A Very Canadian Coup

Dec 02 2008 Published by under Featured News

Shadowy rooms with figures slipping in and out. Whispered words, plots, conspiracies.

A government at the side, eyes glancing, warnings being exchanged between members.

The government is at risk of falling; their adversaries are beginning to grumble louder and louder…El Presidenté might be deposed in short notice.

One might expect a scenario such as above to exist in a 1960s banana republic (and not the type where one can buy a sharp cashmere shirt and khakis).

Such a scenario has played out in 2008, in Canada. As a new government is about to rise in America, one is about to fall north of the border.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government have been issued an early obituary by a coalition of opposition parties, and are at risk of falling within as short a time span as a week.

On December 1, at a press conference featuring the leaders of the centrist official opposition Liberals, the socialist-democratic New Democrats, and the separatist Bloc Quebecois, the fate of the governing Conservatives seems to have been sealed.

Stephane Dion, Jack Layton, and Gilles Duceppe, the respective leaders of the above parties and who make up the combined forces and seats of the opposition, declared their unanimous desire to effectively kick the Conservatives out of power.

All of this is being played out in the aftermath of a federal election that occurred only about six weeks ago, which delivered Mr. Harper and his Conservatives a second minority government.

The Canadian system, for those who need a little Canadian polisci 101, is a parliamentary democracy: in a minority situation, the party with the most seats in the House makes up a government, if that party can command the confidence of the other parties through some degree of cooperation.

On the day of that press conference, Harper and the Conservatives were delivered perhaps the harshest rejection of a minority government in Canadian history. At no time have three opposition parties come together in a matter of several days to call on the defeat of the government, and to displace them with their own coalition.

Once Harper is defeated in a vote of non-confidence – and as noted it could occur in a matter of days – Mr. Dion would then go to the Governor General (the Queen’s representative in our quaint system) and ask to form a government, having the express support of the other two opposition parties. Mr. Dion would then become Prime Minister until he steps down – as he plans to do after the results of the earlier election – in May.

One must put this on further context: Mr. Dion and the Liberals were delivered their worst defeat since the country was founded in 1867. Mr. Dion himself was widely blamed for the Liberals’ catastrophic showing at the polls, and he, despite such an overwhelming defeat, would occupy the highest office in the land.

Why did all this come to be? One of the most significant factors amongst many that the opposition leaders point to is the alleged feet-dragging by Harper in the face of the global economic crisis. The Conservatives have failed to deliver a stimulus package not unlike that America and Europe has offered up its citizens.

The bigger question is: will this all come to be? That depends on the Governor General, Michaelle Jean. Although she is largely confined to a ceremonial role, she will have a key role in this crisis. She could either dissolve parliament when the Government is defeated and call yet another federal election (which most Canadians do not wish to see) or she could take Dion’s request and grant him a chance to make Parliament work. Needless to say she will be brushing up on her constitutional law in the next few days.

The implications for all this, how shall one say, drama? will doubtless be far reaching.

Conservatives and their voters will be seething and crying for blood when the next election occurs, but unless some miracle occurs, the Conservatives will be defeated and their government will end. They will protest and declare this opposition coup as nothing but a power grab, with no legitimacy from voters.

To an extent they are correct: the voters gave Harper the most seats, with the most votes of all the parties. To an extent, they are also incorrect: most Canadians did not vote for the Conservatives (hence they have less than half of the seats in the House) and the other parties are completely within their right to form a coalition to create another government despite not being given an original mandate from voters.

The Liberals will elect a new leader in May and whoever that person is (insiders tip two senior Liberals, former US professor Michael Ignatieff and former Ontario premier Bob Rae) will be the Prime Minister as per the terms of the coalition deal struck between the three parties.

The NDP will have an opportunity to do something they have never done in federal politics: govern. The terms of the deal will give the NDP six cabinet portfolios, but not, and likely to the relief of the economic markets, the important finance spot.

The Bloc Quebecois, whose ultimate aim from their inception in the 1990s was to take Quebec out of Canada , may very well suffer at the hands of their voters; they may think they have been betrayed by the Bloc, who is now going to cooperate with federalist (i.e. those who support Canada as a state and nation) parties. Contrarily, it may also embolden them: they now wield power over Canada’s government.

The coalition is set to rule for 18 months, in the best case scenario. But nobody can be sure what will happen if the coalition does form: it is made up of three competing parties with different ideologies, with competing egos, and competing interests. It may last years, it may last weeks; not even Miss Cleo can know.

And you thought Canadian politics were boring.

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