BRIEF UPDATE ON COALITION - Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008, 9:45 am

The coalition agreement was formally signed by the Liberals and the NDP on Monday afternoon, with the support of the Bloq Quebecois. Dion will remain the leader, contrary to rumour, until the Liberal Pary meets in May. The agreement states that the coalition will be for a period of 30 months and details intentions vis-a-vis the economy; including investment in infrastruture, forestry, auto sector, elimination of waiting period for employment insurance, and housing projects.

Contrary to claims by the Conservatives, the coalition is democratic, legal and in accordance with the constition. We have a parliamentary system, in which a parliament is elected, and the leader of the party with the most MPs becomes Prime Minister. According to our constitution, the first rule is that PM must have the confidence of the MPs in the House of Commons. The PM may only prorogue the session in Parliament if the Governor General agrees to his request. If not, and the non-confidence motion succeeds on Dec. 8, then the Governor General may decide to allow the coalition to govern or to dissolve the House and hold another election.

Note: 76% of Montrealers are favor of the coalition. The media, especially the CBC, is choosing to broadcast the negative views of Canadians, but if you read the comments below the articles in the major dailies, you will find that most comments show support of the coalition. This is not surprising, considering that the majority of Canadians did not vote Conservative. The fact that the CBC keeps repeating questions about the constitutional validity of the coalition reflects who is paying their check.

3 Headed Monster Under Attack

Digital Photo Collage

A Coalition Government is a Tantalizing Proposition

Nov. 30, 2008
N.J. Lukanovich

It's been a thrill ride in Canadian politics this week, and I've had a smile on my face the width of a banana since I heard the news: the opposition is threatening to form a coalition government. Ed Broadbent and Jean Chretien, the mighty men of old, were meeting in wood paneled rooms to help hash out a deal between the main opposition parties. Could it be true? Can the NDP and the Liberals put aside their bickering to trounce the Conservative government? It's like beautiful dream that that begs to be realized. All three parties sitting in opposition, including the Bloq Quebecois, are left-of-centre. A coalition could work.

Who would become the Prime Minister? Some are wringing their hands, claiming that it's ludicrous to consider a coalition when the leader of the official opposition, Stephane Dion, is soon to step down. The Bloq do not want Dion to be Prime Minister, and even though they will not be part of the government, the coalition will need their support. There's talk of Michael Ignatieff or Ralph Goodale taking a temporary leadership position until the new Liberal leader is elected in the convention. I couldn't care less, it could be Ronald McDonald speaking in tongues, anything to staunch the arrogant gibberish that dribbles from the three-headed monster known as Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

One would think that even the discussion of a coalition would dampen the incessant rhetoric about the mystical mandate he's been given by Canadians, and yet the mandate mantra continues. Stephen Harper, in his usual cold and clammy fashion, has stated that the opposition "wants to take power, not earn it." According to the laws of our parlimentary system, the opposition parties have earned it. The Conservatives do not have a majority of the seats, and only 38% of voters supported them at the ballot box.

The Conservatives are champions at ignoring the facts: only 22% of eligible voters bothered to drag themselves to a polling station to support them. If Harper had taken a pause from basking in his victory and recognized that the majority of voters chose another party, he may have avoided this miscalculation in strategy. The Conservatives are now delaying two confidence motions that were slated for this Monday until the following Monday, Dec. 8th. They are hoping that the outcry from the public, who just "gave them a mandate," will subdue the opposition into submission. They are crying the blues and wailing that a coalition is not democratic. They only like the Canadian political system when it works in their favor.

A coalition would be more democratic than what we have now. It would represent the majority of voters. This parliamentary crisis could, and should, speed up electoral reform. If Canada had a run-off ballot system (or second ballot system), or a ranked ballot, or a system of proportioinal representation, it's unlikely that Harper would be in power. Any of these reforms on their own or in combination would be an improvement over what we have now: an anachronism based on a British Parliamentary system developed in the 14th century. Parliament is now locked in battle because the minority government is the only right-wing party, and its leader is a megalomaniac so pathologically focused on decimating the Liberal Party he's forgotten that his job description is to lead the country.

The ire of the opposition parties was already evident this past week, as they pursued a relentless attack on the Conservatives for ignoring the economic crisis, but Thursday's announcement by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty that public subsidies for political parties would be terminated was a slap on a festering wound. The Conservatives, with their unequalled capacity for spin, claim that they would be hurt the most by this cut, since they have the most to lose. In terms of dollars from the tax payers, this is true, but the reality is that they would have the most to gain, because they receive a much higher percentage in donations from individuals. They know that this action would cripple the Liberal Party, and do little to cut Canada's spending: to put it in perspective, public subsidies of political parties cost taxpayers less than a dollar a year per person.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, the Liberal government reformed electoral funding in 2003 by passing Bill C-34, which barred donations from corporations and unions, placed a cap of 1,000 dollars on individual donations, and implemented public subsidies in the form of giving political parties $1.95 for each vote they win in a general election. Public subsidies for political parties are common in other Western democracies, and essential for small parties such as the Greens who would find it next to impossible to run a national campaign without such funding. The party that has the most to gain by cutting public subsidies is the party whose policies appeal to individuals who can afford to make donations.

Harper and his henchmen quickly framed the move to form a coalition as a greedy grab by opposition parties who want to suck the public purse dry. If Harper wants the government to lead by example, he should slim down his obese cabinet. In 2006, he had 26 cabinet members, this ballooned to 31, and since the last election became a bloated 38. This last increase will cost an additional $3.9 million in salaries alone for ministers and staff; this raises the total cost for ministerial salaries 19% since the fall election, and 42% since Harper was elected in 2006. Imagine the expense accounts on top of the salaries.

The forecast and analysis of the economy by Flaherty runs contrary to the first report issued, on Nov. 20th, by Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page who has stated that the deficit could run as high as 13 billion, and that the reckless spending on the part of the Conservative government, and the cut to the GST are to blame, not the global economy. This office was created by the Conservatives to increase transparency, and Kevin Page was appointed by Stephen Harper. Page can be fired without cause by cabinet. He certainly would have nothing to gain by being biased against the Conservatives.

Today, Minister of Transport John Baird announced that they will remove the cut to political subsidies for political parties from the fiscal motion. But it's too little, too late. Too little, because the opposition parties are demanding a stimulus package for the economy, and too late because if the opposition parties suddenly drop the non-confidence motion after stating that it was about the economy and not about subsidies, they'll look like fools.

Cobbling together a fiscal motion that removes the right from public workers to strike, that cancels pay equity for women, and doesn't include any kind of economic strategy, other than selling Crown assets, displays a total lack of ingenuity and initiative on the part of the Conservatives. Every other nation in the G-20 is putting in place strategies to stimulate their economy while we suffer with a finance minister that calls our recession "technical."

The Conservatives will have to make far deeper changes to the fiscal motion to mollify angry MP's from the other side of the bench. It will certainly be an interesting week ahead; we will see whether pride cometh before a fall, or whether the obstinate Harper will be prudent and finally recognize that he is the leader of a minority, and not a majority government.