Tuesday, December 9, 2008

In a dramatic move, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper convinced Governor-General Michaelle Jean to suspend parliament until late January, rather than face a vote in reaction to his government’s economic plan.

In order to forestall the “no-confidence” vote, which would have overthrown the minority Conservative government elected on Oct. 14, Mr. Harper has resorted to an extraneous measure. He said on national television that it was imperative to prevent the NDP-Liberal coalition, in collusion with the separatist Bloc Quebecois, from coming to power. Why exactly? If his government does not have the votes to carry out its initiatives, he should face the music in the House of Commons.

Mr. Harper is now attempting to deflect blame for a crisis that he created. His government produced a report card on the economy, which is required before a full budget is presented to the House. The update included several provisions that inflamed the opposition, which especially disliked his proposal to curtail public funding for political parties. This would remove a vital source of funds for the opposition parties, which rely on public funding for two-thirds of their campaign money. By contrast, the Tories have a well-oiled funding machine and are less dependent on public sources.

At a moment in which Canada, now officially in recession, has so many pressing matters to address, Mr. Harper’s decision to tackle the issue of campaign funding was ill-timed - and played right into the hands of the coalition. His decision to suspend parliament leaves the country with no effective government until the end of January.

To make matters worse, Mr. Harper then stoked the fears of the emergence to power of the separatist Bloc Quebecois in a coalition government. In a parliamentary system, if a government falls, all elected representatives can form a coalition. Mr. Harper’s decision to reopen old wounds in Canada’s already-fractured political landscape bespeaks an appalling lack of tact.

The suspension of parliament, while within the prime minister’s prerogative, was unnecessary. Had Mr. Harper simply allowed the coalition to come to power, the electorate would have probably recoiled - as polls show a growing majority in favor of Mr. Harper’s Conservatives. Mr. Harpers’ high stakes gambit buys him some time, and allows him to back down, as he has done, on his idea to curtail public financing. Yet another showdown with the coalition is perhaps only delayed until 2009. If Canadians dislike this instability, the solution is simply to go the polls and elect a majority government.

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