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The Situation in Canada Just Got a Little More Interesting

parliamenthill01.jpgA couple of days ago, I posted a piece on what’s going on in Canadian politics, which turned out to inspire one of the most heated comment threads we’ve had on QuizLaw. What I learned was basically two things: 1) We have a lot of (well-spoken) Canadian readers I didn’t know about, and 2) the Canadian political system is both confusing and seemingly very much in shambles right now. If the American media wasn’t so ethnocentric, this story would be on the front page of our papers every day, just for the sheer drama of it all.

To recap: Two liberal parties have joined forces with, I guess, a crazy party (secessionist) and are planning to dump the Prime Minister (who is from the conservative minority) just two months after an election where the Liberal party and it’s unpopular leader were trounced. The Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is threatening to suspend Parliament in order to avoid a vote of no-confidence (which would remove him from office). And apparently, there are absolutely no popular politicians in Canada right now.

Last night, Stephen Harper took to the airwaves and, in a four-and-a-half minute speech (is that all they get in Canada? Less than five minutes?) tried to convince the nation that this takeover, in which the secessionists Bloc Quebecois are the power players, is undemocratic.

He said the opposition’s bid to replace his government with a coalition is a threat to Canada’s democracy. “I pledge to you that Canada’s government will use every legal means at our disposal to protect our democracy, to protect our economy, and to protect Canada.”
He added the coalition can’t be allowed to enter into a power-sharing arrangement with the separatist Bloc Quebecois.
“This is no time for backroom deals with the separatists; it is the time for Canada’s government to focus on the economy.”

From an American perspective, the idea of a conservative leader in Canada strikes many of us as odd — we sort of equate Canadian conservatism with something, perhaps, just to the right of Dennis Kucinich. Because we’re dumb and uninformed and Canadians apparently pay 80 percent of their income to taxes in exchange for the right to wait three weeks in an emergency room. But, from what I gather now, Stephen Harper is a legitimate right winger, at least fiscally. Though he apparently still has quite a bit of support.

I’m not sure how this is all gonna shake out, but you know what? I’m intrigued, and we’re going to follow it. Because Canadian politics just got fascinating.

| Comments (36)


Canadian Conservatives tend to be closest to American Republicans, but as very liberal Republicans. Even the most right-wing Canadian politician is probably well left of its American counterpart. Anyway, the governor-general went and approved a 6-week break, or time-out, so that things can cool down and decisions can be better considered. Harper's going to consult with the provincial premiers as well as industry and the opposition to try draft a budget that can pass muster in the meantime and take the wind out of the coalition's sails. We're pretty fed up with the shenanigans up here but academically it's pretty fascinating, ground-greaking stuff.

Don't worry, Dustin. Based on some of the comments I've heard/read in the last couple of days (not here, though, where the discussion's been pretty reasonable), a lot of Canadians are pretty dumb and uninformed too.

The Canadian system isn't in shambles, in fact it is doing exactly what it is designed to do. A Westminster form of government is designed so that individual citizens vote for their MP. We don't get a vote for Prime Minister. It is the MPs who all get together and form a government, of which the Prime Minister is the head.

The change is that we have historically had one party with a simple majority of the seats in the House of Commons. I suspect many years of majority governments has helped our reputation for boring politics. Lately, we've had minority governments (probably due to the growing dissatisfaction with all of the parties). The party with the most seats typically still forms government, but their government is subject to a majority veto in the House on certain matters. If they lose one of these votes, they are out, and depending on what the Governor General thinks, there is either an election, or another party gets a chance to form government.

All of the news about secessionists is part of a PR campaign designed to discredit the other parties. The current government was having the same talks with the Bloc when they were in opposition, a few elections back. Now the shoe is on the other foot...

Another bit of PR the Conservatives are using is the suggestion that the coalition is trying to "overturn" the results of the election we had 8 weeks ago, in which we supposedly elected a Conservative minority government. However:

1) We did not elect the Conservatives to govern, we elected a House of Commons, and the Governor General asked that party to govern.

2) The election results would not be overturned. All of the MPs elected retain their seats. It's just that the GG could then ask the coalition to govern with the support of the majority.

However, because of the widespread ignorance of the electorate, that strategy seems to be working well.

Wow...Half my rant is already taken care of by the esteemed Kushiro and Kdesjardine. This whole idea of the Canadian political system being in shambles is just spin being put out by the Rove-ian PR machine behind Harper and his cronies. You know the same people who were secretly and without permission recording private meetings being held by other parties only to release those tapes in the past week. Way to go Stevie...that'll boost foreign investor confidence since the world knows how well that situation worked out for Nixon. Though it does appear to be sucessful in distracting people from the scandals circling the party in regard to the Mulroney-Schreiber affair-and we thought the Liberals were the only ones taking kick backs.

Further more it has been thirteen years since the last referendum on sovereignty in Quebec. They lost. As a result the focus of the Bloc has shifted towards ensuring that Quebec's special interests in the Canadian political landscape are represented. Is that any worse than Harper's own comments encouraging oil rich Alberta to build a firewall around its borders to keep out the unemployed masses flocking from Ontario?

All of this is just another bully tactic being used by Harper's stormtroopers to keep him in power like a dictator while he attacks the rights of average Canadians. He's blown our budget surplus by giving unneeded tax breaks, demoralized the economy of the most populated Provence, shattered the abilities of families to make ends meet and denied women the right to equal work for equal pay. I certainly am disappointed in Michelle Jean for allowing it to continue by pronging parliament. The majority of Canadians did *not* vote for the Conservative party and its about time The House of Commons reflected that.

I was quite shocked that the G.G. granted the suspension of Parliament. Will this create a precedent that whenever a government knows it's about to lose a vote of confidence, it can simply lock up the building?

I also find it entertaining that Harper is trying to spin this as "for the good of the nation." Having a completely inactive government during this period of economic unrest does not indicate to me that this is in anyone's interest but Harper's.

Whoa, Miz M, take it easy. Harper & Rovians? Here, take a nice, long, drag on this and get back to me when you're mellow. There was nothing illegal about the recording as the Tory MP was mistakenly INVITED into the conference call. He had good reason to think there was gold in them there hills and was smart enough to record it. Now, ethically, that's not so good, especially the publicising part, but it makes damn good leverage when used properly. Nothing illegal or Nixonian about that.

Unneeded tax breaks? Bullshit! The surplus was built on overtaxing people & companies, thus stifling investment and development, and on underdelivering government services and cutting provincial transfer payments - nothing but smoke and mirrors. Demoralised the economy of the Center of the Universe? No, global economics did that, ON just has to retool to get competitive again, we can't have everyone else subsidising an outdated business model, any aid has to be tied to change.

I love that you said the GG "prong"ed parliament. That's the best dirty political euphemism I've seen yet.

At least now we can get back to the real business of Canada: paying millions of dollars for the GG and her husband to fly First Class and stay in luxury hotels.

To say that taxes were stifling investment is nothing more than rhetoric. Although he may have reduced taxes for some poor, cash strapped oil companies, he also slashed many social programs that provided support to numerous vulnerable groups. But thank god we're creating surpluses in multinational corporations that don't bother to reinvest the money back in our economy.

It is interesting to say the market crash has nothing to do with Harper, but is simply global. Harper has followed the US model as closely as he could: he is very much a champion of deregulation, and as we've seen, that hasn't always worked out well.

Ellie, the Ontario recession was not due to deregulation but to a higher loonie. The manufacturers grew fat and lazy and inefficient, knowing they'd be profitable while the buck was low. Now that it's higher, they've taken it on the chin, and rather than getting their act together they're going bitching to Ottawa begging for a bailout for their own short-sightedness. And can't you look beyond companies towards consumers? I'm way better off under Tory economic policies than I ever was under the Liberals as a taxpayer. I'm not opposed to social programs supporting the vulnerable, but when the taxes supporting them create more vulnerable then something's gotta change to avoid becoming a complete nanny state.

Now, deregulation is by and large a bad idea, and I'm not thrilled that Harper's tried to push it so much, just like I'm opposed to their attempted Copyright Act reforms and other initiatives. At least with Obama elected Harper won't be able to march lock-step with the leadership of our biggest trading partner, he'll be challenged and have to stand up for Canada. It'll be interesting to see what happens when the Liberals pick their new leader, there could be a much more enlightened platform available as an alternative.

lordhelmet, I'm not one much for economics, and I'm sure you know more about that field than I. However, it has always struck me as bizarre to claim that indirectly supporting the poor is better than doing so directly. Giving tax breaks to corporations, but then refusing to raise the minimum wage to a livable wage, cutting benefits to families on income assistance, destroying child care subsidies, and denying women equal pay for equal work seem like pandering to the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

I'm glad that you are better off under Harper, and incidentally I am too. But my sister is a single young mother, and she's been right fucked by many of his policies. She is not alone in this.

Ellie, I don't know a lot about economics (but I probably know more than Jack Layton!) but I know something about business economics. If corporate taxes are too high then corporations move out and we lose jobs. Of course, we can't get too sweetheart on them but have to find a good balance, where it's low enough to attract companies (and bring jobs) but not too low to benefit the economy. Minimum wage I thought was a provincial matter (I know BC raised its minimum a while back while introducing a training wage), not federal (I could be wrong). Cutting benefits and child care subsidies aren't nice but there may be more effective programs, I'm in favour of exploration here (and who says government has to be in the charity business?). Equal pay is a no-brainer, and should absolutely be implemented. I may be a lord but I love my lady and don't want her treated as anything less than an equal. I'd be okay with a phased implementation so as not to shock the cost of business too much but indefinite postponement is not acceptable.

Check out some of Michael Campbell's podcast for a basic understanding of the issues: http://emedia.cknw.com/podcasts/michael_campbell__dec_2-2008.mp3

They think I'm slow cause I'm from Canada, ehh?

Just kidding.

As a woman working for the current administration in Manitoba, I find it all very interesting. I am pretty much going to keep my opinion to myself regarding this exercise in democracy, however I will have to ask what everyone else thinks about how PSAC (a major union) which is supposed to remain politically neutral, has gone and thrown their hat into the coalition's ring.

Gee, quelle surpris? Unions are a necessary evil to keep the workers from getting trampelled, but they're just another level of parasitic bureaucracy that acts to preserve its own power and existence. I don't believe there's a single union that's truly politically neutral, especially as long as the union-loving NDP continues to court their support.

Um, dear Americans, my apologies for this. We Canadian readers like QuizLaw because it plays to all our prejudices about you (gun-luvin, lawsuit crazy, etc.)

Now you get a taste of our kerfuffles, and let me assure you, they actually are boring. By the standards of almost anywhere else in the world, our parties are essentially identical, and the divisions are mostly about region, not economics. A colourful well-spoken fellow like Obama would not have a chance as a Canadian politician.

Mind you, Canadians are totally united on one thing: we hate our politicians more than you hate yours. Even here in Calgary, everybody hates Harper, they just hate everybody else more. In Canadian elections, nobody votes for anything, they just vote against whoever they hate most. Which, these days, can make voting very difficult indeed.

Oh, and re the other thread, I also would like to apologize for Jim Carrey. That was a really dirty thing to do to a relatively nice neighbour. So sorry. Us bad.

And finally, I think we would be happier if you did not pay attention to us. As Pierre Truedeau once said, living next to the US is like a mouse sharing a bed with an elephant: you want the elephant to be interested, just not too interested. Please stop paying attention to us, huh?

You know, this may be blasphemous here, but I actually miss Jean Chrétien. Any Prime Minister that can strangle his own attacker is generally ok by me.

I'm just so excited that I finally get to use knowledge gleaned from one of those Clancy-esque military sci-fi books. (You know the ones where they completely to decide to explain a Parliamentary system of government because it's a minor plot point.) Woohoo! No knowledge is ever wasted!!!!! Plus, I admit this is fun to watch; let's hear it for OTHER people's political disagreements.

But seriously, did any of us think that there would be any other result to this BUT proroguing parliament?

All the same, this might work out to the best for Canada, as Harper has truly revealed what we've all suspected all along : he's a classic bully. And the Opposition has finally caught on to the fact that when you stand up to a bully, he will cut and run to avoid the fight.

Maybe, just maybe, we'll actually see something other than self-serving grandstanding and politicking out of this government...

but I'm not gonna hold my breath

Darn, I was really looking forward to extremely unlikely thing that is the Liberal-NDP coalition struggle to govern (who will eat who?) with the Bloc smirking and Harper bombasting. Now we'll have to wait until the end of January to get our Christmas present, and I wonder if the coalition can possibly hold itself together until then (I wouldn't be betting any real money on it).

I do wish the GG had had more sense of the holiday season entertainment value of this mess, and refused to prorogue. Ah well.

For our American friends, here is a really simple guide to Canadian politics: we have four parties, the crooks, the commies, the traitors, and the nazis. (Well, there are also the tree-huggers led by a buzz-saw voiced woman even more annoying than Hillary, but they really don't signify.) We now have an appetizing choice of the crooks, commies, and traitors ganging up on the nazis. It's nice to see the nazis get shanked, really, but still, it is by crooks and commies mostly, with a nod and a wink by the traitors.

What makes this really entertaining is that you'd think that the crooks and commies would hate the nazis above all, but no, they hate each other much more, because they share a lot of the same turf, which is why the coalition is so entertaining and impossible. And all three actually kind of love the traitors, who are extremely useful in providing a false bogeyman, and whose extremely practical politics (ie utter whorishness) make them a potential ally for practically anybody willing to pay the price, except that you don't want to be seen in public dating them (which all parties have, from time to time, done).

Got it?

Ah, popejenn, you are absolutely right. Chretien basically had me with the 'car stuck in a snowdrift' analogy to constitutional negotiations that pretty much ended our Meech travails. And I did love the 'Shawinigan Handshake' I mean how often do you get to see the leader of your country get physical on a protester? And it was amazing how he could mangle the language so dreadfully in both official languages, and yet be crystal clear? On top of which, we all knew he was dirty and had dirty corrupt cronies, and were totally down with that.

I miss him, I do. Not that I ever voted for him mind you, but still.

By the standards of almost anywhere else in the world, our parties are essentially identical, and the divisions are mostly about region, not economics.


In Canadian elections, nobody votes for anything, they just vote against whoever they hate most. Which, these days, can make voting very difficult indeed.

Actually Orval, that sounds just like America.

And in breaking news: less than a week after the coalition is formed it might not make it until parliament reconvenes. At least not under Dion's leadership.

It has got to suck when your own party doesn't want you.

OK, could one of you kind folks explain the role of the Governor General in your government? Seems to be a powerful position.

The Governor General is the representative of the Queen in Canada. She is essentially a rubber stamp/symbolic figure in modern times, serving largely as a symbolic head of state. However, on occasion the position requires decisions such as the one recently made. The G-G is supposed to remain as apolitical as possible. The G-G in Canada is appointed by the Queen, but on the advice of the Prime Minister.

The twist in the present situation is the G-G could have ordered the forming of a new government, and a new Prime Minister.

Chicken and egg much?

So I was discussing the Canadian political "crisis" with my boyfriend (and how I clearly need to brush up on Canadian civics) a his response was too funny not to post:

"We should invade now while we have the chance."

No Popejenn, you are not alone, I miss the hell out of Chretien. More importantly, I miss having a stable government. It's been so long!
I wish the GG hadn't granted Hoppy's wish to suspend parliament, because Canada needs a strong fiscal policy to deal with the economy. Historically, it's been the Liberals that have kept the books balanced the best (ignore the sponsorship scandal pls).

"We should invade now while we have the chance."

Actually, three elle, not to take anything away from your bf, but Canadians have been making that joke since Obama was elected. When faced with Obama or Harper for a leader, some Canadians might roll right over when the tanks roll in...

Well put, kdesjarding. If I may add a few points:

More precisely, the Governor General's position is a vice-regal one. The Queen is the titular head of state. There are Governors General in many of the British Commonwealth country. The GG is basically put in charge of running the country to which he or she is appointed. So, essentially, the GG represents the Queen (i.e. governs in her stead).

In order to govern the country, the GG requires the advice of ministers who are supported by a majority in the elected house of parliament. The leader of the party or coalition of parties that is supported by the majority is the Prime Minister.

The GG is the one who actually has the power to appoint the PM and ministers (as selected by the PM). He or she gives royal assent to all laws passed and is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

The Prime Minister's role is to lead and direct government, organize the cabinet, and recommend appointments to key positions (subject to approval by the GG).

It is thus Governor General's authority to appoint who leads the government, to give permission to suspend or dissolve the government, and to call for an election.

It's true that a lot of the approval of laws and cabinet appointments are akin to rubber-stamping. However, he/she does have the power to say no.

This is what Canadians seem to misunderstand in a fundamental way. We do not elect a PM, parties do not "win" or "lose" elections, and the party with the most votes does not automatically have the right to govern.

The PM is not like a president; he does not hold ultimate executive power. The Queen of England, through her appointed Governor General, does.

All this kerfuffle is yet more evidence (in my opinion) of why we need some electoral reform up here. Proportional representation in some form would help us out. In B.C. at least we will get to vote about this in May I believe (STV - Single Transferable Vote)

Thanks for the info. And that is even stranger that I thought it would be.

It might not be perfect but, at least I have my HUMAN RIGHTS! Every time I get gay married and go to the doctor for free I'll think of you. XOXO

If another federal election is held, I have decided to vote green, if only to give them my $1.95 as a big (and expensive) eff-you to Douchebag Harper.

Many people have told me that I'm "throwing away my vote". I dislike that this is what they think. It's my exercise in democracy and I happen to agree with a lot of their social policies. Not that they'd have any idea how to govern, but I like that we have more than a 2 or 3 party system, and I want to support that while I still have that ability and some other power-monger doesn't repeal what Stephen Harper tried to.

orval, where are you getting the idea that people in Calgary hate Harper? I live here too and all I hear (ok 95% of the time) is how great he is. Plus a lot of other garbage. Did you not see the crowds come out downtown today to support his government? Bah. There is a huge segment of the population that will believe absolutely anything that he and the party say. that man that party lies and lies and lies and people still support him. I don't get it. He, imo, is the most un-Canadian, undemocractic, unleader like ever and people love him. Not that the opposition parties have helped. They are horrifically inept.

Quick note to Dustin: I take it that "a crazy party (secessionist)" refers to the Bloc, who has represented Quebec's interests at the federal level since 1990.

In fact, in the mid-nineties the Bloc was the official opposition to Canada's governing party in the House of Commons (which means they won the second largest amount of seats in a federal election).

No need to resort to ill-informed and inflammatory comments. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloc_Québécois

If you're interested in their platform, which supports same-sex marriage and the decriminalization of marijuana, check out: http://www.mapleleafweb.com/old/election/federal/2004/platform/bloc.html

I know this is a bit late, but I've been cut off from my precious internet as I was moving.

Apparently, Lordhelmet is a Harper apologist who thinks corporate tax cuts and lowering the GST is what makes Canada's economy competitive.

The World Economic Forum states that the more corporate taxes are cut, the less competitive economies become. Hence, in 1999, the year before Paul Martin introduced huge corporate tax cuts, Canada was rated 5th in economic competitiveness. Now after 9 years of Martin and Flaherty tax cuts we are somewhere around 16th. Bloody dismal! Also, those "crazy socialist" Nordic countries who collect half of their GDP in taxes each year all beat Canada's competitiveness. So, apparently, it is quite possible to tax your citizens, have a bustling economy, and ensure your citizens' quality of life by providing a variety of social programs and environmental sustainability.

Why the hell can't I live in Sweden?!

Yo, Canucks!

Somebody tell our American friends about our Senate.

I've tried to explain to Americans in the past, but their grey matter starts running out their ears after awhile.