A Very Canadian Coup

Welcome back.

Is this a crazy year or what? On the same day that Barack Obama chooses his long-time nemesis, Hillary Clinton as his Secretary-of-State-designate, Canada takes a huge leap into the unknown.


It looks as if the newly-elected Harper Government may come crashing down, following a heavily-criticized economic statement that contained several controversial elements. The most antagonizing to the Opposition was the proposed cut-off of the $1.95 per-vote public subsidy for each party based on the last federal election results. Even though it would have taken more money away from the well-heeled Conservatives, it would have decimated the other parties, who would have to actually raise that money, instead of being bequeathed it by the taxpayer.

The other provocative piece was the proposed banning of public-sector strikes until 2010.That guaranteed NDP outrage. Even though the Finance Minister pulled those components over the weekend, and announced the moving up of the Budget date to January 27th, the blood was already in the water, and now all three Opposition parties [Stephane Dion's Liberals, the NDP's Jack Layton and the Bloc Quebecois' Gilles Duceppe have signed an official deal to form a coalition government].

So what should Stephen Harper do now?

The government's 'proroguing' the House, in an attempt to prevent the vote from taking place until the Budget is tabled, would be their last-gasp effort to stave off defeat. The Opposition Coalition, in their letter that they have already sent to Her Excellency the Governor General, are asking for the right to face the House and seek the 'confidence of the House' for the coalition, if the Government falls on a confidence motion, scheduled for December 8th.

The Governor General is probably flying back as I write this. It will be the challenge of Gov. Michaelle Jean's tenure and she will not want to remain in Europe in the run-up to her decision. There is an even chance that when she returns, she will consult and weigh carefully the advice. Will she agree? My gut tells me that she may well do it. Of course, that, in turn, would be very divisive, re-opening long-dormant debates about how an unelected individual can control the fate of a duly-elected government. Well, she can, and it has only been used once before in the famous King-Byng affair. Google that if you're fascinated.

Which will mean, the most significant political event since Joe Clark's government was defeated nine months after it was elected in 1979, thus allowing the late Pierre Trudeau to emerge from the ashes of defeat. As with Stephane Dion, he had announced his intention to step down too.
[Although I can't imagine Pierre Trudeau agreeing to enter into a coalition with the Separatists.]

The proroguing of the House in order to stave off the inevitable is now the only chance the government has to get its act together, and to rally the public and then present the Budget to the House on January 27th, 2009. That would give Prime Minister Harper and his government time to prepare the ground for an all-out public relations war. If his government is defeated on that vote, then of course the Government would fall. But at least it would be on a tangible document, not just an 'economic update'. That Budget would have to contain the stimulus that Prime Minister Harper and his G20 colleagues promised in Lima, Peru only ten days ago, in which each committed to investing 2% of Gross Domestic Product - which for Canada means $30 billion dollars of stimulus.

The downside of the 'prorogue' maneuver is that it will make the government look weak, having just been elected to lead the country through difficult economic waters.

Ironically, if the Coalition does convince the Governor General to hand them over the keys to the government, there is no way that the Coalition government can bring forward a budget or any serious commitment prior to January 27th, 2009 anyway!

But good policy does not always make good politics and vice versa.

As a sidebar to the sideshow....
I have also long predicted that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May will be appointed to the Senate and then given the post of Environment Minister.

And they say that Canada is boring!! A very Canadian coup indeed.....

Until next time..."Please don't remain remain calm" (thank you Michael Kinsley).
Somehow Canada will muddle through eh?


  1. Proroguing the House may be Harper's only realistic option.

    There's little chance that this coalition would survive into January. That's simply too much time for a coalition as tenuous as the Liberal/NDP/Bloc coalition to last.

    Someone -- my money is on the Bloc making some ridiculous demand -- is going to screw this up. Which is fair enough. The entire affair should be screwed up.

    Considering that Dion is essentially misleading the Canadian people so he can become Prime Minister, this is something that simply should not be allowed to come to fruition. Not if it can be avoided.

  2. Barry, why do you call it a coup? Are you trying to imply, without saying so directly, that the coalition is not legitimate when in fact it is completely and totally legitimate in a Parliamentary system for parties with the most seats to form a coalition? Indeed, in this case, the Liberal and NDP have almost 20 percent higher popular vote together, than the Tories -- another reason why they might feel they have a more legitimate basis for their move to replace Mr. Harper. It is more legitimate to have a government with cabinet members who come from parties supported by 44% of the electorate than one whose vote percentage was only 38%. I also like the idea of getting away from one man rule. This was becoming a very worrisome trend in Canada, indeed, and was almost like staging a coup by stealth. The coalition idea suggests that we may be returning to more democratic ways at last.