Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Minority government is not a license to bully

This is what the Harper Conservatives to date have failed to get. Canadians elected a minority Harper government, at the height of a major Liberal scandal, because despite that taint in the air surrounding the Liberals at the time, they could not fully put their trust in Mr. Harper. And Mr. Harper has taken Canadians' judgment and fully ignored it. An endless stream of confidence votes meant to obsessively politically bludgeon his principal opponent, Stephane Dion, have been the result. What's been missing, however, is any sense of respect for the mandate he'd actually been given. And that was to govern as a minority government as Canadians have known them. That means governing in concert with the opposition parties, in a give and take to get things done, in the interests of the Canadian public. The mandate was not a license to enforce a "my way or the highway" regime and to subject the Canadian people to an intensely partisan performance. Yet that's what we've seen.

So it was interesting to see the contrasting situation in Quebec as reported yesterday:
Quebec's minority Liberal government survived a vote on its budget Tuesday.

The Opposition Action democratique du Quebec sided with the government, ensuring the spending plan passed 84-33. The ADQ had pledged to support the government when Finance Minister Monique Jerome-Forget tabled the budget last month.

Only the Parti Quebecois voted against the bill.

Jerome-Forget's budget eliminates capital tax for Quebec's 1,400 manufacturing companies.

It also contains several modest measures for families, which were aimed at securing the ADQ's support.
Yet such cooperative examples are largely an alien concept at the federal level. What a revolutionary notion - the governing party securing another party's support by working together.

That's what's supposed to happen. How hard is that? For reasons that lie with the leader, the Harper Conservatives seem constitutionally incapable of acting in any manner other than government by strongman. And after two years, conciliatory governance might now be much too late to achieve.

Yet yesterday, Harper seemed to be toning down the rhetoric on the issue of parliamentary committee obstruction by his Conservative committee members. It appears he's playing good cop to Jay Hill's bad cop:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he's in no hurry to go to the polls even though his party's whip is threatening a snap election to end the partisan antics that have paralysed parliamentary committees.

Harper told a news conference Tuesday he wants to govern until October 2009, the timeline laid out in recently approved legislation setting fixed four-year terms for federal governments.

And he said he's ready to work with opposition parties to make Parliament - and its committees - work.

"I understand the nature of the opposition. I was leader of the Opposition," Harper said.

"It's the nature of the opposition to oppose the government but at the same time I hope we can concentrate our efforts on real issues, issues of public policy."

Harper's conciliatory tone was in stark contrast to the threat levelled last week by Conservative whip Jay Hill during a private meeting with his three opposition counterparts. (emphasis added)
Hill levelled the threat to have an election if the opposition parties didn't roll over and let the Conservatives continue to evade, among other issues, any investigation of Conservative overspending in the last federal election or the allegations involving the financial offer to Chuck Cadman by Conservatives for his vote in the summer of 2005. They'd have to be out of their minds to force an election over these circumstances and Harper no doubt recognized this. He also knows their poll numbers aren't great. But they're always quick to threaten, aren't they?

Think Harper is truly concerned, as he says, about getting issues of public policy front and center at these parliamentary committees? Well, let me disabuse you of that notion. A climate change bill agreed upon by the opposition parties is being filibustered by Conservatives at the Environment Committee. That's an "issue of importance to the Canadian population" yet his wonder boys are still playing games with it. So his words yesterday ring hollow.

Harper's party does not have the majority on these parliamentary committees and they really should be acting in accordance with that reality. And if Mr. Harper truly respected parliamentary traditions and the wishes of the Canadian people, he'd govern as a minority Prime Minister with the mandate he's been given. How hard is that to understand?