Le Coalition est mort – Vive le Coalition!

Like it or not, the Liberals are now in bed with Harper

NDP leader Jack Layton January 28, 2009

“We have a new Coalition: Mr. Harper and Mr. Ignatieff.”
— NDP leader Jack Layton

Ottawa — Today’s announcement by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff that his caucus is going to support Stephen Harper’s deficit budget came as no surprise. I even anticipated it in yesterday’s post on this site.

The Liberals decided to support the budget as not to do so would defeat the government on a confidence vote, precipitating an election for which the Liberal party clearly is not prepared. Ignatieff wants to play a more cautious game than jumping into a coalition government right now.

But by merely rapping Harper on the knuckles with an amendment that only requires his government to report on its progress in stimulating the economy in March, June, and December of this year, Michael Ignatieff has effectively torn up the Coalition Agreement with the NDP, which also included a guarantee of co-operation from the Bloc Québéquois.

True to form, Layton was livid. “We have a new Coalition: Mr. Harper and Mr. Ignatieff,” he bristled as only a man with a moustache can do. Gilles Duceppe was more matter-of-fact: “When the Liberals presented their decision to me, I told them that was the end of the Coalition,” he said.

Putting Harper on probation

Without the support of the two other Opposition parties, the Liberals have put themselves in the awkward position that their amendment will pass only if the Conservatives vote for it, which seems likely. Bizarre!

Ignatieff delivered his party’s decision at today’s crowded news conference with all the seriousness of a stern but kindly lecturer. “We are putting this government on probation,” he intoned. “For their failure to plan and act as a government, we hold them responsible.”

What does he expect he can do when the reports are delivered? March is too close for anything meaningful, and anyway they will be presented only in parliament by the same government whose performance they are supposed to be evaluating. How believable will these term papers be?

Duceppe dismissed the Liberal amendment with a shrug. “It’s just a smokescreen” he suggested after gleefully describing in great detail the posturing that would take place — three times, once for each report.

Make that six times, as he then repeated his monologue in English. I’m warming to Duceppe. He has a bright future as a stand-up comic.

End of the Coalition?

Is the Coalition Agreement dead and buried forever? When asked this question Duceppe, ever the political pragmatic, mused that “Life is too long to say that something is finished today.” He may well be right.

Certainly, Ignatieff’s ponderous pronouncements have created a rift between the Liberals and the two other opposition parties that will be slow to heal. Today Michael Ignatieff not only temporarily tore up the coalition agreement, he also damaged his emerging political reputation.

Ignatieff may be the new Liberal leader, but his tenure is only Interim at this time. He is not Stéphan Dion, but his party had signed a written agreement, and to break it in so cavalier a fashion opens the closet door to expose memories of unsavoury Liberal duplicities from the past.

The bottom line is that in our parliamentary system, it is the duty of an Opposition party to oppose. That doesn’t mean knee-jerk negativity, but a forceful presentation of an alternative approach to government.

Today, it’s became harder to distinguish Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals from Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. In this, democracy is not being served.

Majority Coalition Canada

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