liberal Party, and goes to show that no one in Ottawa has a firm grasp on reality. - P.C., Liberal, or NDP.

    Makes me feel even better that I didn’t vote in the last election.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:23 AM  

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