Friday, December 12, 2008

Canadian Political Crisis

Great article at Maclean's explaining how the recent Canadian political crisis went down. Canda held elections quite recently in October, in which the Conservative party won a plurality and formed a minority government in their Parliament headed by Stephen Harper. Canada has three other major politcal parties, the Liberals (for many long years the most powerful Canadian party), the New Democrats (NDP) and the separatist Quebec party which often promotes the province's independence from the larger nation. Harper brought down the wrath of all three parties by proposing the end of party subsidies from government funds (based on the number of votes received from the last election). The Conservatives raise much more of their campaign funding from private sources than the other parties, so this caused the Liberals in particular to feel threatened.

The crisis erupted just a month after the election as the NDP and Liberals conspired to overthrow the Conservatives by threatening to bring a no confidence vote against Harper and form a coalition government of their own. However, the two parties alone would not have a majority in Parliament - only by including the Quebec faction would they succeed, and that may have proved their downfall. With some deft political manuevering, Harper managed to survive by having the Canadian Governor-General (Canadian Head of State) temporarily suspend Parliament. The failure of the move hastened the demise of former Liberal leader Stephon Dion and led to ascension of new Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. It may have also exposed the NDP (led by Jack Layton) to permanent second rate status. The magazine sums up the article thusly:

"Whatever the outcome, the parties and their leaders all look different now. Harper survived into 2009 only through improvisation, occasional demagoguery, and constitutional brinksmanship. His reputation for strategic savvy is permanently damaged, as might be his party’s prospects among Quebecers who don’t view the Bloc as fair game for demonization. He still has only a minority, and now faces opposition leaders who distrust and dislike him, and long to humble him, more than ever. His advantage in facing Dion, a lame duck, is suddenly lost. Ignatieff might be tougher.

Layton’s long-standing behind-the-scenes interest in coalitions and co-operation with other parties is now out in the open. That will make it hard for him to claim in any future campaign, as he did in the last one, that he’s really “running for prime minister.” The distinction between New Democrat and Liberal aims is clouded, perhaps diluting the NDP brand. As for Ignatieff, he now takes over the Liberal helm, not after a bracing victory in a conventional leadership race, but through a rushed process that didn’t allow normal democratic input from his party’s members. He will have to struggle to validate his claim on the party’s heart."

Very interesting to see how things will turn out, Harper has bought himself some time until the end of January and it would not surprise me to see another election up north real soon. Opinion polling during the crisis appeared to indicate considerable suppport for the conservative government, with some 70% of Canadians disapproving of the Liberal/NDP consiracy.

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