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View From The North
December 4, 2008

Canada in Crisis: Will Left-Liberal Coalition Come to Power Without an Election?
by Mark Wegierski

A possible Liberal-socialist-separatist coalition emerges

On September 7, 2008, Stephen Harper, the Conservative Prime Minister of Canada, called an election for October 14. The Conservatives strengthened their minority government but failed to win a majority of the 308 seats up for grabs in the federal Parliament — mainly because of an egregiously anti-Conservative media and institutional environment. Nevertheless, Harper expected to continue to govern with a minority government, as had happened from 2006 to 2008.

Harper’s policies — his unwillingness to provide a massive “fiscal stimulus” in the face of the imminent recession, his proposal to cut the funding that all parties receive from the federal government to zero, and his attempt to take away the right to strike from all federal government employees for two years — gave the opposition parties the pretext to launch their coalition initiative. They had apparently been discussing such an initiative in secret for at least several months.

A formal agreement now exists among the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party (Canada’s socialist third party, NDP), and the separatist Bloc Quebecois to form a coalition in the federal Parliament. Even the Green Party (which holds no seats in Parliament) has been brought on board with an extravagant promise to name its leader, Elizabeth May, to the Senate and to make her a Minister. But what is really enraging to many Canadians is that the Bloc Quebecois (which holds 49 seats in the federal Parliament), has been brought into this deal. The Liberals currently hold 77 seats, and the NDP holds 37 — far short of a majority. So the separatists will hold the balance of power in the federal Parliament!

Stephane Dion, who thoroughly failed in the October 14 election and is now only an interim leader of the federal Liberal Party, is actually slated to become an “interim” Prime Minister. When the leadership of the federal Liberal Party is decided in May 2009, the new leader will automatically become Prime Minister! All this would be very typical of the Liberal Party, which has openly considered itself “the natural governing party of Canada” and loathed the Conservative upstarts.

The Canadian Governor-General, herself a Liberal appointee with many trendy-left tendencies, will have to decide whether the coalition can come to power without an election, or if an election may be called for, since Canadians had no idea that such a coalition was in the works when the October 14 election took place.

There are mixed precedents for her decision. In 1926, the Canadian governor-general, a British aristocrat like most of the governor-generals until the 1950s, asked the Conservative Arthur Meighen to try to form a government after the Liberal government of Mackenzie King had fallen to a non-confidence vote. The decision infuriated many Canadians as undemocratic, and after the Meighen government itself fell to a non-confidence vote, Mackenzie King swept into victory. Although considerably socially conservative, the Canada of an earlier age had large elements of reformist liberalism — creating a “traditionalist-centrist” consensus. Indeed, it could be argued that one the main elements of the resistance to the later post-Sixties’ “Trudeau consensus,” was indeed the leftwing of the old traditionalist-centrist consensus, typified to a large extent by the Reform Party of the 1990s.

An election campaign is taking place in the province of Quebec that will conclude December 8 — the very same date the Conservatives face a non-confidence vote in the federal Parliament. In the province of Quebec, the Liberal Party is expected to do well, and the Action democratique du Quebec (ADQ), loosely allied to the federal Conservatives, is not polling well. At least the Parti Quebecois (the provincial wing of the separatists) is not expected to form the government.

There has been some suggestion that Harper might end the federal Parliament’s session before the looming non-confidence vote, which would result in a delay until late January 2009 — when the Parliament has to sit again. This might, however, simply delay the inevitable.

Whatever the outcome of the current crisis in Canada, it is hard to avoid arguing that Quebec has had a rather negative effect on Canada since 1896. Until 1984, Quebec voters usually supported the Liberal Party overwhelmingly, guaranteeing an almost perpetual Liberal majority in the federal Parliament. Until the early 1960s, the Liberals were decidedly centrist, but after the mid-1960s, the Liberal electoral hegemony had a critically damaging effect on notions of a more traditional Canada. In 1984 and 1988, Quebec voters massively supported the Progressive Conservative party of Brian Mulroney. Mulroney, however, was in almost every way a social liberal and only accelerated many of the trends begun by Trudeau. In 1993, the Bloc Quebecois arose to contest the Quebec seats in the federal Parliament — and has consistently held a majority of them through the federal elections of 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006, and 2008.

Enormous amounts of political energy are expended in Canada simply to keep Quebec in Canada. It appeared that Stephen Harper, who is more fluent in French and English than any previous Conservative leader and undertook massive efforts to appeal to Quebec, would finally earn a considerable portion of the Quebec vote. He reached 10 seats (of 75) in the 2006 election — but unfortunately remained at 10 seats again in 2008. Quebec’s refusal to vote for him in 2008 is widely considered as the main reason for his failure to win a majority. Now the Quebec separatist party has turned the screws on the Conservatives.

What the Liberals are not taking into consideration is that the fiscally profligate policies promoted by the Bloc Quebecois may not be just simply about more “booty” for Quebec, but possibly an attempt to push the Canadian government into virtual bankruptcy. For example, the proposed elimination of a two-week waiting period for Employment Insurance being promoted by the Bloc Quebecois has been estimated as leading to costs of $900 million dollars for the federal Treasury.

As far as the NDP, many of its members are smart political operators and extremely ideological. The main brains behind the coalition has apparently been Jack Layton, the leader of the NDP — whom some have nicknamed “Lenin.” Under the coalition proposal, the NDP would for the first time in Canadian history have a total of six ministers in the federal government. The Bloc will not have ministers but will be able to have input into the federal administration, as well as apparently promised appointments to the Senate.

In retrospect, it may appear that, had the 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty succeeded, it might have had a salutary effect on what is sometimes ironically called “the rest of Canada.” It could be argued that all the effort of “keeping Quebec in Canada” has had an increasingly distorting effect on Canadian politics as a whole. If there were truly two nations, the whole project of keeping Quebec in Canada — especially after the 1980s — could be seen as largely futile. Perhaps the original model of the European Community — an economic union of sovereign states — might not have been such a bad one to follow.

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View From The North is copyright © 2008 by Mark Wegierski and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved. Please forward this copyright info and links when sending to friends and colleagues.

Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer, social critic, and historical researcher and is published in major Canadian newspapers, as well as in U.S. scholarly journals such as Humanitas, Review of Metaphysics, and Telos, and in U.S. magazines such as Chronicles and The World & I. His writing has also appeared in Polish, British, and German publications.

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