By Tyler Wolfe
It tends to take a lot to get Canadians really riled up over politics. The actions of the Liberals and the NDP over the last week, however, have Canadians calling for blood. Some respectable political commentators are even referring to the proposed coalition as a coup d’etat. The Liberals, the socialists and the separatists are perceived to be hijacking our democracy. Of course perception is rarely based in reality.
The proposed coalition, while rare in Canadian politics, is completely constitutional. When the House of Commons loses confidence in the governing party, the government falls. There is nothing new or unique about this. No one cried foul when Stephen Harper, together with the same socialists and separatists, brought down Paul Martin’s Liberal government in 2006. Upon the dissolution of the House, the Governor General is given the choice of calling a new election or asking one of the other parties to form a government if they are deemed capable of doing so. Because we have been to the polls so recently, the assumption is that MichaÃ«lle Jean will favour the second option. Again, there is nothing unconstitutional about this.
This is not a coup or the hijacking of democracy. It is a direct response to the Conservative’s contempt for their opposition– an opposition which outnumbers them. Stephen Harper’s government forced an election last fall when the other parties felt it was unnecessary. He gambled that he could win a majority. When he failed to do so, he claimed he would respect the mandate he was given– that of a minority government. And yet, since the most recent session has opened, the Conservatives have continued to act as though they hold a majority.
The economic update the Conservatives recently introduced was full of partisan measures. They planned on removing the public financing parties receive ($1.95 is given to each party per vote they receive in a federal election), arguing that since they received the most votes, they had the most to lose. What they didn’t mention is that other parties rely on this money to a much larger degree than the Conservatives. Public financing was put in place to ensure a proportional amount of money was distributed to the parties so there would be no need to rely on potentially dodgy connections to the business world. The Conservatives claim that the $30 million dollars this would trim from the multibillion dollar budget would help save the economy is rubbish. It is nothing more than tactless partisan politics.
A further example of the Conservative’s contempt for the opposition can be seen with their taping of a private NDP caucus meeting and releasing it to the media. Again, they claim to have done nothing wrong since they were mistakenly sent an invitation to the conference call. One does not need a class in ethics to realize that if you have been mistakenly invited to a private meeting, you should announce your presence and you should certainly not record and release the details to the media.
The Conservatives for too long have attempted to push their agenda through Parliament without regard for the majority opposition. Only the Liberals’ fear of an election allowed Harper’s first term to last as long as it did. And as it turned out, that fear was justified. The dismal showing of the Liberals led to the Conservatives’ increased minority and Harper assumed he could continue with the same tactics. It appears he was wrong. The Conservatives have no one to blame but themselves for losing the confidence of the Commons.
That being the case, the proposed Liberal/NDP coalition has the perception of illegitimacy for the reasons explained above. The timing of the Liberal/NDP motion so soon after an election suggests to Canadians that the vote they cast in October was meaningless. It will not go over well if Stephane Dion, after leading his party to one of its worst defeats in history, becomes the Prime Minister.
Perception matters in politics. That Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program is still embedded in the psyche of the West almost 30 years later is proof of this. The concept of the Liberal/NDP coalition is undoubtedly constitutional, but it is politically dangerous. Alienation in the West will rise to levels not seen in decades and the repercussions will be long lasting. Dion and Jack Layton are salivating at the chance for power in the present; it will be in the future– when they face the wrath of the voters again– that the true consequences of their decision will be felt.
It is unfair and uncritical rhetoric which condemns the Liberal and New Democrat coalition as an unconstitutional seizure of power. If the process is undemocratic, it is our system which deserves this criticism. The Liberals and New Democrats deserve to be criticized for their divisive and short-sighted lust for power. Ultimately though, Harper and the Conservative deserve whatever fate befalls them. If they are defeated it is because of the way they have attempted to govern.