I have to weigh in on this because I tried to get in on the local phone-in the other day and couldn’t.
First, to all those that said that Jack Layton is just doing this for power, well, so what? What is the motivation for any politician? Public service? Come on – I don’t see any of the current lot of politicos as a Tommy Douglas, and hell, he might have been a bastard too for all I know. Every single one of our elected officials want power and what services they deliver us is all in the name of getting more power – you make your choice of power-hungry bastard based on the anticipated service delivery, not on their mission statement. If you believe otherwise maybe you’re just not as cynical as me. Calling down a political leader for desiring power is like getting pissy because he also breathes air and it says more about you than them. Get over it.
The mention of power-hungry bastards of course brings me to the most ravenous of all on the current political scene and the man who brought this all on, Stephen Harper. It was Stephen Harper who pounded his tiny fists in the summer and demanded an election when it looked like the Liberal environmental message was beginning to gain some traction and needed to be headed off. It worked, owing in part to the beginning of the fortuitous global financial meltdown which effectively changed the election discussion from green issues to greenback ones.
Unfortunately for Harper, who has had a smackeral of power in minority government form, was again thwarted from having a heaping plate by another minority victory. Unphased, he announced that he was going to govern as if his plate was full, as if, indeed, he was the only person at the table at all.
The decision to run his government as if it was a majority was risky from the start, but the crux of the problem is that he pushed the opposition too far last Thursday. It’s one thing to release an economic statement that is pure bullshit, that can be (and has been) called out by the opposition and the pundit class, but it’s another thing altogether to attempt to slash the heart of the funding structure for the other political parties. Not only is this playing unfairly, it’s deeply anti-democratic.
And after having tried this once, even though he’s pulled it off the table, the opposition simply can’t trust him not to try it again. Put in parliamentary language, he has lost the confidence of the House. The fact that there was no mention of a financial plan in the economic update and that the Minister of Finance tells lies about budget surpluses for the next five years are mere fodder now, excuses to keep the ball rolling – Harper is not going to be Prime Minister for much longer. He is a man of intelligence, sure, but he is a tactless tactician in a role that calls for some level of diplomacy, and he hasn’t got it.
It’s just that simple – there is no constitutional crisis at all, and I wish the media would stop playing the Conservative game by discussing it.
What’s really going to be interesting is what happens to the Conservative Party after this works itself through. Sure, Harper can beg the GG to prorogue Parliament, but that is unlikely to work – it would be a dangerous precedent, and not one that I expect Michaelle Jean would want to wear. Prorogue would only buy a bit of time anyway, time that Harper has already shown he will use by slamming the coalition as a “deal with the devil”, further angering the Quebeckers that he needs if he ever wants a majority government. With every word that comes from John Baird’s mouth on these lines, the chances of a majority government get more distant. Proroguing Parliament might allow him to dodge this bullet, but it would be a Pyrrhic victory only – a budget will be coming soon and there will always be something in there for a now-hungry opposition to rip into.
And the voting public has now seen Harper in his true colours, and they ain’t pretty.
So sure, the coalition party members are taking advantage of the situation. You could even say it disparagingly – “They’re just taking advantage of the situation” if it makes you feel better, but the fact of the matter is that Stephen Harper set up the situation through his decision to lead as if he had a majority and then setting forward with the obvious intent to bully the opposition and make it more difficult, maybe even impossible, for them to handle another election effectively. It was a dangerous move, and the fact that Harper recanted it so quickly indicates he knows he’s gone too far. The behaviour we see this week is mere desparate flailing.
The real question is what happens to Stephen Harper if the coalition actually manages to pull together a year or two of stable, useful governance. By demonstrating a penchance for scruple-free behaviour he’s made no friends outside of his party, perhaps made it more difficult to win a majority by both hamstringing his Quebec strategy and by cementing the uneasy distrust that people, that voters, have about him, and by silencing all but his chosen attack dogs, he’s undoubtedly made few friends within his own party. I see a leadership convention in the not-too-distant future.
PS – I feel bad. I didn’t buy Stephen anything for Christmas, and look what he got me!