It was only last week that I lamented hopelessly to an associate about what a boring duty paying attention to Canadian politics had become. I felt that Stephen Harper was becoming a reasonably decent (but uninspiring) Prime Minister, I didn’t expect the opposition Liberals to soon deviate from their lackluster hand-sitting performance during the 2004-2006 Parliament, and I was waiting to see how Jack Layton‘s NDP were going to nudge out the Liberals by staking out more territory in the political centre.
But everything changed this week. Any warm feelings I held towards Harper quickly went cold when the partisan maneuvering of his Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, grabbed national attention. Though I quickly became intrigued with the prospect of the opposition parties introducing a motion of no-confidence and forming some sort of progressive coalition/Liberal minority government in the Commons, I can’t help but wonder what it’s going to take to change the political culture in Ottawa from one of constant partisan brinksmanship to one where MPs from all parties can actually cooperate for a period longer than five minutes.
To be clear, I don’t feel that any of the parties have a legitimate claim the moral high ground in Canadian politics, as I don’t believe for a second that a quick role reversal would see the Liberals or NDP kick a financially vulnerable Conservative Party any softer. This said, the rhetoric and positioning would suggest that the proposed economic stimulus package is just as unpalatable to the opposition parties as the canceling of the party funding formula (which is now split from the economic package and part of a future Bill).
The quick moving political action in Ottawa has made it quite difficult to differentiate between media speculation, insider meddling, and actual happenings, but if the Liberals and NDP have indeed brought in Jean Chretien and Ed Broadbent to facilitate negotiations for some sort of symbiotic parliamentary relationship between the two parties, it would signal a monumental shift in Canadian political history. Not since the First World War has an actual ‘coalition government‘ existed in Canada.
Though the Conservatives have protested this move as ‘undemocratic,’ parliamentary alliances are normal in many western democracies. In the October 14, 2008 Federal Election, no party received a majority of the seats in the House of Commons, nor votes in the general election, therefore no one party can claim to have the confidence of the majority of Canadian voters. Yes, the Conservatives received the largest share of votes and seats (37.65% of the vote and 143 seats), but the other parties combined received more in both cases (163 seats and 54.76%) – a fairly basic Grade 6 Social Studies concept.
Can a Liberal-NDP coalition/alliance govern? Who would lead this coalition? (Stephane Dion? Jack Layton? Ralph Goodale? Michael Ignatieff?) Or will the Conservative minority government continue to hold power? What ever the result in the upcoming confidence vote, I’m sure that more than one Member of Parliament is going to lose some sleep this weekend while being haunted with the mathematical reality that the political survival of either of these groups depends on a group of 49 Quebec Nationalists: the Bloc Quebecois.