Friday, January 08, 2010

Moment of the Decade: #6 Confidence Vote Mayhem

If you missed it, I asked readers to nominate, then vote, on Canada's top political moment of the decade. Over the first two two weeks of the new decade, I'm counting down the top 10 vote getters. Next week, the top 5 (in alphabetical order) - Adscam, Coalition, Iraq, Merger, and Same Sex Marriage.

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.

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  • I'd argue this was more exciting than the coalition threat - I think the coalition just finished higher in this poll because it was fresher in peoples minds.

    By Anonymous Jeff, at 10:16 a.m.  

  • I for one will be glad when the minority government era ends and we can finally stop worrying about all this election speculation nonsense and get down to business.

    By Anonymous Deb, at 11:56 a.m.  

  • I still remember watching the vote, when an obviously very ill Cadman (he was much thinner than he had ever been) stood up with defiant look and his face, voted, chomped his gum and then sat down. Very cool.

    By Anonymous crocker jarmon, at 1:08 p.m.  

  • I think you forgot your meds today Bart. There's no way the Belinda sillyness rates higher than the 2006 election. I agree it was very entertaining but the last six months of the Martin government had a surreal quality to them anyway. Potato patches, Blackberry thumbs, Jack Layton pinch-hitting for the Mnister of Finance. It was just a bad dream is'all.

    By Anonymous herrngchoker, at 3:06 p.m.  

  • Well, this is how the votes went, not neccesarily how I would have ranked them.

    That said, I think I'd have placed both '06 and this confidence crisis in the top 5, along with Iraq, the merger, and the coalition.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 4:38 p.m.  

  • Now, this was before people realized you could just prorogue the House if you were chickenshit scared of a confidence vote

    Your wit is genius today, mister.

    By Anonymous Jason Bo Green, at 6:09 p.m.  

  • Except that Paul Martin knew full well that Prorogation was an option for him, and he knew full well that he had formally lost the Confidence of the House, as expressed clearly and concisely at the time.

    But, as the Constitutional experts at the time argued, it was not enough for him to have lost the confidence of the House, as long as he could regain that confidence in short order (either through a Confidence vote over which he would eventually prevail, or through an election).

    Unfortunately for us, the media don't seem to really care about history even as far back as five years, let alone all the years from Confederation, as long as it allows the Liberal Party to usurp powers never before accorded to an Opposition Party.

    By Blogger Paul, at 6:05 a.m.  

  • And yes, Paul Martin's behaviour was in line with centuries of Westminster tradition, even if we might find it disagreeable even today.

    By Blogger Paul, at 6:06 a.m.  

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