Watching the comedy of federal politics is getting less and less amusing all the time.
Most of us are getting cranky because the show is lapsing into pandemonium, as we wonder whether there’s some kind of proper ending to it in which the country is adequately governed or whether the prospect is for endless slapstick with sinister and costly twists.
It’s not just that the Harper government is now entering the realm of the ridiculous — the uproar over the $1.9-million “fake lake” pavilion for the G20 summit will serve as handy shorthand for a troupe whose tricks are no longer working – but that the divided opposition can do little to threaten it despite commanding two-thirds of the Canadian electorate.
The fact that talk of a coalition among the opposition parties has erupted, with some of the notable elders of Canadian politics suggesting it — Jean Chrétien, Roy Romanow, Ed Broadbent — is a symptom of the unease and of a broad desire in the Canadian electorate that something be done.
The fact that just suggesting it has caused bedlam underlines the absurd dysfunction of our politics. Say “coalition” and the Harper forces let loose with massive bombardment of ridicule despite being themselves the product of a coalition – of the right-wing Reform/ Canadian Alliance party and what remained of the Progressive Conservatives.
The leaders of the Liberals and NDP have abundantly denied and even denounced the notion of a coalition.
Of course, that’s all they can do. It’s true, a coalition before an election would be a logistics nightmare and an occasion for more pratfalls.
The talk here was largely inspired by the breezy way the British formed a majority government via coalition, but that was after the election.
Nevertheless, the usefulness of this talk is to put all cards on the table for the future, since the only prospects for replacing the Harper Conservatives anytime soon would be via Liberal minority government, which by itself would likely evolve into the same circus by another name.
But what caught my ear were some of the reasons given by Liberals and New Democrats for not wanting to talk coalition – the preservation of their noble traditions.
This might be the fancy of insiders, but as far as the public is concerned, the Liberal “tradition” is the sponsorship scandal. This is especially so in Quebec where suspicions are extra deep, which virtually ensures that the Liberals can’t be a stand-alone majority party again.
As for the NDP, as they went into their convention last winter there was talk of a name change — which didn’t happen for essentially the same reasons.
I found this disappointing. A name change — to social democrats, perhaps, or liberal democrats — would have signalled a new beginning and a new attitude, and with proper strategy the party could have come up the middle, eating into Liberals, perhaps Greens who at 12 per cent last election are politically significant, soft nationalists in Quebec, and even into politically homeless Progressive Conservatives who had their party taken from them by Harper’s right-wingers.
The fact is that both the Conservative and Liberal “traditions” in Canada are worn out. The best solution would be for a completely new party to make a fresh start. It happened in Nova Scotia — even if the fresh start is slow to get into high gear a year after the NDP victory.
But the Canadian political conundrum wouldn’t be entirely solved either, if one party or a coalition of the centre-left did occur.
The elephant in the room is still the Bloc Québécois. But the Bloc, which has been there “temporarily” for 20 years as it waits in vain for Quebec independence, is vulnerable.
Even the Harper Conservatives were eating into it in the polls before the last election, until they put off Quebecers with a few gauche moves.
The Bloc styles itself as “defending Quebec’s interests.” But what they’re really doing is preventing the formation of a proper federal government and preventing Quebec talent from participating in the federal cabinet, leaving cabinet-makers with whatever poor wood is available like the problematic Maxime Bernier. That hardly amounts to defending Quebec’s interests.
However, before that argument can be ably made in Bloc country, the rest of the country, which includes half the ridings in Quebec, must get its act together, and it can’t get it together by clinging to old and narrow divisions.