A possible Liberal-socialist-separatist coalition emerges
On September 7, 2008, Stephen Harper, the Conservative Prime Minister
of Canada, called an election for October 14. The Conservatives strengthened
their minority government but failed to win a majority of the 308 seats
up for grabs in the federal Parliament — mainly because of an egregiously
anti-Conservative media and institutional environment. Nevertheless,
Harper expected to continue to govern with a minority government, as
had happened from 2006 to 2008.
Harper’s policies — his unwillingness to provide a massive “fiscal
stimulus” in the face of the imminent recession, his proposal
to cut the funding that all parties receive from the federal government
to zero, and his attempt to take away the right to strike from all
federal government employees for two years — gave the opposition parties
the pretext to launch their coalition initiative. They had apparently
been discussing such an initiative in secret for at least several months.
A formal agreement now exists among the Liberal Party, the New Democratic
Party (Canada’s socialist third party, NDP), and the separatist
Bloc Quebecois to form a coalition in the federal Parliament. Even
the Green Party (which holds no seats in Parliament) has been brought
on board with an extravagant promise to name its leader, Elizabeth
May, to the Senate and to make her a Minister. But what is really enraging
to many Canadians is that the Bloc Quebecois (which holds 49 seats
in the federal Parliament), has been brought into this deal. The Liberals
currently hold 77 seats, and the NDP holds 37 — far short of a majority.
So the separatists will hold the balance of power in the federal Parliament!
Stephane Dion, who thoroughly failed in the October 14 election and
is now only an interim leader of the federal Liberal Party, is actually
slated to become an “interim” Prime Minister. When the
leadership of the federal Liberal Party is decided in May 2009, the
new leader will automatically become Prime Minister! All this would
be very typical of the Liberal Party, which has openly considered itself “the
natural governing party of Canada” and loathed the Conservative
The Canadian Governor-General, herself a Liberal appointee with many
trendy-left tendencies, will have to decide whether the coalition can
come to power without an election, or if an election may be called
for, since Canadians had no idea that such a coalition was in the works
when the October 14 election took place.
There are mixed precedents for her decision. In 1926, the Canadian
governor-general, a British aristocrat like most of the governor-generals
until the 1950s, asked the Conservative Arthur Meighen to try to form
a government after the Liberal government of Mackenzie King had fallen
to a non-confidence vote. The decision infuriated many Canadians as
undemocratic, and after the Meighen government itself fell to a non-confidence
vote, Mackenzie King swept into victory. Although considerably socially
conservative, the Canada of an earlier age had large elements of reformist
liberalism — creating a “traditionalist-centrist” consensus.
Indeed, it could be argued that one the main elements of the resistance
to the later post-Sixties’ “Trudeau consensus,” was
indeed the leftwing of the old traditionalist-centrist consensus, typified
to a large extent by the Reform Party of the 1990s.
An election campaign is taking place in the province of Quebec that
will conclude December 8 — the very same date the Conservatives face
a non-confidence vote in the federal Parliament. In the province of
Quebec, the Liberal Party is expected to do well, and the Action democratique
du Quebec (ADQ), loosely allied to the federal Conservatives, is not
polling well. At least the Parti Quebecois (the provincial wing of
the separatists) is not expected to form the government.
There has been some suggestion that Harper might end the federal
Parliament’s session before the looming non-confidence vote,
which would result in a delay until late January 2009 — when the Parliament
has to sit again. This might, however, simply delay the inevitable.
Whatever the outcome of the current crisis in Canada, it is hard
to avoid arguing that Quebec has had a rather negative effect on Canada
since 1896. Until 1984, Quebec voters usually supported the Liberal
Party overwhelmingly, guaranteeing an almost perpetual Liberal majority
in the federal Parliament. Until the early 1960s, the Liberals were
decidedly centrist, but after the mid-1960s, the Liberal electoral
hegemony had a critically damaging effect on notions of a more traditional
Canada. In 1984 and 1988, Quebec voters massively supported the Progressive
Conservative party of Brian Mulroney. Mulroney, however, was in almost
every way a social liberal and only accelerated many of the trends
begun by Trudeau. In 1993, the Bloc Quebecois arose to contest the
Quebec seats in the federal Parliament — and has consistently held
a majority of them through the federal elections of 1993, 1997, 2000,
2004, 2006, and 2008.
Enormous amounts of political energy are expended in Canada simply
to keep Quebec in Canada. It appeared that Stephen Harper, who is more
fluent in French and English than any previous Conservative leader
and undertook massive efforts to appeal to Quebec, would finally earn
a considerable portion of the Quebec vote. He reached 10 seats (of
75) in the 2006 election — but unfortunately remained at 10 seats
again in 2008. Quebec’s refusal to vote for him in 2008 is widely
considered as the main reason for his failure to win a majority. Now
the Quebec separatist party has turned the screws on the Conservatives.
What the Liberals are not taking into consideration is that the fiscally
profligate policies promoted by the Bloc Quebecois may not be just
simply about more “booty” for Quebec, but possibly an attempt
to push the Canadian government into virtual bankruptcy. For example,
the proposed elimination of a two-week waiting period for Employment
Insurance being promoted by the Bloc Quebecois has been estimated as
leading to costs of $900 million dollars for the federal Treasury.
As far as the NDP, many of its members are smart political operators
and extremely ideological. The main brains behind the coalition has
apparently been Jack Layton, the leader of the NDP — whom some have
nicknamed “Lenin.” Under the coalition proposal, the NDP
would for the first time in Canadian history have a total of six ministers
in the federal government. The Bloc will not have ministers but will
be able to have input into the federal administration, as well as apparently
promised appointments to the Senate.
In retrospect, it may appear that, had the 1995 referendum on Quebec
sovereignty succeeded, it might have had a salutary effect on what
is sometimes ironically called “the rest of Canada.” It
could be argued that all the effort of “keeping Quebec in Canada” has
had an increasingly distorting effect on Canadian politics as a whole.
If there were truly two nations, the whole project of keeping Quebec
in Canada — especially after the 1980s — could be seen as largely
futile. Perhaps the original model of the European Community — an
economic union of sovereign states — might not have been such
a bad one to follow.
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Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer, social critic, and historical
researcher and is published in major Canadian newspapers, as well as
in U.S. scholarly journals such as Humanitas,
Review of Metaphysics, and Telos, and in U.S. magazines such as Chronicles
and The World & I. His writing has also appeared in Polish, British, and German publications.
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