Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Canadian Political Crisis

After a second-straight gain in elections, the Conservative Party of Canada 143 of 308 seats--nearly a majority, and things looked good for Stephen Harper and his party.

Being good Conservatives, they decided that the fiscal crisis would probably be hurt by a too-hasty hemorrhaging of taxpayer loonies all over the economy, so they took a wait-and-see approach.

But the Liberals, New Democrats, and Bloc Quebequois aren't happy about this--so unhappy, in fact, that they've signed a deal to topple Harper's Conservatives and drop a 30 billion dollar package of their own. To actually oust the government, they would need to win a vote of no-confidence, which would need 155 votes (out of 308). But the Conservatives' 143 seats are unlikely to vote for the motion, meaning that the Conservatives would only have to convince 12 out of the remaining 165 representatives in house not to shake up the government. I don't know the propensity of Canadian reps to toe the party line, but this would be a doozie for the opposition almost anywhere.

But Harper's not taking any chances. Instead of letting the vote of no confidence go forward, he's asked the Governor General to suspend parliament until late January--when the Conservatives will present their budget for a vote. The move, if he can pull it off, would be quite brilliant. The whole justification of the opposition coalition's hostile takeover is a desire to put through a quick stimulus package--but if the Conservative budget in January is politically sound (and it likely will be, if they have the next 8 weeks to think about it), there will be little that an opposition coalition could accomplish beyond it. The original purpose of the coalition would be lost, as long as the budget looks good.

As angry as they'd be about having parliament suspended during the economic crisis, they'd have to find a new political reason to topple the Conservatives--they might hold a vote of no confidence on the grounds of irresponsibility; on the grounds that Harper wanted to suspend Parliament during tough times--but the opposition coalition can't blame Harper without more deeply (though unintendedly) blaming Governor General Jean, who was recommended by the last Liberal government and appointed at the pleasure of the Queen, and is not part of any political party. The members of House would be spitting on some pretty big wigs, and almost certainly are unwilling to do that.

So, if Harper can pull off the suspension, he'll take the wind out of the opposition's sails, and likely hold onto the government for the forseeable future. If not, he may have to face a no-confidence vote or test the wind to see if he'd fare well in a snap election, marking one of the shortest election periods in Canadian history. If he does call snap elections, he'll have to blame the opposition parties for putting politics before country, which he's already trying to do. If he wins a majority out of the snap elections (unlikely), then his government is in good shape for a fair many years.