Moment of the Decade: #2 The Coalition
If nothing else, it made Canadians pay attention to politics.
Over the past year, people had complained about how dull our politics were – the Americans had just gone through a thrilling election whereas you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who could tell you anything memorable about our election that had happened around the same time. There’d been something about sweater vests and puffins, but nothing had really happened, and nothing had really changed.
Then, for a fortnight in December, everyone paid attention. And I mean everyone. That Christmas, friends and family who couldn’t name their local MP didn’t want to talk to me about anything except the coalition. And they all had an opinion. Someone had committed an affront to democracy – just who had committed what affront depended on who you asked. Those dastardly Liberals were going to use the separatists to steal an election! That bully Stephen Harper was using an economic crisis to play petty politics!
In one of my favourite political memories, I bundled up on a cold Toronto Saturday and visited a pair of competing rallies, both accusing opposites side of subverting democracy. At one rally, the coalition was described as “the saddest moment in the history of Canada” and a “coup”. At the other, Jack Layton talked about how Stephen Harper had “taken away your right to vote”.
Looking back, it’s actually easy to see how it all happened. The Liberals were weak and Harper went for the jugular. The opposition fought back with the only weapon they had. So Harper backed down. But this was the only chance Stéphane Dion and Jack Layton would ever have at power so they kept punching. So Harper used the only weapon he had and prorogued. Then Michael Ignatieff saw an opportunity to skip the unpleasantness of a leadership race and he took it.
It was wild, it was exciting, but even with emotions higher than they’d ever been, it really wasn’t anything more than a bunch of politicians behaving completely rationally, like basic game theory would expect them to. One by one, they saw an opportunity for power and they took it. Even though we faulted them at the time, can you really blame politicians for doing what politicians do?