Game to re­sume amid stale­mate

Cape Breton Post - - COMMENT -

Cana­di­ans who protested against Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper’s De­cem­ber de­ci­sion to pro­rogue Par­lia­ment may soon have cause to won­der why they ever thought they missed the non­sense in the House of Com­mons. Par­lia­ment re­turns for a new ses­sion a week from Wed­nes­day with the two main po­lit­i­cal par­ties jostling for a mar­ginal lead in pub­lic opin­ion polls.

First up will be a new bud­get in which Fi­nance Min­is­ter Jim Fla­herty is ex­pected to re­buff ad­vice to bring the gov­ern­ment out of deficit quickly with the help of tax in­creases. With a new Speech from the Throne and the first postre­ces­sion bud­get, it will be a nat­u­ral time for the op­po­si­tion par­ties to chal­lenge the mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment but there are no strong sig­nals yet that they in­tend to do that – at least not to the point of try­ing to trig­ger a gen­eral elec­tion.

None of the par­ties has ruled out vot­ing against the bud­get, which is wise con­sid­er­ing the poi­son pill that the Tories in­jected into the fall 2008 eco­nomic up­date. The gov­ern­ment’s threat to po­lit­i­cal party sub­si­dies helped pro­voke an ill-starred op­po­si­tion coali­tion deal and only a quick pro­ro­ga­tion spared the Con­ser­va­tives from de­feat in the Com­mons. In­stead of top­pling the gov­ern­ment, the coali­tion ac­tu­ally ac­cel­er­ated the re­place­ment of Lib­eral leader Stephane Dion with Michael Ig­nati­eff.

If we don’t get a spring elec­tion, there’ll be high ex­pec­ta­tions for the fall. And un­less there are ma­jor shifts in the polls by then, the ques­tion of an op­po­si­tion coali­tion or some sort of co-op­er­a­tion agree­ment is sure to arise again. If the op­po­si­tion par­ties learned any­thing from the De­cem­ber 2008 fi­asco, it’s that vot­ers don’t want to see th­ese things sprung out of the blue right af­ter an elec­tion.

The De­cem­ber 2008 fi­asco has tainted the very idea of coali­tions or in­ter-party deals but per­haps not fa­tally. If the deal is openly done, if the leaders in­volved are not abysmally un­pop­u­lar, and if the Bloc Que­be­cois is not in­volved, a cen­tre-left ar­range­ment be­tween the Lib­er­als and the NDP (pos­si­bly in­clud­ing the Greens) would be fea­si­ble.

Two prom­i­nent aca­demics, Philip Res­nick of the Uni­ver­sity of Bri­tish Columbia and Reg Whi­taker or the Uni­ver­sity of Vic­to­ria and York, have pub­lished an “open let­ter” urg­ing the leaders of those three par­ties to work to­gether to re­place a gov­ern­ment that may oth­er­wise win an­other mi­nor­ity term with as lit­tle as 35 per cent of the pop­u­lar vote. They sug­gest the three op­po­si­tion par­ties agree to run only the can­di­date among them with the best chance of winning in 60 to 80 tar­geted rid­ings where this should pay off in seats.

This would be coali­tion-lite. The more ex­treme so­lu­tion would be a merger of the Lib­er­als and the NDP, but for that to hap­pen the heavy thinkers would have to con­clude that the cur­rent stale­ment in na­tional pol­i­tics will pre­vail in the ab­sence of a game-chang­ing move.

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