Monday, January 26, 2009

Canada's Parliament Reopens - Throne Speech - What Next

Today is an historic occasion - Canada's parliament re-opens after having been suspended or "prorogued" by minority Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper last December. The PM advised Governor General Michaelle Jean to announce this drastic measure to avoid a legal and democratic confidence vote on his government's mini-budget. The majority of opposition parties - the NDP, the Liberals and the Bloc - had announced their intentions to vote non-confidence in Harper's minority and request the G.G. allow a coalition of the majority to form a new government to immediately address the then deepening economic crisis. This democratic coalition was based on an accord reached between all three opposition parties entitled "An Accord on a Cooperative Government to Address the Current Economic Crisis".

During the snap election last October (called by Harper in contravention of his own government's bill to hold elections only on fixed dates) more than 62% of Canadians voted against Harper's Conservatives. The Conservatives under Harper have never won a majority in Canada. Regardless, the Conservatives did not govern accordingly - that is as a minority which should seek consensus from all parties - rather Harper treated his responsibility as if his mandate was a majority and not the meagre 37% actually tallied. For example, the mini-budget presented by his Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was completely out of touch with the worldwide reality of economic recession and contained no significant stimulus measures. In advising the Governor General to suspend parliament, PM Harper appealed to the G.G. that "stability" was required to address the economy and referred to the Bloc contingent as those scary "separatists" (recalling the old days of Chretien and his schemes to federalize Quebec sovereignty - and also ignoring his very own act of formally recognizing Quebec sovereignty) . This stability came in the form of the Draconian measure of suspending the democratic process of Canada's legally elected representatives and delaying real economic change for a crucial six weeks.

Now it's as if the Conservatives and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are saying, " Never mind! ", introducing a "do-over" budget with no relation to their pre-Christmas version of economic stimulus. Having selectively leaked almost all major details of the budget in advance of tomorrow's formal introduction to parliament, it can be seen that the Conservatives completely misread the depth of the economic crisis, and are playing politics with Canadians by juggling partisan power plays and avoiding true consensual governance. In the past, as opposition, Harper himself has called for the Liberal government to step down over budget leaks. Now, clinging to power, the Conservatives misuse their own access to sensitive information merely as a backroom marketing ploy. For example - they have leaked that the budget will create a $60+ billion dollar deficit, but have withheld the total cost of the package - is it $150B? $300B? We'll wait for tomorrow and see.

In the mean time we have a Throne speech from the Governor General in a little less than three hours to re-open and revive our parliament. Although the reponse to the throne speech could signal a confidence vote itself, it's expected the opposition, under Layton, Duceppe and the newly appointed Liberal leader Ignatieff, will wait for Tuesday's budget. Layton, this morning on CBC has already stated that the NDP will not support the budget sight unseen, having lost confidence in the minority government to effectively implement its measures. Ignatieff has stated he will peruse the budget with the Liberal caucus before deciding on a non-confidence motion.

Harper's Conservative government? They have taken the almost paranoid step of running a series of advertisements in the past several days, privately paid for by the Conservative Party of Canada. The gist of the radio spots, one of which features two women chatting about the economy, is simpleminded scaremongering. "Remember all that stuff the coalition put us through last year?", it states, and continues, "Oh no, not that again! We need action on our economy, not more political uncertainty". Indeed we do need action Mr. Harper. We needed it last December and your response was to close the doors of the government. We needed immediate action and the Conservatives chose a six week hiatus. Now get to work! - and if your budget sparks a non-confidence vote - stop clinging to power and let the majority rule.

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