Moment of the Decade: #6 Confidence Vote Mayhem
It had everything you could possibly want in a political thrill ride. Scandal! Backroom deals! A long time government fighting for survival! Sex! Tape recordings! A dying man with the fate of the country in his hands! A tie confidence vote!
When I first asked for nominations to this contest, Globe blogger Andrew Steele wrote the following to me:
Belinda crossing the floor and that confidence vote perfectly summarizes the knifes-edge reality of minority government that has become the dominant storyline of aughts political coverage. Process over result. Personality over policy. The Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff dancing on a speaker at the after party.
And the knife’s edge had never been narrower. As soon as a media blackout on Gomery Inquiry testimony was lifted, what had been tantalizingly described as “explosive” allegations were made public, and the opposition parties made it fairly clear they’d had enough.
Now, this was before people realized you could just prorogue the House if you were chickenshit scared of a confidence vote, so the Liberals postponed opposition days and Paul Martin went on TV and talked about his father. Paul cut a deal with Jack Layton who was in one of his “results for people” moods, thinking “Yeah, corruption is awful, and they wasted taxpayer dollars, but for a billion dollars, I’ll keep them alive. It’s what Ed Broadbent would want.”.
With a "too close to call" vote looming, Scott Brison stood up in the House every day saying “let Judge Gomery do his work” while the opposition heckled and screamed. The government lost a confidence vote, but it wasn’t really a confidence vote. Parliament was shut down. Either way, a vote was inevitable and everyone started doing the math and quickly realized that, holy crap, the fate of the government was in the hands of a few independents, among them Carolyn Parrish and David Kilgour. Ouch.
Then, in what may have been the single biggest jaw dropper of the decade, Belinda Stronach became a Liberal. Remember, this was before David Emerson and Wajid Khan (KHAAAAAAAAAN!) – it was a big deal. This was a woman who had helped bring about the Conservative Party merger just 18 months earlier. She was seen as a future Tory leader (by herself). And, oh yeah, she was dating Peter MacKay. Talk about a bad breakup.
So this changed the math, and it soon became fairly obvious that the fate of the government would come down to a maverick MP who was dying of cancer. The media pestered him. The Conservatives did some stuff which I won’t go into because, well, everyone who has gone into it has wound up getting sued.
So on May 19th, 2005, Chuck Cadman stood up, wearing jeans and chewing gum, and calmly forced a tie. Peter Miliken then, in a moment all young boys who hope to one day grow up and become speaker of the House of Commons dream of, got to cast a tie-breaking vote, to save the government.
It didn’t end there, because that set off the whole Gurmant Grewal fiasco which, if nothing else, allowed Tim Murphy to utter what is probably the quote of the decade, calling the Liberal Party “a warm and comfy mat with lots of fur on it”.
So, in he end, the Liberals survived. But, as Paul Wells’ book made clear, that survival likely gave the Conservatives the time they needed to ensure victory 8 months later.
So this moment left its mark. And when it comes to sheer popcorn politics, it was about as good as it gets.