Saturday, November 29, 2008

Harper scrambles to retain power

Harper does not seem to be scrambling to retain power. In fact it is not at all clear what on earth he has in mind. The one way in which he might retain power is by revising Flaherty's update to contain some significant stimulus package. The Liberals would then be able to swallow the other parts of the poison pill including sale of crown assets, and Harper's blows against public trade unions and pay equity. Harper has already said he will not include the defunding provision in his motion. But Harper is content to lambaste the opposition and complain that the opposition has no right to form a government since they were not elected.
However the point is that an elected government must have the confidence of the house. If it doesnt then it is entirely proper for opposition parties to ask the governor general leave to form a new government that has the confidence of the house. The government so formed has the same obligation as this government to gain the confidence of the house. Of course it is possible that if Harper's motion is not passed that Harper could go to the governor general and ask for an election.
Harper is no doubt scheming to see what other procedural roadblocks he can throw in the way of opposition plans. Given the way that the Liberals caved in the last session and their weak position no doubt Harper thought that he could push anything through parliament. As he said at one point during the campaign, he would govern as if he had a majority whether he did or not.
He seems to have made a serious miscalculation. For a few brief moments it seemed as if Harper might take a more bipartisan consultative tack but this economic update shows that this was just another cynical game. Of course all politicians seem to play games and spout ridiculous rhetoric. I just heard Scott Brison on CBC claiming that this was not about politics! Right of course Scott, it is all about the interests of the Canadian people, completely apolitical and having nothing to do with party politics!

Harper scrambles to retain power against coalition - Canada - Harper scrambles to retain power against coalition
Steps to a coalition government:
1 Stephen Harper's Conservatives must lose a motion scheduled for Dec. 8 that is regarded as a test of confidence in the government.
2 If the motion is lost, Harper would then see Governor General Michaëlle Jean (below), who could refuse a request for a new election.
3 Jean would then have to decide whether a Liberal-NDP coalition, with the support of the Bloc, could form a workable government for a reasonable time.
Stéphane Dion
Could lame-duck Liberal leader make an effective prime minister?
Jack Layton
New Democrat leader asked Ed Broadbent to feel out Jean Chrétien about a coalition.
Gilles Duceppe
Bloc leader says he would support a Liberal/NDP coalition on the economy.
Liberal non-confidence motion:
"In light of the government's failure to recognize the seriousness of Canada's economic situation and its failure in particular to present any credible plan to stimulate the Canadian economy and to help workers and businesses in hard-pressed sectors such as manufacturing, the automotive industry and forestry, this House has lost confidence in this government and is of the opinion that a viable alternative government can be formed within the present House of Commons."

November 29, 2008 Tonda MacCharlesBruce Campion-SmithJoanna SmithOttawa Bureau
OTTAWA– Prime Minister Stephen Harper, teetering on the brink of defeat, has won himself a one-week reprieve in the face of extraordinary opposition efforts to form a coalition government to replace his minority Conservatives.
But opposition MPs appear unbowed by Harper's bid to delay their move to defeat his six-week-old government. Negotiations on the shape, form and leadership of the coalition government are expected to continue through the weekend.
In a stunning revolt just one week into the 40th Parliament, the three opposition parties revealed yesterday that formal talks were well underway to replace the minority Conservative government.
Late in the afternoon, an angry Harper was forced to publicly announce that he will delay until Dec. 8 any parliamentary vote that could topple his government. That includes a vote on a ways and means motion flowing from the government's fiscal update Thursday and a motion of non-confidence introduced by the Liberals yesterday, which had both been scheduled for Monday.
The opposition parties unanimously oppose Harper's provocative economic update, which contained billions of dollars in spending cuts, the suspension of the right to strike by public servants, a clampdown on pay equity and a small but significant reduction of public funding for political parties.
Harper's announcement was ostensibly made to give Canadians more time to absorb the extraordinary developments that could result in an NDP-Liberal coalition government.
It buys time for Harper to get himself out of his self-made crisis – but also allows the opposition parties time to negotiate just who will lead the "alternative" government that would be proposed to Governor General Michaëlle Jean.
One Liberal strategist said an agreement had been reached to have Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion at the helm – but that could change quickly if the Liberal leader proves a liability for a new government.
A senior Liberal added the coalition leader would not be any of the three Liberal leadership contenders – MPs Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae and Dominic LeBlanc. The strategist also noted the Liberal caucus has not given its blessing to Dion as coalition leader and predicted the proposal could run into trouble among MPs and senators.
Dion was holed up in Stornoway yesterday and was not available for comment.
It is expected that NDP Leader Jack Layton would have a place in the new cabinet, and "various players would play different roles," an NDP official said.
The Liberals and NDP are entertaining the demands of the Bloc Québécois, which would not formally be part of a coalition, but would support it as long as Quebec's interests are met.
"We said that we won't be part of a coalition and having ministers from the Bloc; this is very clear. But we'll consider a coalition that would respect more Quebec values and interests," said Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe.
Talks between the NDP and Liberals began Thursday evening after former NDP leader Ed Broadbent and former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien stepped in to act as intermediaries.
Layton contacted Broadbent Thursday night to seek his counsel as a "statesman," party spokesperson Karl Belanger said, and asked him to contact Chrétien to attempt to chart a way forward.
Broadbent declined to discuss any specifics of their conversation, as did Chrétien.
"He and I both discussed what would be a good situation here for the people of Canada, for Parliament and we'll see what happens," Broadbent told reporters after a morning meeting in Layton's office.
It is clear the Conservatives were caught off guard by the vehemence of the opposition's attack on the economic update. Yesterday afternoon, Harper attempted to paint the opposition bid as an undemocratic attempt to usurp power from his newly elected government through a "backroom deal."
"The opposition has every right to defeat the government but Stéphane Dion does not have the right to take power without an election," Harper said. "Canada's government should be decided by Canadians, not backroom deals. It should be your choice, not theirs."
Harper said his party has acted "to keep cutting job-killing business taxes," accelerated construction of roads bridges and other infrastructure projects, injected "tens of billions" of liquidity into Canada's credit markets, and "acted to ensure a long term structural balance in the federal budget."
But Liberal MP John McCallum (Markham) echoed the Liberals' complaint that the Conservative economic statement delivered on Thursday was silent on big-ticket measures to boost the flagging economy. "We in the opposition believe that the Canadian economy needs support from the government. Stephen Harper does not. That is the essential difference between us," McCallum said.
McCallum said a new government would roll out a stimulus package that was "a whole lot faster and a whole lot bigger than anything they would provide."
He even tried to reassure investors jittery about a possible change in the country's leadership.
"I want the business community and the financial community to know that should we form the government, the stability of our financial system and of our economy will be uppermost in our mind every step of the way," McCallum said.
Many Conservatives had been gleeful about the "poison pill" item in the update: the plan to slash $30 million in taxpayer subsidies for political parties. But as the political fallout takes hold, Harper's move is widely seen as a terrible political miscalculation.
A Conservative government source said yesterday the idea was Harper's.
Sources said "most" of the Conservative caucus is perplexed why the government moved to put such controversial measures in now. "It makes no sense," said one.
"To date, Harper has been a master at dividing and conquering his opponents," said Conservative author Bob Plamondon.
"But by moving to end the subsidy to all political parties, he has given the three opposition parties unity and purpose. It is a rare strategic blunder for Harper and a miscalculation not seen since (former PC prime minister Joe) Clark toppled himself in 1979."
Conservative insiders across the country were flabbergasted.
"It is 1979 bravado with 1985 facts," said one plugged-in Tory, referring to Clark's bungled confidence vote in 1979 and the 1985 Liberal-NDP accord that ended 42 years of Tory rule at Queen's Park. "The government will fall," he lamented.
With files from Robert Benzie

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