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Is the coalition dead?

At the end of November 2008, Canada’s political system was thrown into disarray when the Liberals and NDP threatened to…

By Jesse Kline , in Minority Reports: Politics and power in Canada , on January 13, 2009 Tags: , , , , , ,

At the end of November 2008, Canada’s political system was thrown into disarray when the Liberals and NDP threatened to topple the minority Conservative government with a coalition that would be propped-up by the Bloc Quebecois. This proved to be an extremely polarizing issue for Canadians. For weeks the issue dominated the headlines and the airwaves. A furious debate was waged on the Internet and Canadians even took to the streets to either support or denounce the coalition. However, on December 4, Prime Minister Stephen Harper—in what appears to have been a brilliant political move—convinced the Governor General to prorogue parliament until the end of January.

At first, it seemed as though Harper had only postponed the inevitable. Yet, a month later, the issue has all but disappeared from the headlines. Of course, a lot has happened in the last month. First, a number of polls showed the Conservatives moving into majority territory as a result of all the coalition talk. If the opposition were to defeat the Conservative budget, which is set to be tabled on January 27, they will be faced with a choice of either pushing ahead with the coalition or facing an election. If the Governor General were to approve an opposition coalition, the Liberals and NDP would likely be punished at the ballot box when their coalition eventually crumbles. A recent poll confirms that a majority of Canadians outside Quebec would prefer an election over a coalition government.

A second impediment to the proposed coalition is the new Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who was able to swiftly discard of his leadership rivals and take over the reigns of the Liberal party in mid-December. Ignatieff did not appear very interested in the coalition from the beginning and will probably want to give Canadians a chance to get to know him before risking an election.

Kelly McParland has a few more reasons why the Liberals are unlikely to vote against the budget:

The chances of the Liberals defeating the government are pretty much zip, for several pretty obvious reasons: Neither party wants an election; the Liberals in particular remain woefully unprepared; Mr. Ignatieff wants nothing to do with the coalition (which is so discredited that the MP who negotiated it, Marlene Jennings, now claims it never happened); and Mr. Flaherty has already met most of the Liberal benchmarks, or has signalled he intends to.

Even the NDP seem to have distanced their party from the coalition that Jack Layton was so excited about only a month ago. In fact, it would appear as though Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe is the only one who still thinks the coalition is a good idea.

So, is the coalition dead? The decision now rests with Ignatieff and while he hasn’t ruled out the possibility, it’s unlikely that his rhetoric is anything more than a thinly veiled threat designed to get Liberal economic policies included in the budget. While anything can happen between now and January 27, there’s now a growing possibility that we will finally be able to put this ugly coalition business behind us and perhaps even return some degree of civility to the House of Commons.


  • “A brilliant political move” — really, Jesse? Wasn’t the Conservative’s initial bill, you know, the one that sent Parliament into a tail spin and the opposition parties running for leadership, also the the bill that nearly spelled political death for Harper?

    If it was brilliant to “convince” Michaelle Jean to prorogue, well, she was in uncharted constitutional territory and most of her aids reportedly agreed with prorogation.

    And you bet the Liberals will agree to this upcoming budget — they will have helped write it. Harper can’t afford to make a similar, brash display of arrogance.

  • The previous moves are irrelevant. The fact is that at the beginning of December, most pundits were speaking about Dion as though he were Canada’s next Prime Minister. There was also a lot of talk about Harper being replaced as Conservative leader.

    The fact that Harper is still Prime Minister and the coalition is all but dead in the water makes prorogation, objectively speaking, a good political move.

  • It was a desperate grasp at a constitutional lifeline, but perhaps we can consider it a good political move because it was accepted. If he had been denied, what would you be saying about him today? What would his party be saying?

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