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The Nine Lives of Stephen Harper

Photo by Kashmera.

In a recent article, we described Canadian democracy as “drunken” and “staggering,” eliciting the image of a bumbling, well-intentioned dullard saddled with an affliction that, for better or worse, is an effect of his or her environment or circumstances but manifest as failure for reasons entirely their own. Today, with news from Ottawa that two opposition parties are going to supportively wedge themselves under Harper’s armpits for a while, we—like others with a shamelessly professed anti-Harper bias—stand by it.

Less than a year after talk of coalitions and right-of-centre screaming about a liberal/socialist/separatist/*insert-ist-here* coup d’etat had Ottawa brimming with prime-time drama, two of those seditious “ists”—the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois, respectively—have reportedly sidled up to the Tories with their support, boosting the Conservative government long enough for its proposed Employment Insurance legislation to pass. Yesterday, the Bloc agreed to support the Conservatives’ ways-and-means vote this Friday, part of the federal budget process and thus a matter of confidence. With the NDP throwing in as well, that confidence vote is all but in the can.
Today’s move by the NDP and the Bloc tips the House’s scales at eighty-six seats versus the Liberals’ seventy-seven, meaning that a Liberal non-confidence motion in early October, as reported by the CBC, is likely doomed to fail. Thomas Muclair, deputy leader of the NDP, told reporters that his party wants to “make sure that the money flows to those families that have already spent that [home renovation tax credit] money in anticipation of its adoption,” adding, “Our first priority is to try to make Parliament work in the interest of the public.”

Stephane Dion, then-leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and NDP Leader Jack Layton on stage at a rally in support of a progressive coalition, December 2008. Photo by Medmoiselle_T.

Which is great, obviously. There are nearly two hundred thousand workers in Canada who need the cozy one billion dollars that the EI plan offers, providing anywhere from five to twenty weeks’ worth of additional benefits based on an individual’s EI eligibility. Friday’s ways-and-means motion, along with navigating the red tape necessary to implement the home renovation tax credit, also reduces trucking tariffs and provides drought and flood relief at a time when too many Canadians need it. It’s not like the opposition parties blew their noses with the ballots of every Canadian claiming a bone to pick with Harper, then ran with squealing, pawing delight to their new, kitty-pettin’, sweater-vested leader. Ours is a representative democracy, after all, and a lot of Canadians have been totally screwed this year.
Where Parliament fell flat on its face this time, however, all sauced on promises and chasing a dangling carrot, was in its surprising trust of a minority government whose history of leadership hasn’t exactly earned it. Praiseworthy as it is to talk of making Parliament work, the opposition parties seem to have momentary amnesia when it comes to the Harper Conservatives’ checkered past, a disquieting three years marked by corruption, censorship, and a systemic abrogation of anything that could be called “accountable.”

The opposition’s strategy is clear, but so is Harper’s: put forward the illusion of progress, soften a rather brutal public image, and ratchet an agenda bit by bit towards a majority, the targeted endgame. No more dealing with socialists, or separatists, or committees, or the threat of liberals in the courts, or tiptoeing on eggshells around the pestering demands of the opposition, not to mention the country they represent. Just the freedom of majority rule, to do and say and implement whatever policies the party wishes in the four years they’ve allowed themselves—should they choose to stand by their own writ this time.
What a day that will be.


  • http://undefined Ben Carter

    Can we make the distinction between two opposition parties temporarily supporting a budgetary motion (in order to prevent a second election within a year), and the Liberal-Bloc-NDP coalition of last fall? The two are hardly comparable.

  • http://undefined m00gle

    The two are not identical but they certainly are comparable. They both both fulfill the wishes of a majority of the elected representatives (and theoretically of those who elected them), they are both examples of how minority governments can work (and have worked in other places around the world) and they are both examples of a democratic process well within the bounds of the Canadian Constitution (despite the FUD spread by the Conservatives and news media at the time).
    The main difference between the two is strictly a formality. A document signed by three party leaders claiming that they would work together in the best interests of Canadians if given the chance to govern. A non-binding document as each individual MP could still vote any way they wish on a particular motion/bill.

  • http://undefined EricSmith

    Gilles Duceppe specifically said that he supports the bill but not the Conservatives, and reserved the right to nuke them later. That’s substantially different from his promise not to defeat the coalition for 18 months.
    Harper is still in an unholy alliance with The Socialists and The Separatists, though. He’s probably disappointed a couple of supporters, somewhere, with his seditious pandering to the frenchie-commies.

  • David Newland

    Newsflash: this is how minority governments function. You can expect Harper to throw a bone to any or all of the opposition parties at any point.
    In some cases he may be losing a battle to try to win the war. In others, believe it or not, one or more parties may actually agree with the Conservatives on a given issue.
    Moderates should applaud this, not decry it. It’s how the system’s meant to work.

  • http://undefined Vincent Clement

    It only seems to work this way when there is a threat of an election.
    The Conservatives have been sitting on their hands regarding EI. Then Iggy threatens an election and all of sudden Harper offers a solution.
    And to make sure there is no election in the short-term, he states in passing “oh, yeah, I still haven’t made the home renovation tax credit, law yet. If there is an election, thousands of Canadians won’t be able to get that credit”. He ignores the fact that there have been several opportunities to make it law or that the credit can become law in 2010 and still apply to the 2009 tax year.

  • http://undefined Ronzig the Wizard

    I’m very disillusioned with BOTH the Liberals and the NDP for their cynical support of the Harper regime. After the prorogue, they should have continued with their attempt to form a coalition government.
    Instead they allowed this atrocity to continue.
    I’m voting Green when the election does come.