Unpopular conservative prime minister is more interested in salvaging his political career than helping working class Canadians as they lose their jobs and financial security




Canadians are in need of strong federal leadership to help stop the loss of jobs and the rapid deterioration of their financial security.  Instead, their government was shut down by a prime minister who is more interested in trying to salvage his own political career than the well being of working class citizens.

On Monday, Dec. 1, 2008, leaders of the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois signed an agreement to replace the minority government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.   A cooperative government was to be formed by the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP) with support of the Bloc.   (The Bloc, which wants French-speaking Quebec to leave Canada, pledged to back the coalition’s budgets and general policies.  Many French-speaking residents of Quebec are offended by accusation of some Conservatives that they are not interested in remaining  a part of Canada.)

If the coalition was successful, then Stephane Dion, leader of the Liberal Party, the largest opposition party in the House of Commons, was to head the coalition.

 The agreement to form a coalition was in direct response to the Conservative government’s inaction on the country’s ailing economy.   In a statement about the coalition, NDP leader Jack Layton wrote in a statement:

We have a government that refuses to act when our economy, and the people whom it serves, need it more than at any time in a generation.  The government has lost the confidence of the  people of Canada and therefore it has lost the confidence of this Parliament.  It falls on us to act.  The New Democrats and the Liberal Party, with the support of Bloc Quebecois, have chosen a path to stimulate the economy in a stable and responsible government.  A government that will put the economy first.  Because we must act now.  Because due to the Conservative government’s inaction in the face of the economic crisis, the government has shown that it has no confidence in our people.  That’s why the government has lost confidence in the Conservative government.

A confidence vote was to take place on Monday, Dec. 8, 2008.  Mr. Harper was expected to get a vote of no confidence.  Instead of allowing the vote to take place, Mr. Harper persuaded an unelected politician with the title of “Her Excellency” to allow him to suspend Parliament for seven weeks, when Mr. Harper’s government will present a budget.

“Her Excellency” is Governor General Michaelle Jean, who is Queen Elizabeth II’s representative and de facto head of state.  Mr. Harper asked Ms. Jean to support a suspension of Parliament.

While the role of the governor general is said to be largely ceremonial, it became apparent that “Her Excellency” has near dictatorial powers.

Before declaring the parliamentary suspension, Mr. Harper had a 2-1/2 hour meeting with Ms. Jean in Ottawa.  Ms. Jean did not explain why she agreed to the suspension.

“There’s every reason to believe that [Ms. Jean’s] saying no would have thrown the whole nation in turmoil,” said C. E. S. Franks, a professor emeritus of political studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Technically, Mr. Harper’s efforts amounted to a  prorogue of Parliament, which stops all actions on bills and other business.  It goes well beyond adjournment, which was not available to Mr. Harper because adjournment requires parliamentary approval. 

Mr. Harper managed “to avoid being ousted by opposition parties angry over the minority Conservative government’s economic plans and  an attempt to cut off party financing,” wrote Randall Palmer and David Ljunggren in a Dec. 4, 2008 report for Reuters.

Reporters Nirmala  Menon and Joe Barrett of The Wall Street Journal wrote in the Dec. 5, 2008 issue of their newspaper:

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, facing almost certain defeat in a crucial vote next week, shut down a two-week-old session of Parliament Thursday in a bid to stay in power until he can present a budget in January.

Mr. Harper’s Conservatives had been due to face off against a united opposition at a vote of confidence on  Monday.

* * *

The Conservatives were reelected with a stronger mandate at the federal election less than two months ago, but still lack the majority of seats that would allow them to govern without support from at least one opposition party.  The opposition parties have a combined 163 seats, 20 more than the Conservatives.

After the Queen’s designee gave Mr. Harper the prorogue that he wanted, Mr. Harper told reporters: “Today’s decision will give us an opportunity — and I’m talking about all the parties — to focus on the economy and work together.”  Mr. Harper promised to present a budget on Jan. 27, 2009.

“He’s put a lock on the door of the House of Commons,” said Mr. Layton of the New Democrats.  “He refuses to face the people of Canada through their elected representatives.”

“We do not want any more of [Mr. Harper’s] words, we don’t believe them,” Mr. Dion told reporters before the closed doors of the House of Commons.  “We want to see changes, monumental changes.”

“Do we want a party that is so undemocratic that it will not meet the House of Commons?” — asked Bob Rae, a member of the Liberal Party who is attempting to become his party’s leader when Mr. Dion steps down in May 2009.  (Michael Ignatieff is reported to be the front-runner in the Liberal leadership race.)

“Harper’s request for suspension was unprecedented,” Mr. Palmer and  Mr. Ljunggren wrote in the Reuters report.  “No prime minister had asked for Parliament to be suspended to avoid a confidence vote in the House of Commons.”

Constitutional scholars have denounced the suspension of Parliament.

“This really has been a blow to parliamentary democracy in Canada,” said Nelson  Wiseman, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto.  “It has lowered the status of the elected Parliament and raised the status of the unelected prime minister.”

Adam Dodek, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said Canadian courts could only offer an opinion about the constitutionality of the decision but that the courts lack the power to issue orders to the governor general.

Just one day after the Conservatives shut down Parliament, it was reported by Statistics Canada that 71,000 Canadian jobs were lost during November, which was the largest loss of jobs in a single month in 26 years.

There is little doubt that Canada’s economy will get much worse before it gets better.  The anxieties of many Canadians about the state of the economy and the poor leadership of Mr. Harper were shared with readers of London’s The Guardian by columnist Heather Mallick.  She wrote in the Dec. 5, 2008 issue of the newspaper:

Right now, we fear for our jobs and the lives of our children.  Canada’s auto industry is a sandcastle at high tide.  House prices are collapsing.  We are nakedly, embarrassingly unprepared for climate change.  But Harper has slashed at his funny little pet hates, like pay equity for women, human rights commissions and federal cash to fund all political parties,  things that had been toddling alone fine.  Harper’s no dragon slayer; he garrottes bunnies.

* * *

Harper thought being elected as prime minister meant that he ruled a country.  That’s like confusing votes with love.  It was a crazy thing for Harper to do, and he nearly lost what he thinks of as his throne.

An Ipsos Reid poll conducted on Dec. 2 and 3, 2008, showed that 72 percent of Canadians are “truly scared for the future of the country.”  A Strategic Counsel poll conducted on Dec. 3, 2008 disclosed that 55 percent of respondents think Canada is “on the wrong track” with just 33 percent holding the opinion that Canada is “headed in the right direction.”

The downside of the suspending Parliament when more than 70,000 Canadian jobs were lost in a single month can not be underestimated.

“Today’s news underlines the tragedy of  Stephen Harper’s prorogation,” said Scott Brison, a Liberal Party finance critic.  “As another 71,000 Canadian families face financial uncertainty, Mr. Harper has decided to shut down Parliament.  While action is required, Mr. Harper delays.”

Statistics Canada reported that of the 71,000 jobs lost last month, 38,000 were in manufacturing.  Ontario alone lost 66,000 jobs.

“We are facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” read a statement issued by the Liberal Party on Dec. 4, 2008.  “Mr. Harper promises action but he has already wasted two months on partisan games and now he has locked the doors of Parliament.”

“For the first time in the history of Canada the prime minister is running away from the parliment of Canada,” said Mr. Dion.

During November 2008 Mr. Harper presented a proposed budget that did not include the stimulus programs wanted by the opposition to help Canada’s worsening economy.  The New Democrats and Liberals were further angered by a  proposal to eliminate public financing for political parties.  The opposition parties then began working on a coalition with the  backing of Bloc Quebecois to displace Mr. Harper’s minority government.

Before the coalition was agreed upon, Mr. Harper tried to keep his political opponents at bay by accusing them of wanting to practice “socialist economics.”

Editorials in conservative  newspapers tried to justify the unprecedented move by Mr. Harper.  An editorial in the Dec. 5, 2008 edition of The Vancouver Sun stated:

Stephen Harper’s credibility has been sorely diminished, yet the prime minister is correct on one point, namely, the potential disaster of a government built on socialist and separtist principles.

Harper’s attempt to neutralize the opposition parties by cutting off their funding was an act of reckless arrogance.  By presenting the move as a money-saving initiative, he was exploiting the economic downturn for political gain.

* * *

And then there’s Liberal leader Stephane Dion, who is supposed to hold the coalition together.  This is the same man who is widely considered the weakest Liberal leader of modern times, a man who has trouble running a political campaign, never mind a country.

So when Harper suggests, as he did in his televised address, that  this coalition has trouble written all over it, he’s  right.

Another editorial in the Dec. 5, 2008 issue of The Vancouver Sun stated:

Gov.-Gen. Michaelle Jean made the right decision in allowing Prime Minister Stephen Harper to shut down Parliament.

Refusing his advice would have been unwarranted interference in our political process, given that the prime minister has promised to reconvene a new session in seven weeks and present a budget.

Even so, it was an extraordinary decision that sets a dangerous precedent, which shouldn’t be repeated except in the face of exceptional events such as those of the  past week.

Some political experts have expressed the opinion that Mr. Harper’s suspension of Parliament will result in a destruction of the coalition.

With Parliament prorogued, the coalition is dead,” wrote Andrew Coyne on Dec. 4, 2008 on the website of Macleans.  Mr. Coyne added:

 The only way they were going to make this thing stick, even temporarily, was by way of a speedy assumption of power, the glue that mends all breaks.  But having lunged and missed, they will be very much on their back feet.  I repeat: The coalition is over.  I’ll be surprised if it last the week.

Conservatives were vocal in their reaction to the efforts by the Liberals and the New Democrats to form a coalition.

“That is as close to treason and  sedition as I can imagine,” said Bob Dechert, a Conservative Party member, echoing a refrain heard widely in Alberta, the prime minister’s home  province.

Environmental Minister Jim Prentice, a Conservative Party member, was quoted in the Dec. 2, 2008 issue of The Wall Street Journal as calling the oppositions parties’ move

an attempt in effect to impose an alternative government upon Canadians, a government that was not elected barely six weeks ago, and a coalition that is supported by separatists, people who would break up our country.

Mr. Brison of the Liberal Party noted that it was the Conservative government that was in power during Canada’s decline in economic growth, Canada’s largest decline in productivity in two decades and its  return to budget deficits.

Murray Brewster of The Canadian Press reported on a rally in Toronto on Dec. 6, 2008 .  Mr. Dion told the rally that the Liberals and the NDP want to help the country fight “the economic crisis that is coming.”  Mr. Dion said to a cheering crowd:

Don’t you think we should thank the Liberal-NDP coalition, with support of the Bloc, for having stopped this bad, harmful nonsense, so-called Conservative economic plan.

Even as Mr. Dion received cheers from the crowd, it was reported that members of the Liberal Party are not satisfied with his leadership and want him to resign.  John Manley, a Liberal Party member and former deputy prime minister, wrote on the subject in an opinion article in the Dec. 6, 2008 issue of The Globe and Mail. 

“Confronted by a political crisis that  was not his making, Mr. Dion has become an obstacle to his party, and to the opposition, in dealing with it,” Mr. Manley wrote.  He said that it was “delusional at best” to believe that the public would want Mr. Dion as coalition prime minister.

“The political storm reflected badly on Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose decisions ignited it, but even worse on Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, whose  impetuous reaction led the party astray,” wrote Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson in his newspaper’s Dec. 6, 2008 edition.

Mr. Simpson added:

Now, the Liberals are trapped.  They failed to kill the king.  He and his supporters are still in charge.  The Liberals, having failed, are turning on themselves.  Mr. Dion had almost no support in the caucus before the attempted coup, and certainly has none now.  Many caucus members  are nervous, as is the rank and  file.

* * *

The coalition did temporarily frighten the Conservatives; the coalition now frightens the Liberals.

However, a weak Dion would serve Canadians better than a clueless Harper.  As stated about Mr. Harper by Ms. Mallick in The Guardian, in an article titled Bushier than Bush:

Prime minister Stephen Harper, a neoconservative ideologue, ignored, no, snubbed the world economic crisis that he had just described as the worst since 1929.  We are the Americans’ biggest trading partner, but he announced nothing in tandem with them.  He had no plans for R & D, not even a pothole to fill or a bridge to shore up.  In fact, he cut back on spending, and did it in a manner that would have had Karl Rove saying, “Whatever floats your boat, George, but I’d do this on the quiet and take it slow.”

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2 Responses to “Unpopular conservative prime minister is more interested in salvaging his political career than helping working class Canadians as they lose their jobs and financial security”

  1. Ann Says:

    Steven Harper has shut down parliament. Some say this is unprecedented.

    In fact, Harper is following parliamentary tradition.

    Consider the following precedents:

    1629 King Charles I in England
    1799 Napoleon in France
    1913: Victoriano Huerta in Mexico
    1933: Adolf Hitler in Germany
    1936 Francisco Franco in Spain
    1939: Benito Mussolini in Italy
    1973: Augusto Pinochet in Chile
    2008: Steven Harper in Canada

  2. thenonconformer Says:

    “For the Conservatives, the most damage in the past week seems to have come from the province of Quebec, where a plurality believe Mr. Harper should resign as leader of the party and a majority blame the Conservatives more than anyone else for the parliamentary crisis.” Dumb Harper was foolish enough to attack the coalition government blame on Quebcers and he is now continuing to pay the price for it. He Harper cannot win without the support of Quebec, east.. nor can the Liberals


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