Canada Kicks Ass
A few quick points from Ezra


ridenrain @ Tue Dec 02, 2008 7:44 am

A few quick thoughts on the coup d’etat, in no particular order.

1. The math here is pretty simple: in a Parliament of 308 MPs, a Prime Minister needs 155 to govern with a majority. Stephen Harper came pretty close with 143, up 19 from the last election. The Liberals and NDP combined have just 114 MPs combined, down 18 from the last election. So it is mathematically impossible for the Liberals to be installed as the government without the Bloc Quebecois’ explicit help. Without formally including the Bloc in a coalition, Stephane Dion would be going to Governor-General Michaelle Jean with 114 MPs – a non-starter. With the Bloc, he’s got 163.

2. Without the Bloc, the Liberals and NDP have even less of a claim after the recent election than they did before. The Conservative vote, measured as a percentage, has grown five elections in a row. The Liberal vote, measured as a percentage, has declined four elections in a row. Trivia: in terms of absolute vote count, Stephen Harper received more votes in 2008 (5.21 million) than Paul Martin did in 2004 (4.98 million) or Jean Chretien received in his 1997 election (4.99 million) which earned him a majority. Harper’s 2008 count roughly tied Chretien’s 2000 majority result, too (5.25 million).

3. In other words, the Bloc’s formal, explicit participation is essential for the Liberal-NDP coalition to work. But, until now, the Liberals and NDP had been politically, if not morally, averse to coalescing with them. The reasons are obvious: they’re secessionists, who explicitly call for the disintegration of Canada. Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien both made opposing Quebec separatists one of their signature policies. (Chretien undid that legacy by participating in the negotiations this weekend; Justin Trudeau, now an MP himself, likewise departed from his father’s Quebec legacy by agreeing to the deal, too.) What changed? It’s obvious – Harper’s short-lived plan to remove the public subsidy from political parties, which would have put the opposition at a disadvantage. Opposition claims that it was a disagreement over economic substance are incredible. Not only has the opposition approved every Tory budget to date, but just a week ago they voted to accept the Throne Speech which was, at least in general terms, exactly what the Conservatives proposed in their fiscal update.

4. In other words, the Liberals and NDP are offended more by the thought of losing their subsidy than they are by the thought of including the Bloc in a coalition.

5. Of course, Canada has had four years of minority government now – first under Paul Martin, then under Stephen Harper – and the Bloc has voted on an ad hoc basis for certain government bills and motions all along. But never before has the Bloc been formally accreted to the government; never before has a veto been given explicitly to the Bloc. It’s an astounding breakthrough for a party that was doomed to be forever in opposition – not merely because it could never win sufficient numbers to form government, but because its raison d’etre – breaking up Canada – was too odious to be included.

6. That’s the key difference between this formal opposition coalition and the ad hocracy of the past four years: the Liberals and NDP are formalizing the Bloc’s role in government, in a written contract. Two written contracts, actually. You can see them here and here.

7. Let’s quickly look at the first one. Its very first sentence is an attempt to camouflage the fact that it is a tri-partite deal:

"This document outlines the key understandings between the Liberal Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party of Canada regarding a new cooperative government."

Notice anyone missing?

8. The next few paragraphs are dividing up the spoils – the NDP get a quarter of cabinet seats, etc. It’s all about the Liberals and NDP. Until section 3, which reads:

"Furthermore, upon its formation, the government will put in place a permanent consultation mechanism with the Bloc Québécois."

A permanent consultation mechanism, you say? Well, we already have one of those – it’s called Parliament. But Parliament is a little too public for this coalition – you know, with nosy Canadians watching how deals are made. This consultation mechanism will be private – a way for the separatists to make their demands in secret, and for Prime Minister Stephane Dion to meet those demands in secret.

9. Just stop and look at that last sentence. Prime Minister Stephane Dion. Dion received the biggest shellacking any Liberal leader in history has received. He drove his party’s support to a 100-year low. Nobody wanted him – not even his own party. And now, by this coup d’etat, he will be prime minister.

10. And at what cost? Mr. Clarity Act, Mr. Tough on Separatists has now signed a contract with them, literally bringing the fox into the chicken coop. Until today, Dion’s legacy was as a naïve but honest leader, an inarticulate bumbler who tried his best but wasn’t up for the job. But he had his integrity – built up, in large part, from his battle against the Bloc. He just sold that out – for what? A few months in 24 Sussex Drive?

11. Section 4 of this contract says that Dion will consult Layton about public appointments. The Bloc is not mentioned. Of course not – there has never been a separatist appointed to the Senate, or to the Supreme Court. But that was before the Bloc joined the government. Dear reader, do you think they gave their fealty for free? Of course, it would be too politically toxic to mention Duceppe in this section. That’s what the secret “consultation mechanism” is for.

12. Same thing with section 5. It announces a “managing committee” of the coalition, that:

"will be composed of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the NDP, and such other persons as the leaders deem appropriate from time to time."

Such “other persons”? Gee – who could they possibly mean?

13. That document is signed by Dion and Layton. But obviously that’s not enough to beat 143 Tory MPs. That’s where the second contract comes in. You can see it here. It’s styled as a “policy accord”, and indeed it does contain some clichés, such as this classic first sentence:

"The new Government is supported by parties that share a commitment to fiscal responsibility…"

Now that’s creative writing. Dion had proposed a new carbon tax in the last election; Layton proposed a $50 billion tax on employers.

14. But look at this punitive measure, dressed up as economic stimulus:

"…support for Canadian Wheat Board…"

I’m not quite sure how cracking down on Western farmers – and remember, the Canadian Wheat Board only applies to Western farmers – who want to sell their own wheat will stimulate the economy. But I do know this: Western Canada isn’t exactly a top-of-mind concern for the Toronto-Montreal dealmakers here. In the three prairie provinces, the NDP won a grand total of four seats (three in Winnipeg proper) and the Liberals won precisely two seats. The Conservatives won 49 seats. This Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition doesn’t much care for Western farmers, or any Westerners, really -- certainly not their democratic rights. Which is another national unity matter. Stephane Dion and Jack Layton have given Quebec separatism its greatest stamp of approval since the Supreme Court outlined how Quebec can legally separate. By stealing the government away from a party with its roots in the West – and plenty of seats, too – Dion, Layton and Duceppe are sowing seeds of Western alienation. Duceppe doesn’t much mind – all the better for his project. What’s Dion’s and Layton’s excuse?

15. But all of that is merely a fig-leaf for what this is all about: grabbing power. In fact, one shouldn’t spend too much time or effort analyzing the policy substance of this document – obviously not too much time or effort was put into writing it. It’s merely the cover story for the coup. Which is why the section called “Confidence Votes” is in it. You don’t talk about confidence votes in a policy document. That’s about power, not ideas. But, like I say, the policy bullet points were mere distractions from what this is: a contract with the Bloc. Here’s the wording:

"The Government will not request a dissolution of Parliament during the term of this agreement, except following defeat on an explicitly-framed motion of non-confidence presented by the Opposition; or any vote pertaining to the speech from the throne; or on a budget vote at on any stage in the House; or on any bill to implement a budget at any stage in the House; or on any motion in the House to concur in, restore or reinstate any Estimates; or on any supply bill at any stage in the House. "

"The Bloc Quebecois will not move nor will it support any motions of confidence in the Government during the term of its support for this agreement and will vote in favour of the Government’s position with respect to all matters referred to in the immediately preceding paragraph."

16. And then the solemn vows of political matrimony are exchanged:

"The Liberal Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party of Canada will adhere to this agreement until June 30, 2011 unless renewed."

"The Bloc Quebecois will adhere to this agreement until June 30, 2010 unless renewed."

And then the three leaders signed their names, binding their parties.

17. My point is this: This isn’t a Liberal-NDP deal. A Liberal-NDP deal doesn’t get them to a majority. A Liberal-NDP deal would be ignored by the Governor General. Only a Liberal-NDP-Bloc deal – where Dion can point to Duceppe’s signature in his letter to the Governor-General – will do.

That’s shocking, or it should be. And I think it will be. Not to Stephane Dion, whose wildest dream will now come true; not to Jack Layton, who parlayed 37 seats into 6 cabinet positions; not to Gilles Duceppe who holds a permanent veto over this coalition like a Guillotine. But it will be shocking to millions of Canadians who voted for the Liberals and NDP in good faith, never thinking that they would sell their souls – scratch that; sell Canada’s soul – for a few months of power. And all of it mere weeks after an election. I'm surprised the Liberals and NDP agreed to a photo-op with Duceppe -- it rather undid their attempts to pretend this is a two-party deal, not a three-party deal with a Bloc veto.

18. What will Michaelle Jean do? I don’t know, of course. Michael Bliss has some thoughtful comments. And here is some background reading on Jean’s views on Quebec independence before she became the Queen’s representative in Canada. We’ll find out soon enough. ... s-joi.html