As Exciting as all this is...
So, yes, I'm definitely looking forward to the possibility of Prime Minister Dion being sworn in next week, and of seeing Harper undone by the partisan mean-spirited nature that has defined his time as Prime Minister. But I have to admit that the whole thing does leave me feeling a little uneasy. Like all good Liberals, there's no place I'd rather be than in power, but I do think we should all think the long term implications of this move through completely. Among the things that have me a little concerned:
1. Western Allienation: As other Alberta Liberals have pointed out, the backlash in Alberta and across Western Canada is going to be huge. You thought the "No! No! No!" headlines were over the top today? Well you ain't seen nothing yet.
2. The NDP is Legitimized: The one thing which has always kept the Liberals ahead of the NDP, even when the LPC sinks to it's lowest of lows, is the widely held perception that the NDP is not up for the job of being in government. By placing the NDP in Cabinet, you're implicitly admitting that they can handle the job. Plus, I have this rule of thumb that any move that makes Jack Layton grin from ear to ear like a Cheshire cat is a bad move.
3. The Coalition Precedence: Similarly, the NDP is going to expect Cabinet posts in any future minority government. So if we wind up with a Liberal plurality in the future, the NDP is going to be demanding seats at the Cabinet table as a condition of support.
4. The Coalition Precedence II: As Stephen Harper's 2004 letter shows, what's good for you one day, is not so good the next. And I have strong doubts that Liberals in love with the idea of a coalition government now would have welcomed one back in 2004. It's highly possible that a future Liberal leader who wins a plurality of the seats might find himself or herself in Stornoway.
5. The End of Strategic Voting: Since I've been following politics, the final week of every campaign has featured a Liberal leader appealing to other progressive voters to vote Liberal in a bid to stop the scary Conservative bogeyman of the day. Once voters have seen a progressive coalition take power, they're going to laugh at any Grit who tries to make the case that a vote for Layton is a vote for Harper. While it might be good for democracy to see this argument disappear, it's a potent argument to surrender.
6. Coalition Times are Tough Times: If we do hit a recession, do you really want to be in power when it happens?
7. The Race for 24 Sussex: With 30 month and 18 month deals signed, Dion has given his successor the keys to 24 Sussex as a parting gift. But Dion has also handcuffed whoever wins the Liberal leadership race to this contract. Sure, they can break it, but that would be a political hit in and of itself.
8. The Black Swan Effect: Sure, these parties can probably find common ground on the economy. But what happens when the unexpected happens? Will the Liberals and NDP be able to find ground on foreign policy? And, taking point number 7 to one of its three possible outcomes, could the NDP and Michael Ignatieff find common ground on foreign policy?
9. No Bloc Party: Yes, I know they've worked with other parties before. And I know nothing has been promised to them. And I trust Stephane Dion more than anyone else to stand up for Canada and to not cave in to Bloc demands. But I hate the Bloc Quebecois with a fiery passion. So this just feels wrong. Especially when the first letter from the trio talks about "a majority of Canadians and Quebecers".
10. Voter Reaction: Maybe voters will grow to love the coalition. Maybe it will lead to a Liberal majority - a common result of past Liberal/NDP cooperation. But you have to at least recognize that it could backfire. You also have to recognize that after seeing the craziness of the past week, the stability of a Conservative majority will sound appealing to some voters (then again, so could a Liberal majority).
11. Mandate: Yes, I know the leader with the fewest seats can govern. Yes, I know we elect parliaments, not Prime Ministers. But at the end of the day, Stephen Harper got 38% of the vote and Stephane Dion got 26%. The Conservatives got 143 seats and the Liberals got 77. Heck, even the Liberal-NDP coalition only got 114. So, from a purely conceptual point of view, this doesn't feel completely right.
Now, I could easily write counter-arguments to each of those 11 points of uneasiness (and I just might...). And in the end, the coalition is likely necessary because of Harper's unwillingness to compromise and the need for a government willing to deal with the economy. We've likely passed the point of no return, so the goal now is to make the best of it. But everyone involved should be aware of what's in the waters we're sailing into.
Labels: political insanity