Strange bedfellows not so shocking

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When this election fever eventually comes to an end, and the NDP settles down into bed with its natural political ally on the left, Jack Layton's words will come back to haunt him.

Jack Layton and Paul Martin are joining forces in a bout of pre-electoral name-calling. Both accuse Stephen Harper's Conservatives of being “in bed with the separatists.”

What an insult (to Quebec's sovereigntists)!

Unlike the Conservatives, the Bloc Québecois is not against the $4.6 billion in social and environmental spending the NDP has managed to annex to the Liberal budget. For the Bloc, the budget changes do not go far enough. The BQ would have liked to see the money that was stolen from the employment insurance regime put back into the system where it belongs (to pay unemployed workers rather than to give tax breaks to the wealthy).

Gilles Duceppe has also been very critical of the government's failure to address the fiscal imbalance between Ottawa and the provinces which has created problems for the latter in maintaining health and social spending.

Canada has not been in a minority government situation since Joe Clark was Prime Minister, so maybe our political leaders need a little refresher course in the significance of conjunctural party alliances:

  • The New Democrats do not support Liberal corruption simply because they want to see a bit more social spending.
  • The Conservatives do not support Quebec independence simply because they will vote with the Bloc to bring down the government.
  • The Bloc does not support the U.S. Star Wars missile system simply because it is working against the current government with a party whose leader is chummy with George W.
  • And (nobody is saying anything different at this point but it still bears keeping in mind) the Liberals only care about their own political survival and would make a deal with Lucifer himself to stay on top.

Of course Martin, Duceppe, Layton and Harper are all perfectly aware of these elementary facts. But that doesn't stop them from making these guilt-by-association accusations. The theory is that the average voter is not smart enough to see these partisan maneuverings for what they are. And they may be right.

In English-speaking Canada there is an almost visceral hatred of anything connected with Quebec independence that does wonders to cloud people's reason. For years, Jean Chrétien was able to justify the “excesses” of the sponsorship program by claiming he had to do it to “save Canada” from the separatist threat (and what a great job that program did too). So when Harper is put in a situation where he must vote with the Bloc if he wants to capitalize on popular anger and force an election, there is a political price to pay.

It was obvious to anyone who follows Canadian politics that Paul Martin would accuse Stephen Harper of playing footsy with the forces dedicated to “the destruction of Canada.” Maybe I was naive, but I expected better from Jack Layton. And this is not just because Layton has principles whereas Martin has none (although that is part of it). It is also because playing this kind of game will eventually backfire on the NDP. It is not a smart strategic move.

If there is any party that will have to “get into bed with the separatists” it is the NDP. What other party in the House will unequivocally support same-sex marriage, employment insurance reform, more transfers to the provinces for education and health, decriminalization of marijuana, and an end to corporate tax breaks? Some Liberals support some of these measures some of the time, but the Bloc, like the NDP, is far more consistent on these issues.

When this election fever eventually comes to an end, and the NDP settles down into bed with its natural political ally on the left, Jack Layton's words will come back to haunt him.

There are plenty of reasons to go after Harper. There is no need to make up ones that have no basis in fact. He opposes same-sex marriage, he is in favour of Star Wars and if one of his party's members puts forward a private member's bill to take away a woman's right to choose, his party may very well make it law. Isn't that enough? Why try to make him into a separatist too?

Who knows? The separatist smear could even backfire. With the popularity of sovereignty at an all-time high in Quebec, associating the Conservatives with separatism may be just what is needed to give the party a beachhead in the province.

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