Thursday, December 4, 2008

Canadian Parliament Prorogued at Harper's Request

CTV is reporting that Canada's Governor General Michelle Jean has granted Prime Minister Stephen Harper's request to prorogue Canada's Parliament until the end of January 2009 at which time Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will introduce the Federal Budget.

Last Thursday, Flaherty released an economic statement which is usually a precursor to the budget. When no stimulus package measures were announced it drew the ire of the opposition. There were also provisions to prohibit public servants from striking for three years, prohibit female civil servants from suing over pay equity and an elimination of public subsidies to Canada's political parties. The Liberals and NDP set about to defeat the government on a vote of no confidence which was scheduled for December 8th. If the measure had passed the Liberals and the NDP would have formed a coalition government with the support of the separatist Bloc Quebecois although they would not be directly involved in the coalition. This coalition would have lasted anywhere between 18 and 30 months. Even when the Conservatives backed down on the provisions mentioned it did not deter the opposition. They smelled weakness and pounced.

It was only seven weeks ago that Canadians re-elected the Conservatives to a minority government. Stephane Dion led the Liberals to their lowest vote total in their history and their lowest seat total in the House of Commons in nearly a quarter century. Dion announced his resignation as Liberal Party leader only days later. A successor will be chosen in Vancouver in May 2009. But Dion may end up becoming Prime Minister after all and with the help of the Quebec separatists, a group that has long reviled him. Only in Canada.

Yet I was worried when Harper called the election in September. On September 7th, I wrote on this blog, "Still, Harper is taking a risk. If he is re-elected but without a majority he is exactly back to where he is now. That would be nearly as bad as losing the election."

Indeed, as long as there is a minority government it could collapse on a whim. Harper's days as Prime Minister could be numbered. If they are so could his days as Conservative Party leader.

So Harper played the only card he had left. He asked the Governor General to prorogue Parliament. This will give the Conservative government time to put together a reasonable budget and make the case against a coalition consisting of Stephane Dion, the socialists and the separatists. If Harper can gather public opinion in his favor the opposition could back down.

But I suspect the Tories will introduce the budget in January and the opposition will defeat it. The Liberals, NDP and the Bloc are counting on the Governor General to allow them to form a government. However, the Governor General could opt to call new elections. This would put the opposition parties in an awkward position having just fought an election. When political parties don't win elections they tend to find themselves in debt. If Jean doesn't permit them to form a government one wonders if they will back down from an election and decide to play ball with the Conservatives after all.

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives have bought themselves a precious commodity - time. One can only hope they use it wisely enough to stir public opinion sufficiently to compel the opposition to back off their ambitions. Of course, this assumes the opposition is amenable to reason meaning they don't think the Governor General will let them try to form a government. Do you think for a minute Stephane Dion wants to go down in Canadian history as the first Liberal Party leader not to be Prime Minister since the late 19th century? If so, then Harper and the Conservatives are only delaying the inevitable.

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