Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The gloves are off in Ottawa: the fight between the Conservative government and the opposition parties continues

By Grace

Michael and I have been following the
political brouhaha in the Canadian federal government over the last few days. Since then, the fight in Ottawa over the impending confidence motion and possible coalition has intensified into an all-out war of words.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his fellow Conservative Members of Parliament have derided the coalition as "undemocratic",
"illegitimate" and stated that the opposition would place the future of Canada in the hands of separatists. He's also accused them of being "un-Canadian" by stating that "[the three coalition leaders, Stephane Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe] had to be photographed without [the Canadian flag] because … a member of their coalition does not even believe in this country," (the CBC states that this was untrue- "[the photographs] clearly showed at least two Canadian flags behind the three leaders, as well as a painting of the Fathers of Confederation.").

In the House of Commons, Stephane Dion countered that, "every member in this House has received a mandate from the Canadian people to deliver a government that will face the economic crisis. The prime minister failed. The prime minister doesn’t have the support of this House."

The Tories are determined to paint this as an "illegitimate" power grab by the opposition. The fact of the matter is that the parties took this action because, even with a minority government, and even in the face of an economic crisis, rather than trying to address national problems by producing an economic stimulus package, Harper and his Cabinet decided to govern as though they had a majority and push through bills that heavily reflected their own ideology without discussion or compromise (the now-defunct fiscal update bill also included the elimination "pay equity", which ensures that men and women receive equal pay for equal work. This in addition to the contentious removal of public subsidies for political parties). Such actions by the Tories could and should be construed as undemocratic.

The Conservatives have begun airing radio and television ads to disparage the opposition plan, something usually done during an election. The party has also stated that they will use every legal venue to stop this motion from coming forward and some have speculated that this may even include proroguing the House.

Proroguing the House would, like dissolving Parliament, require the permission of the Governor General. This would prevent the coalition from tabling the non-confidence motion, but would come at a greater cost to the Canadian public: it would suspend all Parliamentary business until January 2009. In a time of economic crisis, coalition or no, the electorate expects the federal government to get the work done to help fix the problem - it's their duty. It feels fundamentally wrong to go to such an extreme measure to avoid the vote. Governor Generals have traditionally complied with a request to prorogue the House, but it's unprecedented to be asked to do so so soon after an election.

It's a rare state for Harper to be seen in - the Conservative leader has always been so collected and calculated, and now his actions seem more desperate and panicked. The Prime Minister will appear on television tonight at 7 p.m. to address the nation. It mirrors a similar move made in 2005 by then-Prime Minister Paul Martin - also in the face of a confidence motion. The address was roundly criticized at the time for having the sole purpose of trying save the Liberal government from defeat; Harper himself called it a "sad spectacle". Funny how these things come full circle, isn't it?

UPDATE:
Post-address - Harper didn't say anything he hasn't already said before. Same key words: "undemocratic", "backroom deals with separatists", etc. It was infuriating to hear him say that the members of the coalition were working "without your say, without your consent and without your vote." All of those Members of Parliaments involved were duly elected by their constituents, just as he was. Also: the Bloc Quebecois are not part of the formal coalition, but have merely agreed to support it on all matters of confidence for the next 18 months.

In various interviews conducted by the CBC, Quebec residents have indicated that the Conservatives' repeated use of the term "separatists" to refer to the Bloc Quebecois are seen as "scare-mongering" and divisive. This tactic may have backfired and the Tories may have burned their bridges in that province for it.

Once again, the Prime Minister stated that he would use all legal means to prevent the confidence motion (he used the term "protect our democracy"). He
has also scheduled an economic summit with provincial leaders on January 16, fueling concerns that he may indeed ask the Governor General to prorogue Parliament.

A request for prorogation would be proof of where Harper's priorities actually lie: clinging to power. And if it is indeed used to postpone the confidence motion, thereby leaving Parliament in this same state of unresolved disarray over the next month while Canadians and the economy suffer, it's all the more cowardly.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will meet with Governor General
Michaëlle Jean tomorrow morning at 9:30 EST.

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