Not To Be Trusted With Knives











{November 27, 2008}   And speaking of Prime Ministers…

… could we possibly have a new entry in my Prime Ministerial series soon?  You would think, given that we had an election just over 6 weeks ago, that such a thing would be very unlikely.  But, according to the Globe & Mail1, we might be getting one sooner than you think.

Opposition parties are mad that Harper’s government has put forward a fiscal plan that (a) “offers no stimulus package to deal with the economic crisis” and (b) contains “a vow to scrap public subsidies for political parties that would financially cripple every party except the Tories.”  So they are talking about bringing down the Harper government with a  vote of non-confidence.

By putting this plan forward, Harper and the Conservatives* are betting that the opposition parties won’t dare force an election so soon after the last one, especially since the Liberals are still being led by lame duck Dion2.  But it sounds like the opposition parties are saying “hey, wait a minute.  There are more of us than there are of them.  Coalition anyone?” Apparently3 if the opposition parties can form a coalition, they could take control of the government without an election.

The plan goes to a vote on Monday.  Can the opposition parties form a viable coalition by then?  Will the threat of his enemies uniting against him to take his job scare Stephen Harper into changing his plan?  Stay tuned4!

Update #1 (28 Nov 2008): I just read in the Vancouver Sun that Harper’s plan “limits public sector wage increases to 1.5%, with the right to strike suspended.” They are going to take away people’s right to strike? How is that even legal??

Update#2 (28 Nov 2008): The Vancouver Sun now has an article on their website saying “The Conservatives don’t plan on backing down from a controversial proposal to eliminate subsidies for federal political parties, but the government says the measure will not be part of a confidence vote on Monday.”  This is really, really lame.  They ARE backing down if they are making it not part of a confidence vote!!  If they were to truly stand behind it, then why not leave it as a confidence vote??

1Props to Kalev for bringing this article to my attention!
2Apparently, “sources say former prime minister Jean Chretien has been approached for advice on how to massage Mr. Dion’s early exit.” Which is a little rich, given that Chrétien was “massaged” out of office himself.
3and I’m hoping Resident Historian and Chief Political Correspondent Sarah will pop by to explain to us exactly how this works
4Isn’t this way more fun that an system where the leader of the government only changes, predictably, every 4 years?

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shihtzustaff says:

I am not the resident historian/political scientist but I do hold a Masters degree in history with a minor in political science…so here goes.

As most of your readers likely know, the Governor General (GG) is the Queen’s representative in Canada. While some of her duties are written down many are down by ‘convention.’ Which basically means it has always been thus and therefore we can assume (generally speaking) it will be done this way again.

So, in the case of the government falling due to a non-confidence vote – the PM (AKA the Harpie) can ask her to dissolve parliament and call an election. Convention has dictated that the party who holds the largest number of seats is asked to form the government. Technically, the GG could ask whoever she wanted but that would be ignoring convention – which is not generally done. When a government falls quickly then the GG can ask the party with the next largest number of seats if they can form a government.

If this scenario comes about it will be tricky. To my knowledge it is the King-Byng affair which is instructive in this case but it does not match exactly. In 1926 King called an election. He got less seats than the Conservatives but combined with the Progressive party there was enough to form a coalition so King did not resign. It quickly became apparent, due to a scandal, that King did not enjoy the confidence of the House and therefore asked Byng to dissolve parliament. He refused, instead asking the Cons to form a government – which they did.

If the Opposition parties can form an alliance (I would be surprised but I suspect they are desperate given the thought of staring at the Harpie for much longer) then perhaps the GG will ask the Liberals to form a government.

I think this is bad strategy and a bit desperate but I guess the Libs figure they have nothing to lose…



Beth says:

Thanks for that explanation! Should be interested to see what happens.



[…] as you probably know (I first read about it on Beth’s site), Finance Minister Jim Flaherty gave a financial update of sorts in the House of Commons. I’m […]



Sarah says:

Gah! Swamped at work, and have only 8 minutes to try to respond before lunch is over. Hooray for the save from shihtzustaff, who rocks!

Something similar happened in ON back in 1985 — Tory Miller won more seats than Peterson’s Liberals and Rae’s NDP, but the LG did allow Peterson and Rae to form a coalition, which held for 2 years. In that case, though, Miller had 51 seats, Peterson 48 and Rae 25.

I don’t think that the opposition can swallow this bitter pill, though. It basically means that no one, other than the Cons, will be able to do anything for the next few elections.

The Cons can be such bullies. Not that it totally surprises me, but they are using a massive economic crisis to their political advantage. They are the only party that has the grassroots financial support (stemming from their Reform days) to be able to function using the new financing rules (introduced by the Liberals, strenghtened by the Harperites). The amount of $ saved by this measure is a pittance, and they will be able to say “look at the greedy opposition parties” while inflicting a fairly undemocratic move on them. Adam Radwanski has a great blog post on the subject: http://tinyurl.com/68pnav

Also TOTALLY sketchy? After the public service unions agreed to suck it up and take increases that are below inflation (many have been without collective agreements for several years, so these agreements deal with work done while the economy was booming), the Cons are denying them the right to strike? Um – these employees have effectively agreed to a PAY CUT already, and now you are portraying them as petulant children who cannot be trusted and need to be disciplined? WTF?

Anyway – it is getting interesting here in Ottawa. Broadbent and Chrétien are meeting to discuss a coalition (with Ralph Goodale as a possible leader). And the Cons are thinking about backing off a bit. I am excited to see what happens!



Rebecca says:

What frustrates me is that even though Dion has vowed to actually vote against them, what may end up happening is that enough Liberal MPs won’t show up for the vote so that it will pass.

“Dion did not respond when asked whether a handful of his MPs might be absent for a vote on the update, a move that would give the government enough numbers to survive. In the last Parliament, the Liberals used the tactic several times to prevent triggering an election.”

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2008/11/27/question-period.html



Rebecca says:

Aaaaand… now I see the Tories have dropped the party-funding cuts, which is supposed to make everyone so grateful that they won’t vote against it. Maybe I’m cynical, but we all remember the Mike Harris years in Ontario, where this was pretty common.



Kalev says:

What is truly egregious in this newest political foofah is how the media totally picks up and promulgates, completely uncritically, the Conservative BULLSHIT about how it’s the Opposition parties who are being “undemocratic” and self-interested.

What worries me is that Harper is not stupid enough to have thought that the Opposition could swallow the “poison pill” erasure of political party money… I suspect he sees it as totally win-win: either they capitulate and the money is cut or they don’t capitulate and he can use his media lapdogs to vomit up the notion that it’s all the fault of the petulant Opposition.

And as Sarah said, WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK?! with respect to “suspending” the right to strike?! Like… seriously?

But Beth, as for how is that even legal, it’s just as legal as when the BC Liberals* passed a law to make tearing up previously binding legal contracts “legal.” Which is to say, it’s legal because those with power have declared it so. It may be legal* but it’s completely DISGUSTING!

Talking about politics in Canada is going to require a lot of asterisks.

The latest I heard… oh my GODS, I’m just reading the latest at the Globe and Mail and they have the gall to print this (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081128.wcoalition29/BNStory/politics/home):

“His remarks raise doubt over whether Mr. Harper would consider it legitimate were Governor-General Michaëlle Jean to ask a coalition of opposition parties to form a government.”

It doesn’t fucking MATTER whether Harper considers it legitimate or not… he’s not the fucking Decider… it’s none of his fucking BUSINESS! It’s up to the GG and it’s completely within her power and precedent to ask a coalition to form the government, especially so soon after an election. It would be folly for her NOT to, especially if the situation is such that the Bloc have actually agreed to work with the Liberals and the NDP!

The issue is that the Liberals need to get rid of Dion NOW, get Ignatieff or more preferably Goodale in, and so sidestep Harper’s dumbass critique of having the “rejected” Dion as PM. Why they didn’t fucking make him step down and install an interim leader in the first place is TOTALLY beyond me! Stupid fucking Liberals!



Darren says:

For the Conservatives to lose power without an election requires the cooperation of all three opposition parties. This cooperation would need to be sustained to stave off an election, and I’m not convinced the three parties have enough in common to pull it off for any significant length of time — distaste for Harper will only go so far. Satisfying both the big-government NDP and the no-government Bloc would be difficult in any budget, for instance.

Nobody wants to be branded as working with the separatists, so the Bloc can’t be a formal member of a coalition, and Harper gets a new barb or two out of it anyway. The economy’s going down the toilet over the next year or two, so a coalition government may end up being blamed for the mess, because anything they do won’t “work” (it may be less disastrous, but still disastrous). It would actually probably be clever for Harper to let a coalition take over for him for the next while. I suspect he’d be returned to power afterward, but he’d have to swallow losing power in the meantime, which I can’t see him going for. If he believes the threat of a coalition government is credible, I strongly suspect he’ll back down until the threat goes away.

As for the process, I believe the GG is supposed to ask each leader in turn if they believe they can govern (i.e. survive a confidence vote in the House) before calling an election. I’m not convinced that the current GG knows this. However, I’m pretty sure it can be done without her: the House just has to have a non-confidence vote, followed by a confidence vote in the new leader, and Presto! — instant regime change. They’d walk over to Rideau Hall with the results of the vote and a list of who they wanted in cabinet, and the response should be “Oh… OK”, because they’ve by then proven they have the support of the House and thus the ability to govern.

I’d be amused if they picked an independent to lead the coalition, to avoid party bickering.



[…] currently obsessed with the goings on in the federal government and the possibility of a Liberal-NDP coalition government.  I’m checking the CBC and CTV […]



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