After two weeks of political intrigue in Parliament – including the opposition parties uniting to try to bring down the Conservative government and attempting to form a coalition government of their own – Canadian politics was shook up, but no one quite knows the fallout quite yet. Or, at least, not all of it.
On Nov. 27, the government presented an economic update that included ending a taxpayer subsidy for political parties. The opposition parties announced they were against the budget and, within days, it emerged that Stephane Dion’s Liberal party and Jack Layton’s NDP had signed a formal coalition agreement that also had the support of the separatist Bloc Quebecois.
Dion and Layton were ready to ask Governor-General Michaelle Jean to allow them to form the government if the Conservatives did not have the confidence of the House of Commons.
Putting aside constitutional considerations, because newly minted or self-appointed “constitutional experts” could attest that both the Conservatives, who argued a new election would be required, and the coalition, who claimed a right to govern without getting a mandate from voters, had a legitimate case. For now, that question is off the table until Jan. 26, because the governor-general accepted the prime minister’s Dec. 4 request to prorogue Parliament. Stephen Harper promised a new budget on Jan. 27, which he says will address the lack of an economic stimulus that provided the ostensible reason for the opposition wanting to bring down the government. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has also vowed to separate the taxpayer subsidy to political parties and the budget.
For several days, it appeared that the defeat of the Conservatives was possible and, if that happened, the removal of Harper as party leader as well. Pundits had Environment Minister Jim Prentice, the socially liberal MP from Calgary Centre-North, as the overwhelming favourite to become the next leader.
But when all was said and done, it wasn’t Harper, but Dion who had the quick exit from leadership politics. Having failed to capture power, his weaknesses were exposed and magnified, with his status as lame duck leader becoming an incredible hindrance to his party. His coalition gambit was widely unpopular, with more than 70 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec opposed to a power grab that Ottawa Citizen columnist David Warren described as a coup d’etat. The icing on the cake was an amateurish video explaining the Liberal case for the coalition that was out-of-focus, yellowish and off-centre. CTV’s Robert Fife said it looked like the video was shot by a “wino with a cellphone camera.”
Once Parliament prorogued, the Liberals couldn’t boot Dion from the leadership fast enough. In a matter of days, former Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae and New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc both dropped out of a Liberal leadership race that had been underway since October.
With Dion – and Rae and LeBlanc – on the sidelines, the party rallied around former Harvard professor Michael Ignatieff, twice elected as MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore and runner-up for the Liberal leadership that Dion won in December 2006.
Dion, like his four predecessors, supported abortion-on-demand and, like Paul Martin and Jean Chretien, supported same-sex “marriage.” Ignatieff is more of the same.
Sometimes touted as “the next Pierre Trudeau,” a philosopher king to lead Canada to the promised land of liberalism, Ignatieff said in 2006 that Canada should be congratulated for creating “a distinctly progressive society” and cited “the equality of all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, including rights to marriage.” At the same time, he stressed that “while abortion should be rare, it should be a protected right for all women.”
While there are precious few votes to qualify Ignatieff on, given the chance, he has backed up his words with actions. In December 2006, he voted against re-opening the same-sex “marriage” debate and in 2008, voted against the common-ate member’s bill that would have recognized as second victims unborn children harmed or killed when crimes are committed against their mothers.
Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes told The Interim the likelihood of a coalition has decreased with Ignatieff’s leadership, but he cautioned that anything can happen in the month before Parliament resumes.
Hughes was not willing to make any predictions about what will take place when the Tories present a new budget, but did warn that if the coalition was to come to power, it could reverse some of the modest gains the Conservatives were able to achieve with a minority government.
These include: scrapping the Court Challenges Program; redefining the mission of the Secretariat of Women; bringing greater transparency to the appointment of Supreme Court justices; and enacting more family-friendly tax policies.
Hughes also warned that the national daycare scheme, which the Conservatives thwarted with tax credits for families having pre-school aged children, might be resurrected by the NDP-Liberal-Bloc coalition, seeing it is one of the few policies those parties actually agree upon.
Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told The Interim he is concerned the coalition would either get behind a euthanasia or assisted suicide bill or that Francine Lalonde, who introduced private member’s bills on euthanasia in the past two parliaments, would be able to move up the list to have her latest private member’s bill make it to the House of Commons for debate even earlier than presently scheduled.
Harper has said he opposes euthanasia and the issue has had little traction in Parliament the past few years, but the coalition of socially liberal parties might begin to push the issue more aggressively.