In these heady days of hope, change, puppies, and rainbows, not too many people are paying attention to the political tableau playing out in our northern neighbor. Those wags who do remember that Canada had its own election in October -- resulting in the reelection of Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- quip that, come January, the United States will have the most liberal government in North America.
Not so fast. It turns out that while Harper's Conservatives did strengthen their minority government -- that is, they won by far the largest plurality in the nation's multi-party parliament, increasing their previous result -- by definition a minority government can be outvoted if other parties gang up on them. Here's the math: Canada's House of Commons has 308 seats (meaning 155 constitutes a majority), of which the Conservatives have 143, the Liberals 77, the Bloc Quebecois (whose sole raison d'etre is that Quebec should be a separate country, but who can ideologically be described as populist-socialist) 49, New Democratic Party (socialists) 37, and unaffiliated independents 2. And here's the short version of what's gone down to upset the applecart: In a new fiscal program unveiled last week, PM Harper announced, among other things, cuts to public funding of political parties and restrictions on public sector unions' right to strike. The opposition would have none of this and quickly arranged what in other circumstances might be a called a palace coup: Liberal leader Stephane Dion (already a lame duck after leading his party to its worst showing ever), citing the Conservatives' failure to prepare for a recession (nevermind that Canada's economy grew in the third quarter, and by more than it has all year), agreed on a tripartite deal with the NDP and Bloc that would oust the Tory government.
The biggest news here is that, for the first time ever, a separatist party will be a formal part of the government -- the king-makers, no less. The federalism/Quebec "question" is, shall we say, a delicate one in Canada, so this is a pretty big deal.
While the Bloc will not have any ministers (the Liberals and NDP are to divvy up cabinet spots in a 3:1 ratio), it will, per the formal text of the deal, be part of a "permanent consultation mechanism." As blogger and National Post columnist Ezra Levant put it:
Well, we already have one of those – it’s called Parliament. But Parliament is a little too public for this coalition – you know, with nosy Canadians watching how deals are made. This consultation mechanism will be private – a way for the separatists to make their demands in secret, and for Prime Minister Stephane Dion to meet those demands in secret.
Indeed, those demands were many: an immediate $1 billion transfer to Quebec, along with a slew of patronage posts, including Senate seats (the Prime Minister appoints senators, and there are currently 18 vacancies). Apparently, Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party (which won no seats in parliament but captured 6.8% of the vote) was also offered a Senate seat.
And, as part of a "Policy Accord to Address the Present Economic Crisis," the new coalition proposes such "stimulus" measures as "support for culture, including the cancellation of budget cuts announced by the Conservative government" and "support for Canadian Wheat Board and Supply Management." And then came word of a (further) $30 billion national "bailout," as yet undefined. In other words, a mish-mash of left-wing policy ideas dressed up as emergency measures.
OK, so now what happens? Well, according to parliamentary procedure, Dion, as Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, will call for a "vote of non-confidence" in the government. Assuming the Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition holds together -- Canada's mainstream media, displaying the same bias as America's, calls this the "Liberal-NDP" coalition so average Canadians don't think about the separatists -- the prime minister will have to resign and Governor-General Michaelle Jean (the titular head of state, filling the role the British monarch used to, in this case appointed by the Queen on former Liberal PM Paul Martin's recommendation) can either invite Dion to form a government or call new elections. Harper plans to head off this turn of events by asking Jean to "prorogue" (suspend) the parliament until January, by which point the Conservatives will have plead their case to the people and thereby either win a confidence motion or force new elections.
The bottom line: Canada is having a bit of a constitutional crisis, the most likely result of which is an unstable governing coalition composed of liberals, socialists, and socialist separatists. In the meantime, the Toronto Stock Exchange has tanked. It almost makes card check, the Fairness Doctrine, and the auto bailout look good by comparison.