William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

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Strange Bedfellows

The current political machinations in Canada are a gift for people like me who live for this stuff. Please excuse the jubilant ramble that I am about to embark upon.

Well, I said the Liberals were doomed, and perhaps they are already dead, but it seems that they’re going to rise up and walk the Earth anyway, much like the zombies in those movies some of my friends like so much. Les morts-vivants!

But the thing of it is, I didn’t count on things changing. Few people did. Fair enough, to expect what just happened would be like expecting Randy Johnson to balk in the winning run of a championship game. I mean, Charlie Brown might do that. But you’d have to wait a while to see it happen to a major-league all-star.

But not forever! Stephen Harper just performed the political equivalent. He has stepped in the proverbial it. He got too greedy and went for the jugular – imagine being a contestant on a show where you’re guaranteed a million dollars but you can risk it all to go for that extra thousand and in the process bankrupt your rival. This is about what happened.

The Harper government has since retreated. They’re dropping the proposal to cut the existing $1.95-per-vote subsidy that the major federal political parties (from the Greens on up) currently receive. Unfortunately, it’s too late. The cat’s out of the bag. This government, by forcing its entire opposition into high-adrenaline fight-or-flight mode, has basically shut off its own ability to govern.

Make no mistake – this one goes entirely back to Harper. Oh, of course the aftermath is a partisan power grab. But it’s so much more interesting given the present economic situation and the worldwide information-driven political shift that we are also in the midst of. And this present scramble will also go down in the history books. Was Harper arrogant, or just plain stupid? (Or is arrogance itself a form of stupidity?) Rex Murphy is at his finest exploring that question as he blithely yet deftly searches for the logic in a fundamentally absurd situation:

All Politics, No Government – Rex Murphy, The National

Harper may succeed in convincing the Governor General to prorogue close parliament for a time. But she could very well refuse. Usually you close parliament after you’re finished your governing business, not before you even begin it.

If Harper fails, Dion may succeed in convincing her to allow him to form an alternative government. They’ve already got their ducks in a row.

If Harper succeeds, this whole business may be put aside until well into January (or longer), but I think we can count on Jean or – god forbid it would come to it – Her Magesty Herself to not allow parliament to prorogue, prorogue, and prorogue forever.

If either Harper (for proroguing) or Dion (for the Progressive Coalition) push “too hard,” we’ll end up back at the polls. We’ll be giving the Italians a run for their money!

When it comes down to utter constitutionality, we vote for MPs, not political parties. (If I had my druthers, I’d take political party names off of the ballots.) It’s perfectly conceivable and perfectly constitutional that this Canadian coup d’état should happen. There’s nothing written down about political parties, switching sides, or even Prime Ministers. It’s barely even understood by the general public, much less codified.

I’m terribly excited about all this – not so much for the prospect of Coalition government, though I expect it will be an improvement, but for the constitutional and procedural questions that will be answered in the coming days. The political landscape of our country will be forever altered.

In the long term, expect to see a concentrated push for electoral reform – especially preferential voting (in the form of instant-runoff), as that’s a really hot idea right now. That would help the big parties; on the other end you could also have proportional representation via a separate party list vote, and that would help the smaller parties. If we go to a Coalition, these kinds of reforms stand a good chance of being further discussed. If we go to an election, it is guaranteed.

We may argue in hindsight that the Conservatives were screwed when they didn’t get a majority – even if they had gone and been the kinder, transparent, and more civil government they were ostensibly aspiring to be. Take the Bloc MPs, for instance. Their stated raison d’être in the election was to prevent Harper from getting a majority. If they start supporting Harper wholesale again, their careers are toast. A Coalition may have been their only graceful way forward. The Liberals were in a similar position. If they’d gone on even allowing Harper a free hand, as they did for most of the last parliament, they’d have ended up politically bankrupt. The NDP could have gone either way, but there is a clear short-term advantage (including seats at the cabinet table) in uniting with their distant ideological cousins.

Therefore, we had a situation of deadlock – the right-wing party with a plurality that couldn’t get a majority versus the left-wing parties with a majority that couldn’t get a plurality. You can make this work for one parliament. But when everyone else comes back after the subsequent election with a mandate for opposing you, well…

Incidentally, that’s why a second minority is commonly regarded as a death sentence. And this combined with the special, extraordinary circumstances that we are in now will probably lead us to an alternative government.

* * *

Wow. What a day this has been! Obama and Clinton! Dion and Duceppe! Strange bedfellows, indeed!
Tags: canada, canadian politics, coalition, dion, duceppe, harper, news, political history, politics

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