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The Harper Doctrine


 

I’m trying to piece together Harper’s theory of democratic legitimacy in a minority situation in Canada, given the existence of the Bloc Quebecois.

Here is what we know:

1. Harper has, in  the past, relied solely on the support of the Bloc Quebecois to keep his government afloat.
2. Harper has spent the last week decrying the role of the Bloc in supporting the proposed Liberal/NDP coalition.
3. In his speech last night, he made it clear that he considers a coalition supported by the Bloc to be undemocratic. He said “Canada’s government cannot enter into a power-sharing coalition with a separatist party.” He also said that “the opposition does not have the democratic right to impose a coalition with the separatists they promised voters would never happen.”
4. Today outside Rideau Hall, he said, in response to questions, that he thinks it is vital that the government be supported  by the federalist parties in the Commons, that it should not rely on support from a party whose only interest is that of Quebecers, not of Canada as a whole.

It is hard to make all of this fit together as a coherent account of what constitutes democratic legitimacy in Canada right now, but here are a few possible suggestions for the principle that Harper sees as at work here:

A. It is illegitimate for a government to survive a confidence vote with the support of only the Bloc.

This puts  1 at odds with 2,3, and 4, in which case we can conclude that the Prime Minister is either being inconsistent or has simply changed his mind.

B. It is ok for the government to  rely on the Bloc for occasional support, esp. when the other opposition parties are voting against the government on a confidence motion, but it is not acceptable to be forced to rely on Bloc support for  every confidence vote
.

This theory would square 1 and 2 above, though the cost is making a distinction without a difference.

C.  The Bloc support of the coalition is illegitimate because it contradicts a promise the opposition parties made during the election.

This would make 1-4 hang together, but it is undermined by the fact that Harper has broken many election promises himself. In which case, his principle could be something like, “It is ok to break an election promise except a promise not to be supported by the Bloc in a coalition,” which achieves consistency at the expense of being extremely ad hoc and arbitrary.

D. During an economic crisis, it is imperative for the government to be supported by national parties that want to serve the national interest.

The Bloc Quebecois, by definition, is only concerned with the interest of Quebecers, which will make it hard, if not impossible, for the coalition to push through a stimulus plan that serves all Canadians. This principle also helps bring consistency to 1-4 above, although it is hard to see why it should be restricted only to times of economic crisis. Everything that parliament does should be focused on serving the national interest, and it is hard to see why it would ever be legitimate for the  government  to survive only with the support of the Bloc.

In the end, I think that Harper has achieved yet another tactical victory, but has delivered a significant hostage to fortune.  Assume when parliament resumes in January that two things are the case: That the economic crisis continues, and the NDP and Liberals intend to vote against the budget. What if, then, the Bloc could be persuaded to support the budget? On what grounds, by Harper’s own lights, could the government legitimately survive?  I don’t see how he could, in good conscience, accept the Bloc’s support.

My best, most charitable reading of Harper’s new position on the role of the Bloc in parliament is that Harper has essentially rejected the Bloc as a source of legitimate support for the government. That is, he is now committed to surviving in power with, and only with, the support of either the Liberals, the NDP, or both.

Which is another way of saying that Harper has now pledged that Canada shall only be governed by a coalition of federalist parties. Let us call this principle, “The Harper Doctrine.”

Which means that the NDP now has a colossal amount of bargaining power. I wonder what cabinet position Mr. Layton will be offered.


 
Filed under:

The Harper Doctrine

  1. This puts 1 at odds with 2,3, and 4, in which case we can conclude that the Prime Minister is either being inconsistent or has simply changed his mind.

    Or both! He’s inconsistent about being inconsistent. He’s meta-inconsistent.

  2. The word “support” is key.

    He can easily accept the Bloq’s support. He can write a budget. If the Bloc supports it, then he moves on. Just like many times before.

    This is a heck of a lot different that a “permanent consultative mechanism” which means the Bloc is a part of the government. That would mean, that behind the scenes, the bloc are consulted to draft legislation, and can change or veto legislation, long before it ever reaches the House of Commons. You could also be sure, give an consulative mechanism, that key desires from the Bloc are being incorporated into the legislation, some of which may run contrary to the interests of federalists. That is the key difference.

  3. All rumoured indications are that Layton would not be given an economic portfolio. Not to be trusted with the family purse, I guess. His household budget must be a real mess. Anybody know ?

    In any case, unless his own party does something about Harper it all doesn’t matter. Prepare for six weeks of shitstorm.

  4. Good grief, Mr. Potter. You’re making this much more complex than it is.

    The real rule is simply: It’s Okay If You’re A Conservative.

  5. Good luck trying to figure out what Harper believes, Andrew, better you than me that’s for sure. I was quite excited when Harper first took power a few years ago because I thought we were finally getting a proper conservative for once. My hopes were quickly dashed when he decided the best strategy was to turn Cons into Libs-lite.

    I agree with sf’s analysis on BQ support and Harper but I think it’s pretty thin gruel however you look at it.

  6. L. Thwim, you’re on the right track, but it’s “It’s okay if I do it”.

    My toddlers have the same view of the world, interestingly enough.

  7. Layton himself would be fine with an economic portfolio, as much as anyone else. There is a continuing myth that the NDP cannot manage money. In fact the NDP govt in Saskatchewan was one of the first to bring in a balanced budget in the 1990s. And many Tory government, both provincially and federally, have run up quite high deficits and debts, but everyone continues to think the Tories/neo cons are fiscally conservative (like George Bush, ha, ha) and New Democrats love to tax and spend.

  8. The divergence in world view between every day Canadians and the leftist, elitist media, has never been greater.

    It’s like it’s the Soviet Union. Everywhere I went over the last two days people of all stripes were livid at the opposition and viewed this as an unequivocal power grab. Political conversations among people I’ve never heard speak politics before. All thought it rediculous to bring down a government in an economic crises just weeks after they took power.

    The media, which is perfectly aligned with their partners on the left coalition, are completely deaf to this.

    To them there are two realities: 1) a conservative government that has been ever increasing in power over the last eight years, and 2) the belief that they must be removed from power at all costs.

  9. Harper must have known that he was risking Quebec votes but figured this was his strongest argument against the legitimacy of the coalition, whether by gut feeling or polling.

    I wonder if it’s really a big mistake to dramatize the “illegitimacy” of the Bloc. People say it amounts to burning Quebec bridges, but what he really wants to do is conciliate soft nationalists while claiming a vote for the Bloc is wasted because they’ll never be in power. Are his recent tactics really totally inconsistent with this?

  10. Maybe the way to think about it is not to have a binary “legitimate/illegitimate” distinction, but instead to have something like “legitimacy points”. Harper’s speech last night listed various grounds for giving or denying legitimacy points, and concluded that the coalition’s proposal had way too few legitimacy points to be acceptably legitimate. The amount of legitimacy required is an open item for debate or argument. While this is an imprecise, theory, I think it represents the current debate well.

    The reason that there is so much disagreement is partly that people have different legitimacy thresholds, and partly that many people seem to award legitimacy points just for getting rid of Harper.

  11. Hey T. Thwim, I think that’s even too complex:

    The Harper Doctrine = Do whatever and say whatever so’s I can be King of the Castle.

    Austin

  12. This place is increasingly looking like a Libblogger site – though not just the garden variety, but the most virulent kind that fails to take any position, any utterance, any reason, given by the conservatives on any matter whatsoever as having a scentilla of legitimacy.

  13. The real rule is simply: It’s Okay If You’re A Conservative.

    Except that Stephen Harper is now heading Canada’s New Liberal Government.

  14. The only view that makes all of these consistent is: “If it’s good for me then it’s okay.” THAT is the Harper Doctrine.

  15. David,, T Thwim et al

    Who wrote:

    “There is a great contrast between the tolerance of Quebec society and the intolerance of the secessionist option … That is why Quebec secession is a project which favours exclusion, and would breed intolerance and division among communities that are now living in harmony.”

    “In the past, as much as Liberals may have disagreed with the Conservatives and the NDP, at least we knew that we shared a common belief in Canada. Today, with the regionalist parties (like the Bloc) this is not the case. We need many leaders, not just Liberals, who will stand up again for our common Canadian values.”

    “We are a federation threatened with break-up, and faced with a separatist ideology which promotes suspicion, divisions and envy between citizens. When one group of MPs arrives in Ottawa with the sole mandate of promoting the interests of their own region, this encourages other regions to elect MPs who in turn promote only their interests, and we lose any sense of a national opposition committed to the good of Canada as a whole.”

    Why, I think it was Stephane Dion. Has he been saying anything like that in the past week or two?

    All pols are out to win elections and will say/do anything to achieve their goals and they don’t care what they were saying last week, month or year. It isn’t only a Conservative phenomenon.

  16. I wonder what the board of directors, and more importantly the shareholders who surely must come from a wide spectrum of Canada and who also must surely appreciate that their audience base should also be that wide spectrum (as opposed to say a tiny radical fringe on the left),

    thinks of their assets largely being untilized as a forum for dogmatic, one-sided, and intolerant to other views information dissemination.

    Perhaps if the shareholders of the NYT had been a bit more proactive, they wouldn’t have been reduced to junk bond status.

    Here’s hoping balance wins the day.

    Until then, onward with the rabid Harper bashing.

  17. Mr. Potter, I don’t know whether you’re merely being facetious or haven’t read the terms of the agreement. Harper has not offered to consult with the Bloc where they would have clear say in the governing of this country. The Libs/NDP did, and that’s what many Canadians are recoiling at.

    You might have noticed there were three members at the table during the press conference on the coalition agreement, not two. What was Duceppe there for, if he will only be called upon to support the agreement, and not moderate it. He didn’t want any seats at the cabinet, because he has complete and undiluted control to veto any decisions made by the coalition. Do you seriously think that an 18 month peace agreement with the Bloc comes without a price. What in Dion’s background would lead you to suggest that he could have gotten the upper hand in negociating with Duceppe.

    So the answer to your rambling: The Bloc can provide support or not to the Con budget, but they will not have had a hand in writing it. I believe that that is the extent to which Canadians are willing to tolerate the Bloc.

  18. I don’t know if there’s an “official” definition of “national interest” out there, but my own definition of “national interest” includes the interests of Quebec.

  19. jwl quotes Dion: ““We are a federation threatened with break-up, and faced with a separatist ideology which promotes suspicion, divisions and envy between citizens.”

    Amazing – since the unification of the right wing, they’ve been far and away the biggest drivers of suspicion, divisions and envy between Canadians.

    Quebec nationalism has been quiescent for years. But look at the divisive force that currently occupies the PMO and its effect on the populace.

  20. jwl: “My hopes were quickly dashed when he decided the best strategy was to turn Cons into Libs-lite”

    If you think that Harper could have governed with a true conservative agenda, then what explains the fact that the opposition went berserk with a fiscal update that:
    -contained a removal of public party support that is supported by the majority of Canadians
    -did not contain an economic boondoggle of Liberal-style vote-buying spending

    This occurred soon after an election that the Conservatives won.

    So it takes time and patience. He did not have a majority.

    Consider the alternate universe would we be in now with the Liberals in charge. We would be paying higher taxes across the board, the economy would be tanking the same way as in the US, we would have national daycare and a whole host of other bloated new nanny-state programs, and Canadian businesses would be crippled by higher corporate taxes and carbon taxes.

  21. Harper and his supporters have said, in the House on Mon and Tues and on TV last night, that the Bloc would have a “veto” over the Liberal/NDP coalition. This is false. The Bloc only agreed to support them as little as three times — once in a vote of confidence and twice on budgets. If the Bloc decided not to support the coalition on any other bill or abandoned their commitment, the Conservatives could vote in favourthem. Both the Bloc AND Conservatives would have equal opportunity to vote for or against a Lib/NDP motion or bill.

    Harper also lied when he said his party would never enter into an agreement with “socialists and separatisits” to seize power without a vote. He proposed just such an arrangement in 2004, signed his name to it and mailed it to the GG. If that’s not proof of a lie, i don’t know what is.

    It’s disturbingly strange that a minority PM, facing a confidence vote, can close down a newly elected Parliament for nearly 2 months — and call it a victory for democracy. It’s doubly disturbing to watch the leader of the nation lie, lie and lie again. It’s a disgrace, for all of us … including Conservatives.

  22. Sunny12……. obviously you’re right. But unbiased facts about the NDP do not fit the frame of rational debate.

    I fully expect that when Our Leader wearies of demonizing “the separatists”, then “the socialists” will be blindfolded and up against the wall.

  23. The Bloc are already part of a “permanent consultative mechanism” – it’s called Parliament.
    Of course, the consultation bit only applies when it isn’t prorogued, etc.
    In theory the coalition would only rely on the Bloc to same extent that Harper’s tories would.
    If the coalition government does get a chance to govern in January, I hope the same arguments about what the Conservatives should and should not do in the House apply to them in opposition, but I am sure they’ll have switched their arguments again by then.

  24. andy j,

    It’s the old “all poodles are dogs, but not all dogs are poodles” axiom.

    What’s good for Canada is good for Quebec, but what’s good for Quebec is not always good for (the rest of) Canada.

  25. TJ Cook…..Are you serious?

    The separatists have been in the dumps for last couple of years since the Cons have been in power. The PQ has essentially shelved it’s perpetual referendums, and both Bloc and PQ have barely bother talking about separation anymore. That may change now, but it wasn’t Harper that offered them a role in government.

    This was a terrible move on the part of Dion and Layton. Had they dropped the absurd rhetoric and the signing agreement after Harper completely capitulated to their demands, the Libs and NDP would be going into the holiday season in glorious victory and Harper severely humiliated. Instead, they overplayed their hand, and will spend the next two months in a time-out. Most likely, the coalition will not last week, and Dion will face a backlash.

  26. What surprises me about this:

    A) Integrating a Bloc that is in decline into a coalition is probably the best way (in the long run) to get them to turn into a de facto federalist party that works for the general benefit of Quebec rather than for Quebec sovereignty.

    B) Vilifying the Bloc (and French Canadians) at every opportunity is probably the best way to reignite the Quebec sovereignty movement, which had been in decline since Liberals lost power over the sponsorship scandal.

    Now, maybe forming a coalition with the Bloc was a bad idea because it marginalized Westerners. I’m not going to argue with that. But that hasn’t been the argument. The argument has basically been that it is traitorous to talk to the Bloc, who for better or for worse represent a huge portion of the Quebec populace. This is seriously not the way to deal with unity issues…

  27. What AP ignores is 1) this was an explicit secret deal cooked up long ago and we were lied to about it and 2) the oppo parties SIGNED AN EXPLICIT DEAL with the BQ. That is different.

    After all the PCs have more seats than the Libs and NDP combined. If it were a two pary coalition then they would still not be the lead party and would still not form the gov’t. They need the BQ explicitly here. That is a difference. Harper never promised the BQ senate seats for support; that is a difference.

  28. Everywhere I went over the last two days people of all stripes were livid at the opposition and viewed this as an unequivocal power grab.

    By “everywhere,” kody means all those rallies of Ministerial staffers trying to keep their jobs.

    wonder what the board of directors, and more importantly the shareholders…thinks of their assets largely being untilized as a forum for dogmatic, one-sided, and intolerant to other views information dissemination.

    They appreciate you continuing to visit the site and post.

  29. Charles…..FYI Here are Dion’s own words on this matter, with particular attention to 1,2, and 3 (By the was copied from Goldstiein’s column today in the Sun)

    (1) Dion, April 4, 1997: “We are a federation threatened with break-up, and faced with a separatist ideology which promotes suspicion, divisions and envy between citizens. When one group of MPs arrives in Ottawa with the sole mandate of promoting the interests of their own region, this encourages other regions to elect MPs who in turn promote only their interests, and we lose any sense of a national opposition committed to the good of Canada as a whole.”

    (2) Dion, Dec. 10, 1998: “Let me sum up this separatist-style politics of booty … It consists of demanding something from the federal government; more power, more money. If the federal government says no, then you return to Quebecers and you tell them: You see how unyielding and unfair this federation is to you, we’ve got to get out! If the federal government says yes, the message to Quebecers becomes: You see the bargaining power you get by electing separatists, so imagine the power you’d have if you voted ‘Yes’ in a referendum … So how does one thwart this logic of booty? Quite simply, by refusing to play the game. By stating very clearly that one has no intention of giving in to this kind of blackmail … We won’t improve this social union by trying to accommodate the separatists or those who might be tempted to vote for them.”

    (3) Dion, March 2, 1996: “In the past, as much as Liberals may have disagreed with the Conservatives and the NDP, at least we knew that we shared a common belief in Canada. Today, with the regionalist parties (like the Bloc) this is not the case. We need many leaders, not just Liberals, who will stand up again for our common Canadian values.”

    (4) Dion, Nov. 26, 1996: “There is a great contrast between the tolerance of Quebec society and the intolerance of the secessionist option … That is why Quebec secession is a project which favours exclusion, and would breed intolerance and division among communities that are now living in harmony.”

    These are all Dion’s

  30. The problem with Andrew’s post is that Harper has never been consistent.

    Afghanistan – no cutting and running vs. we will leave no matter what come 2011
    Fixed date election law – WTF?
    Quebec as a nation – Hello?
    His own push to form a coalition govt with the Bloc and the NDP – ?!?!?!?!?
    Income Trust – Need I say more?

    The list of spectacular reversal is endless. So forgive me for not understanding why Potter seems surprised here.

    If anything, Harper’s inconsistency is the most consistent thing about him.

  31. Perhaps I’m naive, but this has perplexed me since these minority governments started happening every election. Why is it so bloody hard for the two parties with the largest number of seats, which has been the Liberals and Conservatives, come to an agreement on governing in a defacto majority? Isn’t that the coalition that would be most democratic? Despite Dion’s shove to the left, the Liberals and Conservatives certainly have the most common ground of all the parties. They also represent the vast majority of Canadians as a whole. Why aren’t they working together, finding common ground, and providing the best government for Canada? Did they all collectively miss the Sesame Street bit on cooperation?!

    And Kody, follow your own advice and ad some meaningful defence of your Conservative position instead of this childlike rambling about lefty media. Stop whining and start contributing otherwise go find a mirror and talk to the only person that seems to care about your drivel. I get enough dull repetition reading books to my 1 year old.

  32. Hey Kody: Potter is offering an analysis of the situation based on LOGIC. Instead of whining about about the “elitist” media (have any proof of that by the way? or even a definition of what “elitist” means?), how about you try to engage with the subject at hand? If you disagree with Potter’s analysis, offer an analysis of your own instead of slinging mud and complaining about how conservatives are all so hard done by.

  33. It took so long. I wonder if Harper threatened to unleash the attack ads and attack dogs against her???

  34. Hazzard: Because of the so-cons.

  35. “Vilifying the Bloc (and French Canadians) at every opportunity ”

    Where have the Cons insulted French Canadians? Everything I’ve read or seen shows the Cons blasting only the separtists. Do Quebecers who don’t vote BQ/PQ see that as a shot at all Quebec? Or is this just what the BQ/PQ wants us to believe?

  36. Do Quebecers who don’t vote BQ/PQ see that as a shot at all Quebec?

    Yes. Separatism is not black and white. A soft federalist would listen to Harper and be pissed off enough to vote for the BQ.

  37. Good show, Mr. Tandon.,

    Anyhow, Dion as an academic had a basic device to evaluate separatism based on three variables:
    1. Fear (Quebec’s fear of assimilation)
    2. Confidence (Quebec’s confidence that it could succeed on its own)
    3. Rejection (a short term factor, like the reaction to Meech’s failure)

    Let us evaluate on all three
    1. No impact – this is a short-term arrangement and anyway the government can’t really affect this fear (the provincial government can, eg. bill 101).

    2. Confidence – this is the killer. It gives the Bloc experience in a national government, but enough distance that they can avoid blame when things go down the tube. Moreover, it allows the Bloc to sew discord and convince Quebec and Canada that the country has become Italy and would be better served by splitting up.

    3. Rejection – so you are Gilles Duceppe. How do you end the coalition (because its going to happen) without looking selfish. You give a demand that is in Quebec’s interest and not Canada’s that you know the NDP and Liberals cannot accept. You play that for all it is worth in the ensuing election (and use that as a platform to become leader of the PQ post-Marois).

  38. sf

    My biggest complaint with Cons/Harper is that they rarely argue in conservative terms and they always back down when the opposition gets the vapours. We live in liberal country, yes, but a right wing lib country and the votes are there if you court them and explain your policies. Harris won two majority governments in Ontario, a very liberal province, by sticking to his message for years before/after he took power.

    Harper isn’t advancing conservatism if he behaves likes its something to be embarrassed about, which is how he comes across to me. Cons are unmoored from their beliefs and wouldn’t be making all these mistakes if there was more focus on ideology and less on tactics/strategy.

  39. I think of separatists as out-of-touch University professors who send their kids to anglo schools. I thought for a second that description matched Dion too, but he only has a Masters degree.

    Clearly he and Layton know what’s best for the economy, just as Duceppe knows what’s best for Quebec. I wouldn’t disparage most BQ members by calling them separatists. They are pragmatists.

  40. What could be more fun than watching one MacLean’s Librano suckhole blogger after another whine and bawl and go on about this, each essentially whimpering This is unfair!!!

  41. “Where have the Cons insulted French Canadians? Everything I’ve read or seen shows the Cons blasting only the separtists. Do Quebecers who don’t vote BQ/PQ see that as a shot at all Quebec? Or is this just what the BQ/PQ wants us to believe?”

    That statement right there shows how incredibly dense some people can be. Did it ever occur to you that the Bloc is in fact supported by federalists too? Do the math Steve M. If all those who voted for the Bloc were separatists at heart, why are the poll numbers so low for those in favour of separatism?

    Perhaps one has to be from Quebec to know this but a great many Quebecers support the Bloc because they are viewed as a regional party that looks out for the interest of the province.

    They are the ones that Harper has been insulting all week. Separatism was on its way out in Quebec and in a few days, Harper has managed to revive it!

  42. Dion has a doctorate. Harper’s the one with the masters.

  43. Peter

    I dunno Peter, maybe watching you be eaten alive by rabid badgers?

  44. The Conservatives have guaranteed the BQ (maybe even the PQ) more seats in the next election. Congrats.

  45. sf ,

    He can easily accept the Bloq’s support. He can write a budget. If the Bloc supports it, then he moves on. Just like many times before.

    Reminds me of the old joke with this punchline:

    We’ve already established what you are (a prostitute) — now were simply arguing price.

  46. hosertohoosier – I think you’re absolutely correct in how Duceppe would end the coalition. It was always a win-win for him.

    He’ll take credit for bringing home the booty, all the while opining aobut how the big deficits are bankrupting Quebecs future.

    He will share no responsibility for the $30B deficit it goes over badly. After all, at Potter says, he’s not really a “member” of the coalition.

    Best of all, the coalition will collapse on escalating demands by the Bloc, allowing him to claim vociferiously yet another historic rejection of Quebecs demands….Oh the humiliation!

  47. “All thought it ridiculous to bring down a government in an economic crises just weeks after they took power.”

    I don’t suppose it occurred to you to ask any of these people why a minority government wouldn’t deliver the economic plan it promised in the midst of an economic crisis?

    kody, you really need to get out of Calgary more often…

  48. Kody,

    “Everywhere I went over the last two days people of all stripes were livid at the opposition and viewed this as an unequivocal power grab.”

    You mean you actually went to the kitchen for your own beer refill?

  49. Frankly, I have far more difficulty with the idea of Dion as PM and the NDP being in Cabinet than I do with the Bloq

  50. MarkCh,

    Something like being a little pregnant?

  51. If there’s a distinction without a difference, it is in the statements of 2, 3, and 4. The “Harper doctrine” in this case is straightforward: the governing party may rely solely Bloc support when all other options are exhausted, for a particular issue; the governing party must however favour non-separatism and hence never enter a permanent arrangement with separatists.

  52. A Tandon: your last quote was almost 10 years ago to the day – although, nothing in Quebec or National politics has changed since then, has it?

  53. A Tandon – perhaps my wording wasn’t clear.

    My point was that since the right wing unified, the right wing itself has become the greatest driver of division in the country. Quebec separatists have faded into the background.

    It’s a mirror image of the deep divisions we’ve seen south of the border.

    That may change since Harper decided to use the BQ as a whipping boy – we’re already seeing Harper’s rhetoric being used to whip up fresh separatist sentiment. Even after everything I’ve seen, Harper has managed to shock me with the depths to which he will sink.

  54. jwl: “Cons are unmoored from their beliefs and wouldn’t be making all these mistakes if there was more focus on ideology and less on tactics/strategy.”

    Remind me – what a conservative principles again? Because every time a “conservative” gets power, they seem to act the same way and it’s not pretty.

  55. Brad Sallows, I can’t even begin to imagine the kind of mental gymnastics you’ve had to go through to come up with that one. All this, knowing full well that the people you are defending attempted on two separate occasions to do exactly what this coalition is trying to do.

  56. Reasonable people here can agree that 3 out 4 four leaders are acting like absolute idiots.

  57. Steve M, I’d respectfully suggest that the calculus of federal policymaking when it comes to balancing provincial priorities has never been, and never will be, as convenient as you frame it.

    First, it’s invariably in the interest of Quebec to have a federal government that listens to and respects the voices of all Canadians (including all Quebecers), even if specific policies or decisions may not be good for Quebec.

    Third, here’s a difference between a policy that’s “good for Quebec” and a policy that’s “advantageous for Quebec.” Confusion between the two is rampant.

  58. The issue is not in the Bloc supporting a gov’t, either Tory, Liberal or Coalition. If the Bloc chooses to vote with the sitting gov’t (to avoid an election, or because it actually likes a piece of legislation) that is all well and good. The problem comes when you reach a formal agreement with the Bloc — exchanging 18 months of support for some federal largesse (I understand about $1 billion in new transfer payments to Quebec) and also give them veto rights over future legislation. That’s legitimatizing the existence of a separatist party and its role in federal politics. IF you are federalist, you should be aghast. If Parizeau is in support of this, you should flee in the opposite direction.

  59. Second, not third. sheesh.

  60. SAB – perhaps the quotes are old. But Dion spent the campaign in Quebec disparaging the Bloc with similar comments. I’ll let some else find them, as I’m spending way too much time here.

    Going for a beer instead… recommend the same for rest of the country

  61. I was struck by Mr. Harper’s assertion that the coalition could only pass legislation with the support of the Bloc, or that the Bloc would have a veto over everything the coalition attempted to pass. Couldn’t the Conservatives just support the legislation and have it pass?

  62. “That’s legitimatizing the existence of a separatist party and its role in federal politics. IF you are federalist, you should be aghast.”

    Fletch, welcome to democracy. The separatist party (or is it the sovereignist party?) is legitimate unless you want to suggest that the ballots in Quebec should be nul and void.

    And if you took a moment to reflect as opposed to just parrot Giornio’s talking points, you’d realize that getting the “separatists” to agree to prop up a federal govt with no conditions for 18-months only strengthens the federation, not weaken it.

    They are the ones who agreed to set aside separation. They are the ones who agreed to engage in federal policymaking.

    If anyone is guilty of engaging in tactics that are benefitting the separatists, it is Harper. I’m now concerned about the impact of all this on Jean Charest’s hopes for a majority. Nothing like collectively insulting francophones to get Quebecers riled up.

    You think that attacking the arts was bad?

  63. @ A Tandon

    I could take or leave Dion. Actually, I’m perfectly happy to leave Dion and less happy on the taking front. I just see the recent rhetoric re: the Bloc as counterproductive. Yeah, they have separatist origins. But a lot of people vote for them because they think they will represent Quebec’s best interest. Yeah, in theory it would be great if everyone voted for the good of the country as a whole instead of their parochial concerns, but that isn’t really how politics works. I mean, Newfoundland didn’t vote for any Tories; Alberta didn’t vote for any Grits. In each case, it is largely because the parties they did vote for were the ones seen as best for the province. The Tories aren’t explcitly the Alberta Party and they have a lot of supporters throughout Canada, but a number of their policies are derived from the Western roots of Reform/Alliance. That comes at a cost elsewhere – e.g., Quebec, Ontario, and Atlantic Canada.

    So, yeah, you can make an argument that Dion is being inconsistent. Though a lot has changed since 1998, notably the fact that the Bloc is no longer really campaigning on sovereignty, so I’m not entirely willing to cede the point re: Dion. But, at the end of the day, I don’t think that changes the fact that the Tories are basically throwing barrels of gasoline onto coals that had just about died out on their own. Now, maybe it will help them win enough votes in the West and in rural/suburban Ontario to get a majority next time. But it won’t help things on the unity front.

  64. @ SAB –

    Which leader did you have in mind as not acting like an absolute idiot? I would say either all four are acting like idiots or Layton is the only reasonable one.

    @ hazzard

    Agree that probably the best solution in an ideal world would be a Tory/Grit grand coalition under someone other than Harper or Dion. It would make sense in a lot of ways. Which is why it won’t happen.

  65. Duceppe of course.

    What is he doing that is not in the interest of the party and voters he represents? I do not see a downside for Duceppe.

  66. A Tandon – agree wholeheartedly on your beer-based approach. I’m in.

  67. >Brad Sallows…

    With those who choose not to see a difference between “once in a while” and “always”, I will have to permanently disagree.

    >since the right wing unified, the right wing itself has become the greatest driver of division in the country.

    Since the right wing unified, the other parts have realized they don’t get a free pass to govern to suit themselves forever, and they had grown very comfortable that way. Politics became divisive as it dawned that the Big Prize (levers of government) could fall into other hands, and the left side has plenty of its own bitter spite. Most people approve of government with wide scope of powers while they control it, but not so much while their political foes do. The only length of Conservative majority rule – under any leader – satisfactory to some people is “none”, but that is not realistic or desirable.

    The bigger the prize gets, the more divisive politics will get. Ideology is the ammunition, not the weapon.

  68. Do we have agreement on beer then? … All in favour ?

  69. Is this beer-based vote a confidence motion?

  70. Andrew — without the Bloc, the NDP/LIberal coalition does not have more seats than the Conservatives (114-143). So, even to BE the government, they need the Bloc. That’s a big difference than just surviving a confidence vote.

    Without including that, you are missing a major piece of the logic.

  71. PolJunke,

    Ouch. Yes, I know not every Bloc voter is a separtist, but I assume every block MP is. I took the Bloc resurgence in the recent election as more of a protest vote against lacklustre Con/Lib alrternatives, rather than a show of newfound Bloc admiration. But hey, I’m not a Quebecer.

  72. A combination of B and C is what is at work here. The Bloc knowing it holds all the cards can be a bit more damaging than a Bloc that is, as it was when it supported previous Conservative budgets, merely the opposition party most terrified of an election. And C, not all broken promises are equals, and I would say breaking a promise related to the basic composition of the government requires a genuine mandate.

    Also, I would reject D by saying there are few, if any, MPs who are primarily concerned with the national interest. Two months ago, they were going door to door promising to be ” a strong voice for Brampton-Springdale” or wherever. They see their mandate as going up to Ottawa to grab as much of the loot as possible and then rush home with it. So they’re all Bloquistes, in that sense.

  73. andy j,

    I agree with everything in your reply and yet I stand by what I wrote. I can’t tell if it’s my cognitive dissonance at work or if we’re actually not arguing.

  74. Steve M, what’s happening is that I interpreted the Bloc’s willingness to sign on to the coalition as a positive for national unity.

    The Bloc will always be the Bloc, they have Quebec independence in their mandate, yada yada yada. But over the past 5 years, they’ve embraced a broader view of their raison d’etre, saying they speak on behalf of “the Quebec consensus” and “defending the interests of Quebec” – often taking their cues from unanimous resolutions passed in the Quebec national assembly. I readily concede that this shift has been for political reasons.

    But having made that shift from purely advocating sovereignty to defending the “Quebec consensus position regarding Quebec’s interests” in Ottawa, you have to then ask: what if Quebecers were to wake up one morning and arrive at a strong consensus that Quebec’s “best interests” are inextricably intertwined with the best interests of Canada as a whole? Would the Bloc not then be obliged to formally set aside sovereignty and wholly dedicate themselves to the “national interest” of Canada, as a means of defending the best interest of Quebec?

    I admit I’m a radical optimist. I also live in Quebec, and my family and professional lives straddle the language thing on a daily basis, so maybe I’m too close to the project. But I think that the willingness of the Bloc to agree in writing to support a coalition government and an economic plan that is “good” for Quebec but not necessarily “advantageous” (and for the record, in my capacity as radical optimistic I reject the suggestion that Dion, Rae, Iggy, Layton, Broadbent are all stupid and/or power-hungry enough to agree to a deal that rewards Quebec and screws the rest of the country ,in the middle of a recession) is evidence that a “new” Quebec consensus regarding the intertwinining Quebecers’ and Canada’s best interests is actually possible, and that the Bloc was prepared to, at least for the moment, allow that emergent consensus to inform their conduct in Ottawa.

    Obviously I can’t prove that any of this is on target- or that, even if it was true last week, it would be sustainable. But just for the sake of argument, say my interpretation is mostly correct. Now ask yourself: what have we done?

    I am heartsick today because my gut tells me that I am right, and that what we may have done is to torch a bridge that’s taken a decade to build.

  75. And to apply all of the above to Andrew’s framework, what if the Bloc Quebecois is not necessarily a separatist party any more?

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