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Jack and Gilles went up the hill

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Anyone who has regard for the Canadian political tradition or the great things we have done together in the past as a nation should avert his or her glance today as the NDP and the Bloc vote to keep the Harper government in office on a confidence motion.

There is no glory on this day for anyone. All four parties in the House gain and lose from what is happening in Ottawa.

The Harper government gets to stay in office, having thrown a few crumbs on the table to win the support of the NDP and the Bloc. The Conservatives who relish their take-no-prisoners approach to governing are tall in the saddle. What they have lost is the ability to frighten Canadians with the terrors of last autumn's failed attempt to create a Liberal-NDP coalition government with the backing of the Bloc. Now it is Stephen Harper who is being kept in office by the socialists and the separatists, the very political forces he earlier portrayed as unfit to have a say in governing the country.

Michael Ignatieff is a winner because his bluff paid off. The Liberals are now free to vote against the government on every confidence motion. They have succeeded in shifting the burden of determining the fate of the government to the two other opposition parties. While the Liberals may be the major victors in this week's brawl, that doesn't reverse the remarkable shrinkage Ignatieff's stature has undergone over the past year. Once thought of as a sparkling intellectual, a second Pierre Trudeau, the Liberal leader bumbled his way into and out of the coalition, gave his support to the Harper government in return for a few report cards, and spent the summer who knows where.

Jack Layton delayed another trip to the polls, which may have been his short-term aim. He has lost his position as the stalwart opponent of a deeply reactionary government. Principle gave way to expediency. Chiding the Liberals for their previous votes of confidence in Stephen Harper doesn't amount to much if the NDP backs the government when it really counts.

For the Bloc Quebecois to vote confidence in a government that excoriated their movement and party as having no right to a role in running the country shouts the message that all Gilles Duceppe and his MPs care about is saving their seats. Quebecois who were furious about Harper's demagogic campaign to de-legitimize their members of parliament can only shake their heads in disgust.

Jack fell down and broke his crown and Gilles came tumbling after.

Canadians grow cynical as they watch. Last year, a smaller proportion of Canadians than Americans voted in their countries' respective elections, and that was unprecedented. At a time when Canadians need political leadership to cope with a broken economic system, they get this.

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