Analysis by Paul Tuns
  Editor, The Interim

  December 15, 2008 ( – After two weeks of political intrigue in Parliament – including the opposition parties uniting to try to bring down the Conservative government and attempting to form a coalition government of their own – Canadian politics was shaken up, but no one quite knows the fallout yet. Or at least not all of it.

  On Nov. 27, the government presented an economic update that included ending a taxpayer subsidy for political parties. The opposition parties announced they were against the budget and within days it emerged that Stephane Dion’s Liberal Party and Jack Layton’s NDP had signed a formal coalition agreement and that they had the support of the separatist Bloc Quebecois. Dion and Layton were ready to ask Governor General Michaelle Jean to allow them to form the government if the Conservatives did not have the confidence of the House of Commons.

Put aside constitutional considerations, because newly minted or self-appointed ‘constitutional experts’ could attest that both the Conservatives, who argued a new election would be required, and the coalition, who claimed a right to govern without getting a mandate from voters, had a legitimate case. For now, that question is off the table, at least until Jan. 26, because the Governor General accepted the prime minister’s Dec. 4 request to prorogue Parliament.

  Harper promised a new budget scheduled to be delivered Jan. 27 which he says will address the lack of an economic stimulus that provided the ostensible reason for the opposition wanting to bring down the government. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has also vowed to separate the taxpayer subsidy to political parties from the budget.

  For several days, it appeared that the defeat of the Conservatives was possible and if that happened, the likely removal of Harper as party leader. Pundits had Environment Minister Jim Prentice, the socially liberal, fiscally centrist MP from Calgary Centre-North, as the overwhelming favourite to become the next leader, although the more socially conservative wing of the party might have something to say about that.

  But when all was said and done, it wasn’t Harper but Dion who made the quick exit from leadership politics. Having failed to capture power, Dion’s weaknesses were exposed and magnified, his status as lame duck leader an insurmountable hindrance to his party’s parliamentary and political effectiveness.

  Dion’s coalition gambit was widely unpopular, with more than 70 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec opposed to the power grab, which Ottawa Citizen columnist David Warren described as a coup d’etat. The icing on the cake was an amateurish video of Dion explaining the Liberal case for the coalition; the video was out-of-focus, yellow, and off-center, leading CTV’s Robert Fife to comment that it looked like it was shot by a “wino with a cell-phone camera.”

  Once Parliament prorogued, the Liberals couldn’t boot Dion from the leadership fast enough. In a matter of days, former Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae and New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc both dropped out of the Liberal leadership race that began in October following the Liberals defeat in the federal election.

  With Dion—and Rae and LeBlanc—on the sidelines, the party rallied around a former Harvard professor, Michael Ignatieff, MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore and runner-up for the Liberal leadership that Dion won in December 2006.

  Dion, like his four predecessors, supported abortion-on-demand, and like Paul Martin and Jean Chretien, supported same-sex ‘marriage’. Ignatieff is more of the same.

  Sometimes touted as the next Pierre Trudeau, a philosopher king to lead Canada to the liberal promised land, Ignatieff said in 2006 that Canada should be congratulated for creating “a distinctly progressive society” citing “the equality of all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, including rights to marriage.” At the same time, he stressed that “while abortion should be rare, it should be a protected right for all women.”

While there are few past votes to qualify Ignatieff on, given the chance, he has backed up his words with actions. In December 2006, he voted against re-opening the same-sex ‘marriage’ debate and in 2008 he voted against a common-sense private member’s bill that would have recognized the unborn children who are harmed or killed when crimes are committed against their mothers as a second victim.

  Ignatieff seems to have backed away from the coalition, parsing his words carefully. He says he will wait and see what the Conservative government offers in the January budget, but he pointedly says he is “open to a coalition” with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois, implying the deal negotiated by his predecessor is no longer in effect. NDP Jack Layton seems to have realized the coalition may be no more and has stepped away from his unforgiving criticism of the government’s economic plans.

  Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes told The Interim the likelihood of a coalition has decreased with Ignatieff’s leadership but warned that anything can happen in the month before Parliament resumes.

  Hughes was not willing to make any predictions about what will happen over the next month, but did warn that if the coalition were to come to power—by appointment of the Governor General after a non-confidence vote or after an election—it could reverse some of the modest gains the Conservatives were able to achieve with a minority government. These include: scrapping the Court Challenges Program, redefining the mission of the Secretariat of Women, bringing greater transparency to the appointment of Supreme Court justices and enacting more family friendly tax policies.

  Hughes also warned that the national daycare scheme the Conservatives thwarted with tax credits for families with pre-school aged children, might be resurrected by the NDP-Liberal-Bloc coalition, seeing it is one of the few policies the parties actually agree upon.

  Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told The Interim he is concerned that the coalition would either get behind a euthanasia or assisted suicide bill or that Francine Lalonde, who introduced private member’s bills on euthanasia in the past two parliaments, would be able to move up the list to have her latest private member’s bill make it to the House of Commons for debate even earlier than presently scheduled.

  Harper has said he opposes euthanasia and the issue has had little traction in Parliament these past few years, but the coalition of socially liberal parties might begin to push euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide more aggressively.

Paul Tuns is the editor of The Interim, Canada’s life and family issues newspaper. A version of this story will appear in the January issue of The Interim.


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