Monday, September 08, 2008

The Dion-Harper coalition

Back in March the Ottawa Citizen published some disturbing figures about party voting records in the House of Commons. At that point there had been 76 votes in the House during the current session of Parliament. Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe cast 73 votes. PM Stephen Harper cast 49.

Stéphane Dion voted 33 times. The Liberals participated in only 49 of the 76 votes. When they did bother showing up, they supported the government 60% of the time. They supported the budget. They supported extending our involvement in the Afghanistan quagmire. They gave the government a
de facto majority.

As I lamented at the time:

What's left of parliamentary politics in Canada? The pun is intentional. Stéphane Dion's Liberals have gutted almost everything that remained of a legitimate political process in the House of Commons, which, under Chrétien and now under Harper, admittedly wasn't much.

It is bad enough that two successive Prime Ministers have concentrated so much power in the PMO that even the Cabinet is little more than a focus group. But until Dion came to power, there has been,
at least, a noisy and sometimes effective opposition. The last nail in the coffin of parliamentary democracy has been the neutering of that opposition by Dion. The Liberals are so deathly afraid of the electorate that they have simply abdicated. Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition? More like Her Majesty's scared rabbits.

The Liberals are so so white-faced, pants-crappingly frightened of facing the voters that Harper is pushing the envelope beyond all reasonable bounds, attaching bits and pieces of his agenda to unrelated omnibus bills and daring the Liberals to bring him down. And it's getting easier and easier for him, as he (and we helpless onlookers) discover that there is no line in the sand for Dion, there is no Rubicon, there is no point of honour. Dion's strategy, if you can call it that, is to keep propping up the Conservatives until his prayers for a miracle are answered. But there are no miracles in politics. The voters are unimpressed, and the numbers prove it. Why vote Liberal when you can vote for the folks that the Liberals support?

Jack Layton calls this "truancy." But that's a word reserved for kids who skip school. This appalling behaviour by the Liberals is a threat to the very core of parliamentary democracy, which is all the national democracy we've got. Nothing less. 'Truancy?" Let's not mince words here, Jack. What about "collaboration?" What about "subversion?"

I've seen nothing since to alter my thinking. Indeed, one of the worst Liberal betrayals was yet to come: Liberal support (by more of its trademark "truancy") for the anti-immigrant Bill C-50.

Mark Collins called my attention in March to a provocative article by Paul Wells in Maclean's. I wish I'd paid more attention to it, because it seems to explain, at least to some degree, the Liberal perfidy we have been observing with horrified fascination these many months.

Essentially, says Wells, the Liberals and the Conservatives have been governing in coalition. Truth be told, I can't tell whether Wells is writing this tongue-in-cheek or not, although I suspect that he may be, but it's worth thinking about. Whether the coalition is a deliberate construction of behind-the-scenes operators or just fell into place accidentally, a coalition it has been. Dion and his caucus have done almost as much to advance the Harper agenda as the Prime Minister himself.

Harper is gambling that a sufficient number of Canadian electors are fed up with Conservatives in Liberal dress, and will now vote for the real thing. He may be right. With a no-nonsense campaign, though, articulated with passion and clarity, the New Democrats could present themselves as the real Opposition in the House.
Rightly so: it's a matter of record. Perhaps enough voters, disgusted by the seamy, duplicitous politics of the Conservatives and their Liberal allies, might be persuaded to support an alternative.

Otherwise, of course, it's just back to business as usual. Whether it's Harper's Liberals or Dion's Conservatives, we'll get the same old, same old, much of a muchness politics that has been driving voter turnout down for years.

If Parliament is to regain its relevance, we need something entirely different, and not in the Monty Python sense. To borrow a phrase, we need change we can believe in. Real change. A change for the better. Can Jack Layton's NDP make the case for it?

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