Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Crisis? What Crisis?

I am, I confess, something of a political junkie. Not quite hardcore enough to watch CPAC when the house is sitting, but certainly trying to keep up with much of what is going on in Ottawa at any given time. So the last week has been, well, a lot of fun for me.

The only current “crisis” that I see in the capital is that the Harper Conservatives have been humbled. That's pretty much it. That the current governing party may no longer be governing after the 8th of December, well, that's not a crisis. The circumstances may be almost unprecedented in Canadian parliamentary history, and the uncertainty surrounding the current Prime Minister's ability to govern may be a problem, but this is not a crisis for anyone except the Harper Conservatives.

This has happened before: the King-Byng affair, as it is called, occurred when Mackenzie King's Liberals fell in 1926. They were a minority government supported by the Progressives and lost a confidence motion (based around a scandal). King moved to dissolve Parliament and go to an election, but Byng, the Governor General, refused King, and instead allowed Aurthur Meighen to form a government with the support of the Progressives. The coalition fell five days later on a motion questioning the legitimacy of the government and an election was then called, resulting in King returning with a bare majority (128 seats, with 127 for all opposition parties). To quote Claude BĂ©langer of Marianopolis College:

"The Canadian people had vindicated King who had claimed that Meighen and Byng had acted improperly and had undermined responsible government in Canada. The electoral decision might have been politically wise but it was constitutionally unsound. The Governor-General might not have acted wisely but there is no doubt that he had the right, given the circumstances, to refuse to follow King's advice. It is one of the royal prerogatives that, given certain circumstances [...] it can refuse to follow the advice of the Cabinet to dissolve Parliament and can choose an individual who has a reasonable chance to be supported by the House to lead the government. “

A Liberal/NDP coalition would be perfectly legitimate—even and especially because they would be formally supported by the Bloc, who would not be a part of the government, but have signed a formal agreement not to vote against the coalition on a confidence motion over the next year. What our current Prime Minister seems confused about (as do most Conservative and conservative commentators) is that in Canada we do not elect a Prime Minister, we elect a parliament. Prime Ministers are expendable and replaceable—witness Westminster where Gordon Brown has replaced Tony Blair without an election. Both were sitting members, but the party lost confidence in the sitting Prime Minister and replaced him. The government didn't fall (nor did the sky), just the Prime Minister.

The biggest problem faced by the country now is not the legitimacy of the government—that will be dealt with by a confidence vote in the House and, should the sitting government fall, by the Governor General—but by the attacks by the Conservative party on the legitimacy of the coalition. We will see and hear things like this quote (from the Sydney Morning Herald): “We will be fighting this with every legal means at our disposal," a senior government official said. "It's an attack on Canada. It's an attack on Canada's democracy. It's an attack on our economy.” This is, of course, total bullshit. A lie, if you will. A falsehood. A knowing misstatement of the truth. But a lie that will get traction.
When our current PM says: ''We will use all legal means to resist this undemocratic seizure of power,'' [Harper] told Conservatives at their annual Christmas party at an Ottawa hotel. ``My friends, such an illegitimate government would be a catastrophe, for our democracy, our unity and our economy, especially at a time of global instability.'' (quoted in the Miami Herald), he is lying. Such an action will be a catastrophe for him personally, as he will no longer be PM and, one assumes, very quickly no longer leader of the Conservative party as well, but the formation of a coalition government is neither illegitimate nor is it a catastrophe for the country. (Said coalition may be a disaster, but until it has had a chance to govern, it is an open question as to its competence). If anything, such a coalition could be seen as being more legitimate, as the member parties of the coalition will represent a larger percentage of the popular vote in Canada than do the currently-governing Conservatives. But what we face is not a crisis of government, but rather a crisis of truth from the Conservative propaganda machine in full panic mode.It has already begun—John Ivison wrote in The National Post that Canada's about to become "the world's coldest banana republic." What a load of horsecrap. The proposed coalition has been aboveboard (or at least as aboveboard as such things tend to be) in their decision. They have announced what they intend to do, have formally signed agreements about what the Canadian public can expect from the coalition, and have laid out in those agreements a division of powers and responsibilities ahead of their proposed action.
It should be noted that the BQ has no part nor representation in the proposed governing coalition. What they have formally agreed to do is to not defeat the coalition on a confidence vote for a set period of time. That's it. That's all. That there is a quid pro quo is certain--just as there was between the BQ and the Harper Conservatives during the Martin government. In this case, the BQ will expect a certain amount of input into plans made by the coalition—as it should. As should the Conservatives for that matter; a minority government cannot and must not govern from an ideological basis, but rather from one of co-operation and consensus building. That is one of the reasons why Canadians like and elect minority governments.
Most certainly, this is not over. Monday will prove to be a very interesting day—particularly for political junkies like me.

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