Sunday, December 07, 2008

Has Canadian democracy triumphed?

Thanks to ConservativeInternational for highlighting this one: Notes on a crisis: The End. Events in Canada have moved rapidly since my last post (When was this put to the electorate?). Prime Minister Stephen Harper has advised the Governor General to prorogue Parliament until the end of January, allowing time for sober reflection and preventing the never-put-to-the-electorate Liberal-NDP coalition from snatching power. And the opinion polls have shown a decisive shift in favour of the Conservatives and against the coalition parties. Meanwhile the realisation of what their deal involves has sunk in with the Liberals, as has the awfulness of their outgoing leader, Stéphane Dion. To call Dion Canada's answer to Sir Menzies Campbell would frankly be an insult to Campbell.
With Parliament prorogued, the coalition is dead. The only way they were going to make this thing stick, even temporarily, was by way of a speedy assumption of power, the glue that mends all breaks. But having lunged and missed, they will be very much on their back feet. I repeat: The coalition is over. I'll be surprised if it lasts the week.

But don't take my word for it. Two polls out today show that the coalition has backfired on its two main participants — hugely. Ekos has the Tories ahead by twenty points, 44-24, while Ipsos Reid puts the margin at an astounding 46-23. This is after the Tories had supposedly disgraced themselves by the "provocation" of cutting the political parties off the public teat, and by failing to provide adequate "stimulus."

Ipsos numbers show, further, that 60% of the public opposes the coalition, 62% are "angry" with it for trying to take power, while 68% support the Governor General's decision. The Grits can read the numbers as well as I can. There is no way they will return to this well.

Indeed, the caucus, after a three hour meeting this afternoon, seems to have other priorities in mind — namely forcing Dion from the leadership ASAP, rather than wait until the May convention. That's easier said than done, and is tangled up in the race to succeed him. For it only makes sense, if he is to be replaced quickly, to replace him with a permanent leader, and if the decision were made today it would almost certainly be Michael Ignatieff, and as Bob Rae can't abide that, he will be doing everything in his power to see to it that Dion stays in place.
(By the way "cutting the political parties off the public teat" refers to Conservative proposals to end the system whereby political parties get to dip their hands into taxpayers' wallets and get $1.95 for every single vote they poll. Would anyone seriously contemplate a £1 a vote system here?)

And so the Canadian tradition of governments decided in the ballot box, not in shabby deals amongst parties who said they wouldn't work together, is upheld. The biggest loser in the whole affair is Stéphane Dion. He'd already announced his resignation as leader in October (see No end of Liberal leadership elections!) but the leadership convention wasn't scheduled to take place until May. Now he is facing calls to go sooner than that.

Part of the collapse of support for Dion came in the very different broadcasts to the country by Harper and Dion. Harper's can be seen at ConservativeInternational: Canadian Conservatives launch 'hearts and minds' campaign to stay in power, Dion's at YouTube: Stephane Dion responds to Harper (and no, that out of focus is not a YouTube fault)). Yes someone in Dion's staff should have seen the PR disaster coming a mile off, but Dion himself should also have realised the failings of his chosen webcam format.

And so the winners of the last Canadian election continue to govern. Stephen Harper has triumphed, as has the principle that Canadian governments are decided at the ballot box.

See also: ConservativeInternational: Opinion polls set to kill opposition parties' attempt to oust Stephen Harper.

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