Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Constitutional crisis or political fiasco?

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why 10 million Canadian voters didn't bother to vote October 14th.

Not because they're lazy or don't care to exercise their democratic franchise, but because absolutely no one is paying any attention to what really matters to them. While the typical Canadian is worrying about losing their job, their home, and their long-term future, and suddenly contemplating a desperately scaled-back retirement filled with plates of cat food instead of steak, our erstwhile representatives in Ottawa are engaging in an appalling display of partisan bickering instead of focusing on the real work that needs to be done, pronto.

With a planet in economic turmoil and 19 of the G20 countries working on stimulus packages to keep us from falling out of a recession and into a depression, our Parliamentarians are jockeying for position on the deck of the Titanic. PAY ATTENTION, PEOPLE! No matter what deck chair you're in, the boat still sinks in the end.

Always a cynic where conservatives are involved, I have now moved beyond that to outright contempt. Mr. Harper, your petard. Prepare to be hoisted upon it.

Because really, at the end of the day, he has no one to blame but himself. Sure, some folks are trying to make this the Finance Minister's fault, for failing to announce any stimulus package until February's budget (now pushed to late January). But we all know nothing happens in the Conservative universe that hasn't been run by the autocratic control freak leader. So, in a sense, Mr. Harper is the author of his own misfortune, turning an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in a time of crisis into a crisis of another sort. When industries are collapsing and other governments are throwing hundreds of billions of dollars around to try and keep company doors open and people in jobs, this is not the time to try to unilaterally squeeze folks out of their democratic right to strike, or to pay equity, or to attempt to cripple your political opponents by eliminating their funding. I don't remember any of that being in the platform or up for pre-election discussion.

And besides, the country is going to hell in a handbasket. Try to notice the bigger picture, will you?

I have to say this much for the opposition parties - they have finally found an issue they can all agree on. I never expected to see that happen in my lifetime, but here it is, put down on paper and signed off, and everything.

Mr. Harper maintains this coalition agreement is somehow illegal and undemocratic, that no one voted for this. I have news for you. Most Canadians didn't vote for you. Of the nearly 14 million voters who did cast ballots in October, barely five million voted Conservative. In a country of 30 million people, with 23.4 eligible voters. So you're not working from a position of strength here, Sir.

The long-standing problem with our system is that votes don't necessarily translate into seats. The Conservatives take 36.2% of the popular vote, but 46.4% of the seats. The Bloc takes 10% of the vote, but 16% of the seats. The Greens took 6.8% of the vote, but not one seat. You can see where I'm going with this.

The fact of the matter is, in a time of crisis, you want to see MPs putting aside their partisan issues and working together for the good of the country. That's why we elect them in the first place, not to fear-monger and decry legalities (which, interestingly, he wasn't so worried about when the shoe was on the other foot and his party stood to benefit), but to come up with a plan to help us out of the deep water. It's not a real surprise that the last coalition happened in a time of war.

So, Mr. Harper goes on TV tonight trying to save his political future. Does he humble himself and apologize for his misjudgment, and ask everyone to pull together? No. Does he announce plans to stimulate the economy, and deal with the real crisis of the day? No. Does he announce that he will resign as Prime Minister, thereby keeping the Conservatives in power and averting a vote of non-confidence? No. He goes on the attack, using politically hateful language to whip up fear and further divide the country. Way to show leadership. Nice way to demonstrate your grasp of priority. And glad to see you're using all your time and energy to fight a political battle instead of an economic crisis.

Surely, you might say, Mr. Harper has blown off all his toes by now, having shot himself in the foot so spectacularly. But no, there's more. By repeatedly referring to the coalition as a threat to national unity, he has pretty much destroyed the Conservatives' chances of ever winning seats from the Bloc in Quebec. So he's managing to damage his party's future prospects as well as their immediate ones. Nice. And the small issue of the Conservatives trying to strike a similar deal with the Bloc in 2004? Inconvenient detail, best overlooked.

I would like the Conservatives to explain how four parties working together in a five party system (the Greens have also endorsed the coalition) somehow destroys national unity. The only one talking about regional divisions, it seems, is him. Everyone else is talking about pulling together for the good of the country in the face of a crisis. In the space of a weekend, they even managed to come up with a four page plan to stimulate the economy. That's more than the Government's put together is six weeks of "crisis management". Who's unifying what, exactly?

Now, there's talk he will ask the Governor General tomorrow to prorogue Parliament until January, avoiding the non-confidence vote the Conservatives would surely lose on Monday. Not a lot of moral authority in that stance, either.

The great joy of a democracy, I've always thought, is the way a person can effect change simply by voting for it.

Time to face your destiny, My. Harper.

Your petard is waiting.