There is an alternative to a Harper majority and it isn’t a “coalition” (or yet another Harper minority)

Mar 27th, 2011 | By | Category: In Brief

This morning John Ibbitson wrote on the Globe and Mail website: “Stephen Harper continues to insist that if he doesn’t obtain a majority government, a coalition will replace him. ‘Nobody is going to be fooled,’ he declared Saturday. But in fact he is the one who is trying to fool us.”

A few hours later Bruce Cheadle at The Canadian Press was similarly reporting: “Stephen Harper appears determined to campaign against the notion of a coalition threat that his Liberal opponent has explicitly ruled out …  The prime minister opened the first full day of election campaigning in Brampton, Ont. … A day earlier, [Liberal leader Michael] Ignatieff had ruled out forming a coalition government and insisted that the party winning the most seats gets the chance to form government. But the Conservatives nonetheless are using the prospect of a united opposition overthrow to make a pitch for a majority of seats in the House of Commons.”

Believe it or not, that is to say, Mr. Harper continues to insist that the only two choices facing Canadians on May 2, 2011 are a Conservative majority government at last, or a “reckless” and “unstable” coalition government of (gasp) Liberals, “separatists,” and “socialists.”

Setting aside the “rough ride from Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, who says Harper is rewriting his own history on the issue” (in September 2004 Mr. Harper, Mr. Duceppe, and Mr. Layton all signed a letter to then Governor General Clarkson, alluding to just such a united opposition overthrow of Liberal minority prime minister Paul Martin), there is an obvious non-coalition precedent for an alternative to a Harper majority government in 2011 in the early 1970s history of the Canadian confederation.

In the October 30, 1972 Canadian federal election Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals won 109 seats with 38% of the cross-Canada popular vote, compared with 107 seats and 35% of the vote for Robert Stanfield’s Progressive Conservatives, 31 seats and 18% for David Lewis’s New Democrats, and 15 seats (all in Quebec) and 7% for Real Caouette’s  Ralliement creditistes (a kind of predecessor of today’s Bloc Quebecois, in some respects at least).

Following this 1972 election Trudeau formed a Liberal minority government, which was kept in office by the informal support of David Lewis’s New Democrats until the next federal election on July 8, 1974. As Jack Layton is no doubt well aware, Mr. Lewis “publicly refused to enter a coalition with Pierre Trudeau in 1972–1974, supporting the Government of the day day-by-day instead, and maintaining our party’s freedom of action.”

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper named the likeable long-time NDP (and “socialist”?) premier of Manitoba Gary Doer as Canada's ambassador to the United States, on the morning of Friday, August 28, 2009!

Given current opinion polls, it is, no doubt as well, a long shot at best that the Ignatieff Liberals and Layton New Democrats will wind up in a position on May 2, 2011, even vaguely similar to that of the Trudeau Liberals and Lewis New Democrats on October 30, 1972. But for we “bipartisan progressives,” who believe that Mr. Harper is just too anti-democratic, autocratic, mercurial, reckless, and unstable himself to deserve any full-fledged majority of seats in the elected branch of Parliament, this does seem to be the best hope extant.

John Ibbitson also believes that: “If the 41st Parliament ends up looking like the 40th — a strong Conservative minority — then the next government will look just like the last one. Mr. Harper will be prime minister, but he will have to govern with the consent of at least one other party … Mr. Ignatieff accepts this. It’s time Mr. Harper did too.”

The trouble here appears to be that by finally outraging the 40th Parliament opposition majority to the point where it has unprecedentedly declared his second minority government in contempt of Parliament, Mr. Harper would seem to have burned a few too many bridges behind him. And in this sense it may actually be true enough that the alternatives are either a majority government led by him, or a minority government led by someone else.

Oh, and by the way, in case you’re worried about the implications of this kind of choice for the Canadian economy, it is probably worth repeating some recent advice on the forthcoming Canadian federal election from Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, NY: “we doubt that any likely combination of parties that might form a government or governing coalition … will change the conservative approach to the public finances that Canada has established since 1993.”

Note too that what has subsequently proved to be this winning economic approach was first established by finance minister Paul Martin, for the Jean Chretien Liberals. To pretend that the Ignatieff Liberals would somehow stray from this same path — when Mr. Ignatieff is, if anything, slightly more fiscally conservative than Mr. Martin — is just another case of Mr. Harper’s being (in the conservative John Ibbitson’s apt phrase) “the one who is trying to fool us.”

(And then again, if Mr. Harper really is so worried about the parallel machinations of the “socialist” New Democratic Party, why did he himself — and probably quite wisely — appoint the former NDP premier of Manitoba, Gary Doer, as Canadian ambassador to the USA?)

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  1. Canada’s modest self-effacing autocratic Prime Minister has demanded that the country’s civil service must cease to use the government of Canada in official publications. Then I checked the video and a couple of other links and realized that the joke was on Canada…Jesus christ. They’re using fucking government press releases as Conservative propaganda…When it was Harris in power I sometimes wondered if at the end of his mandate he would turn around and say There are still some things that we haven’t finished so were going to stay a little while longer.

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