Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Andrew Potter: The Coalition, the 'Coup,' the 'Crisis,' and the Language of Complaint

People really need to just calm down, for starters. Then read Andrew Potter:

The language of complaint is shot through with assumptions and norms that rest on an American view of checks and balances, bicameralism, and presidentialism. In many ways, this is far more pernicious than 19th century romanticism, because at least the romantics understand, dimly, how parliament actually works.

The Americanists, on the other hand, don't understand parliament, and so their complaints are underwritten by an unwarranted sense that the working of Canadian system is actually illegitimate.
Take, for example, the current coalition agreement that has been set up by the Libs and NDP and the tacit support of the Bloc. I don’t like it, but there is nothing remotely unconstitutional about it. It is thoroughly legitimate.

Canadians did not vote for Stephane Dion, no. But we did not vote for Stephen Harper either. We elected a parliament, which will support who it will support.
Under our constitution, neither the people nor the prime minister even exist, there is only parliament.

It is bad enough that most of the complainers out there don’t get it. Stephen Harper knows better, and chooses to pretend otherwise.

This reminded me of a recent essay by Raymond Mackintosh, in which he admits: "The problem is that liberal-minded people, and I am one such, are not immune from falling into the trap of believing what we wish to be true rather than that which is true."

The problem afflicts Conservatives, too, and it is here that Stephen Harper is going one worse. He's not just pretending he doesn't get it. He's asking Canada to engage in his game of pretend as well, in these two ways: He's saying "the opposition wants to overturn the results" of the recent federal election by entering into "a power-sharing coalition with a separatist party."

These are falsehoods.

Harper's big problem here isn't in the Opposition's complaints, but in its size, and its size is a result of the recent election, not an overturning of its results. Opposition MPs outnumber the MPs that support Harper in the Commons. If Harper doesn't have the confidence of a Commons majority, he's toast. This is obviously not what Harper would wish to be true, but it's true nonetheless. Wishing we were a republic won't make it so, so you can't pretend that we have a president that's about to be overthrown by some usurper. We're a parliamentary, constitutional democracy. Parliament rules.

Further, the Liberals and the New Democrats have not entered a "power-sharing coalition" with the Bloc (as if this would change Harper's predicament in any way), nor do they propose to. Instead, they have proposed a two-party coalition, and the Bloc says it would support it, for a period of 18 months, if the coalition can win support from the Governor-General.

I don't buy the hyperventilation about the spectre of proroguing Parliament, either. Give everybody a few weeks to calm down, bring in a budget, and if it fails, the coalition can assemble itself and put its pleadings to Michaelle Jean. Her constitutional and legal advisers may well suggest she decline the offer, rendering the coalition idea moot by sending it all back to the people to decide.

Which would suit me fine.

Update: "Liberal MP Derrick Lee, meanwhile, compared Harper's move to suspend Parliament to the burning of the Reichstag in Germany by the Nazis."

Like I said, people really need to calm down.

8 Comments:

Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Terry: "Give everybody a few weeks to calm down, bring in a budget, and if it fails, the coalition can assemble itself and put its pleadings to Michaelle Jean. Her constitutional and legal advisers may well suggest she decline the offer, rendering the coalition idea moot by sending it all back to the people to decide.

Which would suit me fine."

Quite. But: "Instead, they have proposed a two-party coalition, and the Bloc says it would support it, for a period of 18 months..."

And, there are some great condos in Vancouver, real cheap (well, maybe) if one is to believe the Bloc will just go along with the Liberals and NDP without an effective veto--or without breaking their signed pledge and running off to appeal to the poor neglected, nay oppressed, nay betrayed Québécois.

Mark
Ottawa

6:34 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

The Bloc has already agreed to 18 months' peace with no veto should the GG consent to a coalition.

If the Bloc breaks its promise, throws a hissy and threatens to withhold its votes on something - a wildly far-fetched scenario at this point - then the Conservatives would have an iron-clad case that the basis of the GG's consent to a coalition government no longer existed. So everybodhy trundles back to Rideau Hall.

Short of that, if the Bloc tears up its promise, the coalition could tell the Bloc to shut up and keep its promise and do what it's told, and the Bloc would have no choice but to do just that. Its only alternative would be to convince the Conservatives to join with them and vote against the coalition on whatever they threw a hissy about.

This leaves the Conservatives with as much equipment to deal with the spectre of a Bloc veto as the coalition has already secured to itself.

It's not an issue.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Kurt Langmann said...

Harper counted on the Bloc 14 times in confidence votes during the last parliament. His concern in the PR polemic currently being distributed to voters re the coalition seems somewhat desperate or hypocritical, no?

Methinks Harper already put his King in checkmate, so it's moot anyway. Don't see how he can possibly survive this one. Not very smart, that man.

10:54 PM  
Blogger L said...

There will be lots of trundling back and forth to Rideau Hall, whatever happens. I'm picturing, for some reason, jowly Duceppe types getting carted up and down in *wheelbarrows*...

I just hope Her Excellency remembers, understands and performs her duty to the Crown: she's gotta be as neutral as an umlaut. Neither Madame Jean's past anti-monarchist position nor her probable separatism are nervous-making in this context, not at all -- not if you're sanguine like Glavin, anyway.

Hah! I've always wanted to call someone "sanguine". Keep your fingers crossed, boss.

12:22 AM  
Blogger James O'Hearn said...

I keep hearing things along the lines of "Man that Stephen Harper is such a stupidhead."

How, may I ask?

If I were an empiricist by nature, and by the example of the Lib-NDP-Bloc "coalition" during the last parliament, what evidence would there be to support the notion that any of the three was capable of uttering anything other than empty threats?

Then the new parliament starts, the Libs are gearing up for a leadership convention, and the Bloc are recovering from the election. Short of waiting for a majority to nix the public financing for parties, there was probably no better time to raise the issue, especially in the end goal is to establish a majority in the next parliament.

Coyne was dead on in noting that there was not one single issue during the last parliament that meant enough to boys who cried wolf for them to actually stand behind their threats and ultimatums. And many of those issues at least had some form of legitimate merit. But threaten to turn off the public tap, and out of the blue, they grow a pair.

Of course it was only their concern for a proper economic stimulus that worried them. There was a pressing need to throw money in the wind months in advance of knowing which way the wind is blowing.

The surprise in all this is not that people do not understand the nature of parliament, they, including Harper, understand it just fine. The surprise is that so many are happy to accept such a bald faced, transparent lie at face value.

i don't blame the Lib-NDP-Bloc coalition for worrying. I mean, they feel that their survival is at stake. But things change. Who would have thought, in 1993, that there would ever be a conservative Prime Minister again?

One final note....why has nobody in the media noted the incredible irony of the situation?

What Harper is advocating? That's what Obama did. Obama turned down public financing, and paid his own way. So why the hell is that too much to ask of our own progressive politicians?

1:23 AM  
Blogger L said...

DAMN straight, James. I would note that termination of this destructive subsidy, as proposed by the Tories, would hurt the Tories most, first and worst -- after all, in the October poll, they collected millions more toonies, I mean votes, than any of the LPCNDPBQ factions could manage. Sure, the Harper party has got deep coffers filled with individual donations, and the oppo triumvirate has not; sure, the Nouveau Bloc Liberals suffer from Fundraising Disability (sometimes called Inability Disorder); sure, the left side of the House is addicted to taxpayer largesse, and addiction is a recognized medical complaint. But I am *damned* if I will make up their shortfall. Harper ain't no meanie; the time to eliminate $28 mil in tawdry, corrupting slush funds was yesterday; the time for the Canadian people to subsidise political activity is never; and I'm itching to vote, friends...

3:45 AM  
Blogger jaycurrie said...

A period of calm has arrived. Parliament has been let out early.

More importantly, the polling is beginning to come in and it is very clear that, outside Quebec, Canadians don't support the coalition.

Nor, I suspect, do many of the more politically savvy members of the Liberal caucus. And the emergence of a 22 point CPC lead in Ontario is likely to ensure that more members of the Toronto Party caucus bail.

We've had an interesting few days, now we will have a few weeks of internal Liberal Party drama and the creation of a very Election friendly CPC Budget.

11:43 PM  
Blogger richard said...

I'm actually OK with leaving the subsidy in place a while longer. It's cheap of Harper to use the economic crisis to get rid of it, because conveniently only the Conservatives are running a surplus: if every other party is in financial trouble, then the Conservatives are in better shape for the next election no matter what happens between now and then. And that's not cricket.

Get rid of the subsidy gradually, maybe tie it somehow to reduction of party debts, and I'd be on board - but let's not forget that one reason for the subsidy was to reduce the reliance on large donors, both union and corporate. I stand behind that motivation (even if I recognize that this was only part of the motivation!).

12:16 AM  

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