Canada’s two main left-wing parties – the NDP and Liberals – are reportedly close to agreeing a pact that would see them rule Canada, rather than the minority Conservative government led by Stephen Harper.
Despite the fact that the Liberals are in the middle of a leadership race, recent moves by Prime Minister Harper have ignited a desire amongst many Liberals and the NDP to topple the government in a confidence vote, now timetabled for 8th December.
Three decisions by Harper’s Conservatives have angered the Left:
- The proposal to end state funding of political parties;
- A ban on civil service strikes;
- Caution about a fiscal stimulus – at least until Barack Obama’s intentions have become clear because of huge US-Canadian economic integration.
The first two proposals have now been withdrawn and the Conservatives are moving quickly to offer an economic stimulus plan.
A grand coalition of the Left had been ruled out. Not only has the Liberal Party been fractious under Stephane Dion’s troubled leadership but the NDP includes far-Left views and any coalition deal acceptable to the NDP base may make it difficult for the Liberals to then appeal to vital, centrist voters. The extraordinary economic times have, however, made NDP views on industrial intervention and heavier government infrastructure spending more politically acceptable. The Liberals and NDP could not govern alone. They – like the Canadian Conservatives – would depend upon votes from the separatist MPs of Quebec. Some reports, however, suggest strong opposition to any coalition from Liberal leadership hopeful, Michael Ignatieff.
To the concern of business leaders who hate uncertainty, four options now await Canada:
- A Liberal-led government, in coalition with the NDP, with the Liberals holding three-quarters of the Cabinet posts;
- Another election – just six weeks after the last – if the Governor-General cannot see stability emerging from the present parliament;
- A wounded Stephen Harper carrying on but in a greater spirit of bipartisanship;
- And least likely, a new Conservative leader instead of Harper as the price for allowing the Conservatives to survive next week’s confidence vote.
Few are in any doubt that the real reason for this crisis is the Conservative proposal to end the state’s funding of political parties. Most blame Mr Harper for igniting the dispute but Andrew Coyne blames the Left:
"Faced with the unreasonable and extreme proposal that they raise funds in the same way as the Conservatives have been doing for years — by asking people for their money, rather than taking it from them — they really had no alternative but to seize power. What on earth were they supposed to do? Revamp their moribund fund-raising organizations? Find a message and a leader capable of motivating large numbers of Canadians to click the “donate” button on their websites? Get off their collective duffs? What were the Tories thinking? No. No, the sensible, restrained, pragmatic thing to do when threatened with the loss of subsidy is to take down the government. The sober, reasonable, moderate thing to do in this time of economic uncertainty is to provoke a constitutional crisis — to cobble together a coalition without a prime minister or a program, propped up by a separatist party, and demand the governor general call upon it to form a new government, replacing the old one we just elected. It’s been six weeks, after all."