Stephen Harper: No Political Pussycat
For those of you who can’t be bothered to follow Canadian politics on a regular basis, let me explain briefly what has happened over the past 20 months since the Harper’s Conservatives won the last election with a minority government.
The official opposition party, the Liberals, went through a ten-month leadership-selection process in 2006 and emerged with a chief, Stephane Dion, whose political instincts make Joe Clark look like Machiavelli. Hated in his own province of Quebec, he has acted as a plunger, pushing his party’s fortunes in the former Liberal stronghold province further and further down the drain. Consequently, the Liberals are no longer a threat to win a National election.
The other two opposition parties – the far-left NDP and the Quebec-only separatist parties – also could never win an election. Consequently, the Conservatives are now in a situation where, at the very worst, they would emerge from another election with another minority mandate. They are also in a position where, if they pick up the majority of the federalist vote in Quebec that the Liberals have now thrown away, they will likely get a majority mandate in the next election.
Given these facts, Stephen Harper has pulled a Parliamentary power play, and has essentially asked the opposition parties to treat his minority government as if it were a majority, and agree to pass every piece of legislation in the upcoming session of parliament that relates to his upcoming throne speech. From comments at his press conference earlier today (via CBC):
“The choice is not an election or obstruction. The choice is an election or give the government a mandate to govern.”
Harper said he doesn’t want an election before 2009. But the prime minister added that he would consider any votes during the upcoming parliamentary session on items in the speech from the throne as confidence motions.
“If they get approval of the throne speech, we’re going to expect those things to be passed,” Harper said.
So what does this mean? It means that the Liberals, unless they want to risk a PC’s-in-93-style decimation, will be forced to support everything the Conservatives want to accomplish in the upcoming session of Parliament. Chess master Harper has just pulled off one of the greatest political gambits in Canadian political history. Confident that he would win a majority in an election against the current opposition, he’s just turned his minority government into an effective majority.
Harper’s press conference today, where he laid down the gauntlet, occurred within an hour of the first pitch of the Major League Baseball playoffs. For a guy who plays a brilliant game of political hardball, I’ll choose to believe this was no coincidence!