That's right... I'm defending Stephen Harper.
I've made it no secret that I'm less than enthralled with the Conservative Party of Canada. While the fiscal conservatism that comes from being an Albertan child in the early 1980's speaks to my pragmatic side, I've always felt less than comfortable with the social conservative element of the party - much as I did with the Reform and Canadian Alliance parties before it.
As a died-in-the-wool Red Tory, whose biggest single issue at this time is the environment (specifically, sustainability), I've got plenty of reasons to be uneasy about the CPC.
While I've met many great people involved with the CPC, I've also met a lot of great people who vote, work, and even run for the Liberals, NDP, and Greens. Stephen Harper, though, goes on my "favourite things" list right in between brussels sprouts and carpal tunnel syndrome. Other people whose opinions I value and respect absolutely LOATHE the man's policies - and I suspect, if I were more inclined to editorialize or pick a side on the issue of federal politics rather than build consensus, I'd probably lean in that direction also.
And yet, if there's a silver lining to be seen through my cloud of discontent at having to write this article, it can be found in the fact that I am reasonably sure that, were the shoe on the other foot and the Tories were trying to pull the rug out from underneath a 51-day-old Liberal minority, I'd be writing the same thing at this point.
Deep breath... here we go...
I understand Stephen Harper's Conservatives won less than 50% of the seats in the House of Commons. BELIEVE me when I tell you that he understands that as well. I firmly believe that the Prime Minister, in a minority government, has the responsibility to ensure that the considerations of the other parties and elected representatives in the House be taken into consideration. It's simple, basic math - if s/he doesn't, then the government will fall in a simple vote. In those instances, the Governor General will have to determine whether to send the people of Canada to the polls to select a new House of Commons, or to ask the Opposition to form a government.
Likewise, knowing that the possibility exists of being asked to form a government, the Opposition parties have to at least have a contingency plan and have held informal discussions about what they might be able to agree upon, in such circumstances, to advance a mutually agreeable agenda. The fact that such discussions happen and such common ground exists, however, does not give them an excuse to disregard the will of the people, and actively seek the government's defeat out of hubris. They have an obligation, just as serious as the Prime Minister's, to try and make parliament work before defeating the government that the people elected. Majority or minority, the people of Canada spoke, and elected the Conservatives lock, stock, and barrel. They elected them knowing their fiscal policies, their social policies, their foreign policies (or lack thereof)... the whole shmear. Whether or not you think Canadians SHOULD have elected them... they did.
NOT to a majority. Absolutely not. The people, in their wisdom, elected a strong enough Opposition that if the Opposition felt that the Tories were not governing in a responsible manner, they could defeat the Government.
The key there, is that the Opposition is only supposed to exercise this option if they feel that the Tories are not governing in a responsible manner. The Parliament has been in session for TWO WEEKS. We had an election 51 days ago, at a cost of $300 Million (in the midst of an economic slow-down - yes, I know, at Harper's request), and the people weighed the platforms and made their choices. Their choice was to put Harper - spare me the speeches about his lack of a plan, the people saw very well he didn't have a clear one, and they still elected him anyway - in charge, but on a short leash.
Harper may be a control freak, a blue-eyed devil, a sweater-vest wearing phony, and a real A-type jerk... he may have made a strategic blunder, he may be the most hate-able politician in Canada, he may have tried to cripple his opponents in a crass partisan move... but those are not reasons to disregard the will of the people. And the will of the people is that Harper's Tories govern the country - or, if proven to be incapable, be defeated. He hasn't broken any promises, or overtly refused to do anything he said just WEEKS ago, during the campaign, that he would do (including co-operating with the other parties - he has backed off on the vote subsidy issue and the right-to-strike issue). The people made what we have to assume was an informed choice - and they chose the Tory platform over any other singular platform or proposed coalition platform (there was none, just for the record).
The Liberals and NDP agree on a lot. The Bloc and Liberals likewise. Ditto for the BQ and the NDP. For that matter, so do the Liberals and the Tories. However, nobody went to the polls on the 14th of October and voted for a Stephane Dion-led coalition. Not 50% plus 1. Not 37, or 26, or 14%... nobody. Because that option simply wasn't on the ballot. And those who DID vote for Dion's Liberals did so presumably knowing he had stated, repeatedly, that he would not entertain the idea of a coalition government. They cast votes hoping for a Liberal government. This is not what they are getting if the coalition takes control. What they will be getting is a government made up of Liberals and New Democrats, propped up on matters of confidence by the Bloc Quebecois. What considerations the Bloc gets for its unconditional support on confidence matters, we're not being told.
And don't be fooled by the use of the phrase "the Bloc agrees to not vote down the coalition government on matters of confidence"... the numbers are clear: The Bloc can't simply abstain or not show up on a matter of confidence. They have to actively vote in favour of the coalition in order for it to survive. The people of Canada (remember them?) sent over 140 Conservatives to the House of Commons, and you can be darned sure they're not going to be showing a whole lot of confidence in the coalition.
Spare me, please, the moralizing that Harper would have done the same/tried to do the same/Stock Day's lawyer made overtures to the Bloc. This is politics, folks. Your guy is a rat, my guy is a rat, there are 99 rats for every decent one you're going to find. I can find you 500 quotes from Liberal supporters screaming bloody murder at how undemocratic the thought of defeating Martin's minority government was back in 2004, just like you can find almost the exact same quotes today - with the differences being that a) the new House had been in session for more than a fortnight, and b) Harper didn't have a signed agreement with Layton and Duceppe and a letter to the G.G. asking that she hand over the keys to the PMO at her earliest convenience.
The NDP in the past few days has been throwing the number 62 around a lot... that's the percentage of Canadians who didn't vote for Stephen Harper. Using Layton's Logic, that suggests to Jack that Harper does not have the assent of the people to be Prime Minister.
As I pointed out in my post immediately preceding this one, however - using that same math, Jack Layton should not be the Member from Toronto-Danforth, as he gained only 45% of the votes in his riding. Further, if we run those numbers federally, we see that Canadians from coast to coast to coast elected 118 MP's. Only in 118 ridings did any candidate receive the consent of the majority to represent them. 13 of those MP's are Bloqistes. Bill Casey, the Independent, is one of them. 17 are Liberal MP's. 7 of them are New Democrats. 80 of them are Conservatives.
Let's see that again.
Of the 118 MP's who met Jack Layton's "majority support" threshold, which he's using to justify defeating Stephen Harper, 24 would be in this coalition, propped up by 13 Bloc MP's. The Conservatives, whom Jack thinks nobody likes, would have 80 seats, and occupy the government benches in a rock-solid majority situation. Jack himself would be hosting "Good Morning, Toronto" on Channel 9 from 6 to 10 each morning.
Of course, we don't use Jack's Math to determine our leaders and representatives... we use REAL math. The guy or gal with the most votes, wins. In some private elections, such as for the leadership of political parties, if nobody gets 50% support, we knock off the bottom few vote-getters and vote again. This would, needless to say, be BAD news for Jack's party, looking at national vote totals.
Nation, perhaps the best reason that this can not be allowed to happen is the simplest one: Canadians (remember them?) voted on this already. They voted 26% in favour of the Dion-led Liberals, and 37% in favour of the Harper-led Conservatives. And yet, somehow, despite the fact that his OWN PARTY rejected him and prompted his resignation 6 weeks ago, Dion is primed to become our next Prime Minister, IN DIRECT CONTRAVENTION TO THE STATED WILL OF THE ELECTORATE.
Using Jack's Math, 74% of the Canadian public doesn't want to see Stephane Dion as Prime Minister (and 63% - the combined Tory-Liberal vote - were dead-set against having Jack himself anywhere near the Cabinet table) - yet this is what the coalition is foisting upon us.
At least the Bloc was clear from the beginning that they'd support anyone if they thought it was in Quebec's interest. That they choose now to side with the author of the Clarity Act is beyond me, but there is much I don't understand about Quebec politics. That the son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau can in good conscience support and sit in a government propped up by those who wish to destroy his father's legacy is also a mystery.
Layton never completely ruled out working with the Liberals, but he was quite clear in the Leader's Debate when he zinged Dion with "you can't even run your own party, how do you expect to run the country?". And yet here we are, with Layton, straight-faced, telling us all less than 60 days later that he supports Stephane Dion for Prime Minister.
Now, nobody is disputing that what the coalition is proposing is legal - of course it is. But, this soon after an election, it's not RIGHT - and there's a huge difference there. Sleeping with your best friend's wife behind his back isn't against the law. It doesn't make you a criminal. But it DOES make you a bad, bad guy and a worse friend.
Nation, as I said at the outset of this post, I'm not at all pleased with the task I found myself compelled to take upon myself tonight. Truth be told, I feel like I need a shower. But many people who watch Canadian politics, from ALL sides of the aisle, have felt like that over the past week or so.
You and I know what this is about. If we cut through the spin, and we sit in silent contemplation of the people involved, and their personalities and motivation, we KNOW what this is about. Let's stop pretending.
Stephen Harper is a jerk and a political opportunist. He is not a nice man. And Jack Layton, Stephane Dion, and Gilles Duceppe hate him. HATE him, with a passion. They want to hurt him, and get him out of their lives, and know that by working together, they can do both.
If, however, the coalition TRULY feels and is motivated purely by the opinion that Harper isn't up to the task of being Prime Minister, despite the EXTREMELY recently expressed desire of the people for his party to lead government, then they should defeat him and send us back to the polls, to ask us if we're REALLY sure. Of course, Jack will have to tell us all before then whether he intends to follow the "Jack's Math" philosophy, and tell any New Democrat with less than 50% support to, in fact, concede defeat to his opponents en masse. Then, the coalition should commit to bowing to the peoples' will.
After all... these members of Parliament, from ALL parties, are elected to SERVE. And if they forget that, then they should have to answer to US - their bosses.
In an election.
Which we just had.