Nation, while we as Canadians collectively hold our breath, take an extra shot of espresso and try to figure out exactly what the hell is happening in Ottawa, it behooves us to take a look at a lot of the things that are being said, by partisans and pundits on all sides, and do a bit of a "reality check".
Talking Point: "The Liberals and NDP have no right to take power."
Actually, as most of us now realize, they don't have the right, but they DO have the opportunity, should the Governor General decide it prudent. Anyone still opposed to my assertion that the GG should be an elected official, answerable to the people? Anyway, while the notion is LEGAL, it's hardly defensible ethically, this soon after an election.
Talking Point: "Harper is an idiot for not knowing that they CAN take power."
Harper KNEW they could take power - his argument that they "had no right" was, as above, an ethical argument, not a legal one. This is one of my biggest beefs with HarperHaters (who bear a striking similarity to BushBashers): They'll talk about the object of their disdain as a Machiavellian villain, with his sinister fingers in all sorts of complicated, convoluted plots - but also dismissively attack his basic intelligence or understanding of the workings of government whenever they get a convenient quote, to prove what an unqualified idiot he is. Harper's been in Ottawa long enough to know that an opposition coalition can take power in a minority parliament - he was the Leader of the Opposition IN a minority parliament. I'm sure the issue came up once or twice. Give the man enough credit to assume he knows as much about parliamentary procedure as your average Grade 11 Social Studies student.
Talking Point: "The 3 Amigos signed on the dotted line - it's all over but the crying, now."
Not true. Stephane Dion can talk about "MY government" all he wants, but the reality is that the decision as to what happens next rests entirely with the Governor General. She can grant a Tory request to prorogue (suspend) parliament (democratically unpalatable, but no more so than another election or the idea of a bait-and-switch government change 7 weeks after a Federal Election), she can grant the coalition her assent to form a government, or she can send us back to the polls (which is sounding more and more like the only way to fix this, one way or the other, once and for all).
Talking Point: "Harper himself mused openly about this sort of thing when he was the Leader of the Opposition."
Yes, he did. That didn't make it ethically right then, or now - and the schadenfreude that the HarperHaters are experiencing right now doesn't make this the best thing for the country, either. The Leader of the Opposition is the head of the Government-in-Waiting. Harper wrote the Governor General in September 2004, supported by Layton and Duceppe, to remind her (Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson) that the defeat of the Martin Liberals should not immediately result in an election, but that she should "consider all of your options." The word "government" did not appear, except in the context of "Liberal minority government". I'd submit, respectfully, that there is a BIG difference between writing the G.G. 12 weeks after an election to remind her to "consider all of your options" in the event of a defeat of the government on a confidence motion, and writing the G.G. 6 weeks after an election to "respectfully inform (her) that, as soon as the appropriate opportunity arises, she should call on the Leader of the Official Opposition to form a new government...".
Talking Point: "The coalition has the support of the majority of Canadians."
False. The parties that are agreeing to form the coalition won 54.42% of the popular vote in October. The biggest slice of that, though, is from a party whose leader had ruled out the possibility of forming a coalition. So, while the parties have the support of the majority, the question of supporting a coalition government has never been put to the Canadian people. As such, its level of support is unknown (although, one could safely assume many of the hard-line separatists are not exactly enamoured with the thought of their franchise being used to support a proposed Prime Minister who was the author of the reviled Clarity Act, and many fiscally conservative Liberal voters are scared to death of having Jack Layton and 5 other NDP members around the cabinet table).
Talking Point: "Harper won the election just 6 weeks ago with 37% of the votes - how is this possible?"
The Conservatives got more seats than anyone else, but not a majority. You can't really call it a "win". The fact that the election was held 6 weeks ago, and that the House has been sitting now, including today, for a period of 2 weeks makes it a hard sell that, in 2 weeks, the Harper Government has been so completely incompetent as to require replacement. What have the Tories done in the past 2 weeks that was so contrary to their stated plans that the opposition feels that the 37% plurality that gave Harper a (weak) mandate to manage the economy should be disenfranchised?
Talking Point: "The coalition lied to Canadians just a couple of months ago, during the election."
Not REALLY... well, not ALL of them, at any rate. Layton repeatedly refused to rule out a coalition. Duceppe, likewise, repeatedly said the Bloc would be willing to work with ANY party, provided they were advancing the agenda for the people of Quebec. So, neither of them really LIED. The only party leader from the coalition who ruled out a coalition deal was Stephane Dion who, when he thought he had a political future, said that the NDP wanted to raise business taxes, and the Liberals would never ally with a party that advocated such measures in economic times such as these. Now that he doesn't have to worry about raising funds from businesses for the next 4 years, Dead-Man-Walking Dion isn't all that opposed to the idea... but, reportedly, Ignatieff is beside himself at the prospect of inheriting the leadership of a party that sold out big business and the federalist cause for a brief stint back on the government benches before the impending 41st General Election.
Talking Point: "This is about the $1.95 per vote subsidy."
Not anymore - but it COULD have been. Harper's people could have stuck to the $1.95 as a "symbolic gesture that we in Ottawa have to tighten our belts just like everyone else". As I wrote before, it was a good political move but bad policy. Harper tried to bully the other parties, and they called his bluff. However, when the Tories foolishly took it off the table, they gave the Opposition no reason in the world (beyond ethical ones, that is) to keep them afloat. NOW, when the government is defeated in a confidence motion, the Tories will come out and say "this was all about the $1.95 per vote the other parties wanted", and the opposition parties can come out in from of the cameras and say "that's baloney - we knew we were going to get to keep that, they took it off the table - so this isn't about that, it's about bad fiscal management...". A strategic error on the part of the Tories. You make those a lot in poker, when you try to over-play your hand.
Talking Point: "This is about the Conservatives' lack of a fiscal plan."
It COULD be - if we were going through these machinations after the budget. But this isn't the budget, it's a fiscal update... a statement of where we're at currently, and what we're planning to do in the next 2 months, until the budget comes out (not that I'm enamoured even with that short, interim plan). If the opposition expects the Tories to come out with a radical fiscal plan NOW, completely ignoring the fact that our largest trading partner is going through a fundamental policy shift itself in a month and a half, they're insane. You have to see what direction the wind is blowing before you set your sails. The wind starts blowing on January 21st.
Talking Point: "Harper had the support on the Bloc on MANY motions - what's the big deal with the coalition doing the same?"
The big deal is that the Tories survived many confidence motions despite the Bloc's LACK of support, also (helped by the Liberals and their consistent "confidence motion flu"). The coalition, as proposed, requires the consistent and unwavering support of the Bloc in order to survive. This means that NO "money bill" can be passed without the Bloc's approval. Likewise with the NDP. In theory, this provides for better government. In practice, though, it means strongly whipped votes, partisan rancor, and a Government of Canada that is quite literally being held ideologically hostage by socialists and separatists. (I should point out here that, as a social progressive, I don't find the term "socialist" as offensive as some people - it's just not necessarily the best group of people to have managing your money when times are tough and businesses are closing down).
Talking Point: "The Governor General will probably send us back to the polls rather than give approval for a coalition."
Perhaps. The argument is that the Gov. General would never approve of a government that absolutely depended on the support of the separatist Bloc Quebecois in order to survive each and every confidence motion. But, suddenly, this stuff seems to matter again, doesn't it?
Talking Point: "Ignatieff doesn't like this deal, and will kill it immediately if he's elected Liberal leader."
Maybe. Although, if he IS elected leader in May, Ignatieff will be given the keys to 24 Sussex later that day, and those are hard keys to hand back to the clerk. The reality is, if this deal falls through or the G.G. sends us back to the polls, the Liberals are going to be scrambling to run the election with a lame-duck leader, an interim leader, or a hastily-appointed new leader. Regardless of which scenario comes true, though, the party will be tarred by this deal. Their right flank and hard-line federalists are going to balk at the coalition. The only hope Ignatieff has in this is to distance himself from it IMMEDIATELY if he wins the leadership, and hope that the coalition is seen not as a Liberal move, but as a Dion move.
Talking Point: "This deal will tarnish the Liberal brand for YEARS, as being the "gateway drug" that leads to the NDP, and as the federalist party that handed over control of government priorities to the Separatists."
For a while? Yes. But on the whole, Canadians have a short political memory (not counting Albertans and Quebecois). AdScam was only a few years ago - some Liberals actually STOLE public money - and when do you really hear anything about THAT (other than from an Albertan or Quebecois) anymore? In practice, though, the coalition government doesn't get the unconditional support of the Bloc - just an agreement not to bring down the government. So the coalition can pass day-to-day policy without the Bloc (if they can get the Tories on board), or have those same policies fail, without having their government fall. The Liberals are, however, getting the same reputation that the "easy girl" at school had - "we're federalists, we love Quebec, we're socialists, we're greens, we're whatever you want us to be, we just want your love and your vote..."
Talking Point: "Alberta will get over it."
Maybe. Maybe not. Going from 5 cabinet members, PLUS the Prime Minister, to possibly 1 (if Linda Duncan were to get named as one of the 6 NDP ministers, otherwise ZERO)? For that matter, consider: In Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, the total number of Tory votes was greater than the NDP and Liberal votes combined. How do you suppose those 4 provinces are going to feel about the Quebec separatists and the NDP/Liberals over-turning their election results? What do you suppose those voters might think about losing their cabinet ministers? How do you suppose they might react? And what might they decide they need to start talking about?
I not saying... I'm just saying...