Game to resume amid stalemate
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.