Go away for a few days and all hell breaks loose. I’ve spent the last 12 hours trying to catch up, here are my thoughts, for what they are worth, though I’m sure most of these points have been made already:
1. My overwhelming sense of all this is that it is a case of an entire coop of chickens coming home to roost. For the Tories, especially Harper, he is getting exactly what he asked for. He called an election based on various contrived and entirely spurious reasons. He ran for re-election not on policies but on leadership, then decided to cut the public subsidy to his opponents. What did he think would happen?
2. For the Liberals, they should be careful what they ask for. Under Dion, they have spent the last two years tacking leftward, and are now poised to enter into a coalition with a party whose economic views are not just obsolete, but dangerous. This is very reckless for both the country and for the party’s brand. My views on this have not changed since I wrote a column in the mag a few issues ago about the notion of uniting the left: This coalition could well destroy the Liberal brand.
3. For Canada, the oldest of the roosting fowl were conceived during the sponsorship scandal. You can draw a direct line from the sponsorships to Chretien’s frantic, dying efforts to fix his legacy by changing the role of money in the federal political system. Of all the changes to the financing of political parties, the per-vote public subsidy has had the most perverse consequences, the worst of which is the flourishing of a four, now five, party system. The sponsorship scandal will continue to wreak havoc with this country’s politics for years, if not decades.
4. What is going on right now — the backroom negotiations, the Tory campaign to save themselves, etc. — is actually a symptom of the disease caused by the public subsidy. Which is (one reason) why I think Harper was right to suggest getting rid of it. Great idea. Too bad he didn’t feel like making it an election issue.
5. The behaviour by the opposition parties on this is disgusting. The closest analogy I can think of is the behaviour of Canada’s student movement since the mid-nineties. Once upon a time, students protested various social, political, and military injustices. Now all they do is complain about tuition levels. Similarly, the opposition, especially the Liberals, has spent the last 2.5 years supporting Harper in what was effectively a Grand Coalition, a point Wells has made repeatedly. Nothing worth taking the government down over, until their own financial interest is at stake. Nice work guys.
6. To a large extent, we are seeing the Europeanization of Canadian politics. I’ll be honest: I frigging hate it. But a lot of people out there have been asking for this for a while, ever since the whinging about the “democratic deficit” took off at the tail end of the Gritlock era. Majority parliamentary rule is probably the most accountable political system that exists. We are moving about as far as possible away from that ideal. The country will be worse off for it. You think we had a democratic deficit before? Now you’re soaking in it.
7. I don’t understand why various pundits keep saying that Harper’s reputation as a strategic genius is in tatters. Harper has gone through three phases over the past 10 years: Sulky ideologue, job-seeking compromiser, and pure-tactical machievel. In that period, he has faced off three times, losing once to Paul Martin, barely beating Paul Martin, and barely beating Stephane Dion. What genius? What strategy?
8. Nevertheless, I agree with Coyne: Harper’s best bet still might be to just walk away from this and let the Liberals wear this. They want to govern with the commies and the separatists? Fill your boots.
9. I think Stephen Harper’s remaining time in federal politics is numbered in weeks or months. I say 50-50 he’s gone from the leadership and gone from parliament by March.
10. All things considered, I’d rather see an election than see the coalition take power.