Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Coalition for Change: The Real Team of Rivals?

Amidst the media-driven furore surrounding the rollout of Pres.-Elect Obama's cabinet, and the "One President at a Time" message that has become a press meme over the last weeks of economic consternation in this country, there is a real, no-foolin', honest-to-goodness street fight for the governmental leadership of a major Western power: Canada.

Yup, America's Hat decided that what's good for those of us below the 49th Parallel might make sense for them too.

You might remember (though no one would blame you if you didn't) that Canada held a federal election less than 45 days ago. That election, despite some close polling just days before the election spurred on by the horrendous economic news that hit in October, was won handily by the Conservative Party, and the incumbent Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. There has been, however, no honeymoon period for the new government. As you've no doubt seen from the news in this country, the economic news has gone from "Holy Crap" to "Stockbroker Suicide Watch" to its current state, "China's Redheaded Stepchild" in a matter of what seemed like hours. Leading the charge to ignominy has been the automotive industry, especially General Motors, which has very quietly become one of the most unfathomably awfully run companies in the history of modern economics. Adam Smith himself, were he to come back from the dead, would take a look at GM's books and "future plans" and quietly cry himself to sleep reading a copy of The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.

Would care to hazard a guess as to what one of Canada's largest employers is?


Yup. General Motors. Ford too, for that matter. Windsor, Ontario - just a Sarah Palin glance away from the rusting former automotive capital of Detroit - became a hub for car production over the last few decades thanks to Canada's national health care scheme, which helped (wait for it...wait for it) shave overhead costs while getting essentially the same quality of work.

Now, back to today's issues for our neighbours to the, uh, Nourth. As Pres.-Elect Obama has already begun tackling the severe economic crisis that he will face as President beginning the 20th of next January by touting his new team of advisers, promoting economic stimulus and infrastructural redevelopment across sectors, so too has Mr. Harper, the Canadian Premier set to work on a new budget that will drastically and directly affect the lives of ordinary Canadians who seek assurances that their government, as ever a world leader in the welfare of its citizens, will once again provide the safety net they need to survive this deep, globally interconnected recession.

So, as Mr. Harper presented his budget to the Parliament last week, what schemes might his Conservative government concoct to see Canada through rough seas? Increased unemployment benefits? Job retraining programs to keep workers at pace with global trends? An Obamaesque commitment to reinvestment in infrastructure?

The answer they got was very simple. Nothing.

The Harper government provided no economic stimulus in the new budget, not even one of his good buddy George W. Bush's ridiculous tax rebate debacles.

And that brings us to the extraordinary situation we see unfolding right above us as we speak. Almost immediately, the opposition parties saw their moment, and thus was born one of the oddest political marriages in Western political history. The three major players in this new arrangement - Canada has never had a formal coalition government since the end of the Dominion - come from very distinct political paths. First, the leader of the opposition, Stephane Dion, leader of the Liberal Party. Quebecois, and with a political mindset forged from the rule of his predecessor, Jean Chretien, Dion led his Liberal Party since defeat in the 2006 election, after the disgraced Paul Martin was forced out by a Conservative non-confidence vote, through this latest round of voting, which saw the worst Liberal defeats in the history of the Party. He was so reviled within his own party that he began the leadership fight to succeed him even before ballots were cast. At this moment, three men are lined up behind him, fighting it out for the position of Liberal leader from May 2009. His political obituary was written, in stone, over the last month, as he seemed bound and determined to leave his party in disarray.

And now, Stephane Dion is the clubhouse leader for Prime Minister in a new government that could be formed within days. Talk about zero to hero...

Also in the mix is the man who has very quietly risen to prominence as one of the most Progressive political leaders in the Western world, Jack Layton. Layton, an Ontarioan and leader of the New Democratic Party has very quickly made himself into a kingmaker of sorts in federal politics. By providing the roadmap back to governance for the Liberal Party, Layton was able to secure six cabinet positions in the proposed new government, as well as a number of lower-level bureaucratic positions of importance for his party. Layton, and the NDP's, influence will thus have much more of a broad impact under this arrangement, particularly given the leadership struggle in what would be the ruling party. Thus, while Layton's gamble does not necessarily cement the NDP as a force to be reckoned with on the federal stage, it does better serve his constituency than Ed Broadbent's fool's errand during the Trudeau period in the 1970s. This, then, is truly the exciting part of the story for progressives on both sides of the border, as Canada looks towards a more progressive stance as America's staunchest ally. Now, that's change you can believe in!

But here's where the story gets really, really (are you even still reading), and I mean, really interesting. Given the disastrous results for the Liberals in the October poll, the combined NDP/Liberal Alliance would represent only 44% of Canadian support and only 114 seats in the Parliament, as opposed to the Conservatives 37% and 143 seats, respectively. So, how do we get this idea off the ground? Mais oui! Le Bloc!

The Bloc Quebecois' 50 seats, and 10% of federal support would push the coalition government to a majority government, of sorts. So, done deal, right? Well...geh...okay, does anyone know the Bloc's single, solitary issue?

Health care? No. The economy? No.

Reinstituting the Quebec Nordiques' hockey franchise? No...well, okay, maybe that too?

Yeah, Le Bloc is the separatist party of Quebec. So now, this coalition Canadian government will be held up by a party whose sole purpose is to work for the "rightful" independence of one of its provinces. However, of all three men who entered into this compact in Ottawa this morning, Gilles Duceppe may be the one who made the critical misstep. First of all, he is now going to have problems at home with the hardcore separatists who will only see him ganging up with a Federalist Quebecois and the Anti-Conservative (BQ voters tend to be issue matched with the Conservative Party) Layton. And second, perhaps more critically, Duceppe has promised to not push a non-confidence motion of his own for eighteen months, effectively declawing Duceppe to hold his former rivals to the fire on issues of import to Quebecois voters. At the first sign of trouble, he should expect a leadership fight bubbling up from the PQ (the provincial wing of the party), especially given Duceppe's own inability to secure more seats in the Federal Parliament or push a referendum on independence in his nearly ten years as party leader.

Now, these three men sit at the same table, a partnership forged from practicality, not politics, putting country before party. This team of rivals can look forward only to uncharted waters and stormy seas, but, if they can make this almost farcical arrangement work, it may cement prosperity for Canadians for decades to come. And, hey, it's fun to watch for us Americans. (Okay, maybe just us political geeks...)

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