The Upside of The Madness


While everyone was staring at their televisions yesterday waiting for the PM to emerge from Rideau Hall to tell us all whassup, I was crammed into a CBC booth doing Radio Q along with Tory spindoctor Tim Powers and his NDP counterpart Brad Lavigne. It was supposed to be a non-partisan look at the nature of the messaging coming out of the government and coalition camps, and Brad and Tim were both great. I was a bit of a third wheel and didn’t have much to add, but you can listen to it here if you like. 

But the one thing I did say I thought was worthwhile was that while the whole affair was pretty sordid with neither side acquitting itself well, it was at most a political, but not constitutional, crisis. In fact, I said (to Jian’s obvious surprise) was that democracy had been well-served by the events. Thirty six hours later, it is one of the few things about The Madness that I still feel some certainty about: That it was in many ways an excellent Civics 101 moment for Canadians. As Brad pointed out, Canadians were actually learning a lot, on the fly, about their system of government and how it functions. 

I’ll go even further and say that the media did a good job, much better than we did during the election itself. There was not a day this week that I did not read something fresh and interesting and educational in the Citizen, the Post, the Star, the Globe, and right here at Blog Central. I certainly didn’t like what was going on politically, but for all the sturm and drang, at no point did I feel we were in a constitutional crisis, or that Canada was going to hell in a handbasket, as my mother likes to say.  

Sure, it might have gone otherwise. The GG might have refused Harper’s request for prorogation, he might have resigned, she might have asked the coalition to take over, Alberta might right now be on the brink of separating. Or maybe we’d be in the middle of an election.  Or maybe we’d just be waiting for Monday’s vote. But the world unfolded as it did, validating once again Wells’  First Rule: Canadian politics tends toward the least exciting possible outcome. I prefer to believe that our system of government has something to do with that. 


Obviously this is not settled, only delayed. And if you want a sense of how hairy things could get in January, I encourage you all to check out Glen McGregor’s story on the front page of tomorrow’s Ottawa Citizen.

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The Upside of The Madness

  1. I’m not so sure that this week says many good things about where our democracy is headed. Proroguing the House against its will strikes me as a terrible idea and a power that should not be in the Prime Minister’s hands.

  2. I hope Candians are in fact learning about their system of government, but I fear the false rhetoric from Harper, et al, has won the day.

  3. A lot, and I do mean a lot, of folks I talked to (3D-like) need more than a civics lesson. They seemed incredulous someone would try to take power at all let alone have any clue it would be legal.

    In Ottawa

    controlling power

    People. In Ottawa. of all places. and Politician at that.

    Some nerve.

  4. This was not a good week in politics for this country.

    In the middle of an economic crisis, the opposition attempts to overturn the results of the last election and form a government made up of NDP cabinet ministers with a would-be Prime Minister who made the worst showing of any Liberal leader in over a century and who had actually resigned as leader of his party. If that wasn’t enough to give you a stroke, the cherry on top of this hair-brained coalition was a veto on the whole arrangement by none other than the Bloc Quebecois, whose success is measured by the failure of the Canadian state. Talk about the fox being in charge of the henhouse!

    It didn’t have to even come close to this brinksmanship. The opposition could have called for amendments to the economic statement, putting pressure on the government to compromise. Indeed the government did pull back on the offending parts. But the opposition weren’t interested in compromise, they went for the whole enchilada. Canadians were initially shocked and stunned, then scared, and finally angry. Their anger, as the polls show, is rightly directed at the coalition actors who attempted to usurp the people’s will by overturning the election result. They rightly saw that it was wrong, that it was illegitimate.

    Heads will have to roll here: Dion’s should be the first one.

  5. “Obviously this is not settled, only delayed.

    You’re not kidding. The handbasket awaits. Just finished reading some comments related to a piece by Don Newman on the CBC website. Virtually every pro-Conservative or anti-coalition comment was disturbing — not simply because of the misguided venom displayed but owing to the distorted view of reality on offer. An “excellent Civics 101 moment for Canadians” indeed.

  6. You are in the minority thinking both sides were to blame.

    This was a power grab, brought on by the Liberal party’s desire to protect what is dearest to them:

    the Liberal party, and the government dole they feel “entitled” to.

    They were willing to destabalize the Canadian economy even further, to get their direct checks from the taxpayers of Canada. A double whammy of sorts. Taking money from Canadians, while damaging Canadians’ ability to make money by their grotesquely self indulgent act.

    You are right that there is much anger in this great land. And that anger is directed squarely at the left, and the Liberals in particular. It’s reflected in the conversation I just had with two working guys who sold my my Christmas tree and its relfected in the polls (the latest from Compass showing the CPC at a whopping 51% and the Libs at a startling 20%.

    As a political “analyst” you would be wise utitlize basic objective facts, rather than on a deeply held “progressive” worldview, to guide your opinion,

    lest your credibiltiy (and that of your compatriots here) erods even further – assuming that it hasn’t yet reached rock bottom.

  7. You have conversations with people, kody?

  8. I should add, as far as coup d’états go, this one was as comical as they come. Surely people will now know the wisdom of ATV showing the Canadian public the video of Dion’s interview during the campaign. In hindsight, it truly was a public service.

    The cause of the political instability in Ottawa and the direct cause of this week’s events is the vacuum at the top of the Liberal Party of Canada and the utter cluelessness of the former leader, now interim leader Stéphane Dion. His lack of judgment and general incompetence was on full display in the last number of days. He was led by the nose by Jack Layton. The coalition idea was not a Liberal idea, it was an NDP idea. It was Jack Layton’s brainchild. Layton will get out of this episode relatively unharmed but the damage to the Liberal brand will persist.

    Dion must resign or made to walk the plank to expiate for his sheer and utter incompetence and what he has, without proper justification, just led the country through.

    The media I hope will also give the public the inside scoop on the beginning of this ill-fated coalition.

  9. Actually Jarrid, I think the polling indicated that Canadians are split more or less evenly on who is to blame for this crisis.

  10. Jarrid,

    What is wrong with you people? No doubt Mr. Dion will be gone soon enough. No doubt he’s erred often. Liberal supporters concede the point regularly. But you people are like pit bulls when it comes to your view of Mr. Harper and the party he leads. You hang on to preposterous hyperbole with an iron grip no matter the consequences — endangering not only your own credibility, but impeding the ability of people who hear and read you to form reasoned opinions based on facts instead of (sometimes dangerous) propaganda.

    Can you not ever see another side of any issue. Are you that bigoted?

  11. I agree with Andrew, without being privy to that conversation between H & GG we’re all pissing in the wind, but nonetheless i too feel this has been bad for Canadian democracy. Conservatives would argue that it’s been good for popular democracy – maybe. But the optics of a sitting , wounded Pm whipping up a firestorm, not caring what it burns down as long as he gets his way, are very bad.

  12. Jack,

    it’s hard to believe, isn’t it?

    That Canadians are angry at the Libs.

    I know it’s hard to swallow, and therefore you demonize me, the messenger.

    But you and your fellow leftist travellers best think about curing yourselves of Harper Derangement Syndrome. That this syndrome has fully infected the core of the Liberal party is stunning, though it does explain the rash acts, the over displays of a complete lack of professionalism and decorum, and the near daily public tantrums that are typically synonymous with spoiled teenagers and not leaders of the greatest land on earth.

    One more piece of advice to my Liberal friends:

    the media, being your public relations alter ego, is doing you no favours. They are telling you what you want to hear, rather than what you need to hear. Like the aging model who is told by their agent that she looks as young as the day she started, the media is leading your dear party onto the public model runway, to be humiliated over and over again.

  13. Actually Andrew, the polls are entirely consistent that if an election were held today Conservatives would wup the opposition’s collecitve butts:

    COMPAS: CPC 51, LPC 20, NDP 10, BQ 8, GPC 6

    Ipsos: CPC 46, LPC 23, NDP 13, BQ 9, GPC 8

    Ekos: CPC 44, LPC 24, NDP 15, BQ 9, GPC 8

    The Strategic Counsel: CPC 45, LPC 24, NDP 14, (no BQ numbers)

    This is how the Canadians react to outrageous behaviour. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Liberals polling at 20% in the polls before. Another reason to dump Dion? Do you think maybe Canadians are giving the Liberals a hint?

  14. That compass poll shows something we havn’t seen for a very long time: a true majority vote, not just majority of seats. (and a free fall for the libs at 20%)

    The result would be a landslide of epic proportions in favour of the CPC.

    The polls are also all showing the the party funding initiative is widely hated and that the CPC was right in wanting to scrap it (completely contrary to the press’ apocolyptic reports), and that the coalition is widely dissapproved of.

    To think that this issue was a “wash” between the parties, is an object in ideological blindness that is usually reserved for radical cult followings.

    Though an argument could be made that today’s left has delved into the realm of radical cultism.

  15. kody: “I know it’s hard to swallow, and therefore you demonize me, the messenger.”

    Out of curiosity, what were you in a past life, kody?

  16. My favourite highlight of the week was (before and) after the GG’s decision, when people who supported different outcomes unanimously slammed the decision as an “unprecedented” response.

    Given the situation, what would have been a precedented one?

  17. archangel, you want me to say something nice about the Liberals? I saw Michael Ignatieff on Mike Duffy Live tonight and the first thing I noticed was how calm he was compared to most of his Liberal compatriots. Along with others, I’ve noticed that he’s wisely kept his distance from this week’s coaltion fiasco and I understand he was the last Liberal to sign on.

    So I was pleased to see at least one Liberal this week not running around like a chicken with his head cut off. But then again, I’ve always had a soft spot for Iggy.

    But I’m sorry, on this week’s events, the Liberals disgraced themselves, the NDP too and for the Bloc, well failure for them was victory. They’re using the failed coalition in their propaganda war. The Libs and the NDP have given them a soapbox and Duceppe has used it for his ultimate purpose, to help destabilize the country politcally. Thanks a lot Stephane and Jack.

  18. Oh – and jarrid – nobody tried to overturn the election results. The election results clearly show that the the Party which Stephen Harper leads does not have enough seats to ram through an unpoplar inept agenda.

  19. “Can you not ever see another side of any issue. Are you that bigoted?“

    Sure some of the conservative guys are a little rabid. But you think it`s only them? Please go check out babble or Big City Lib if you want to see venmous self-righteous stuff from coalitionistas.

    Both sides are rabid. It’s the internet.

  20. “Stephen Harper leads does not have enough seats to ram through an unpoplar inept agenda.“

    No offence or anything, but did you happen to see any polls today? Where are you getting this ‘unpopular’ thing from?

  21. Jarrid, those numbers are the answer to a different question. Many people support Harper despite thinking he is at fault for causing this row, probably out of his perceived right to govern. On the question “who is at fault?”, the mood of the nation is split evenly.

  22. Van Centre: from the only poll that matters, the Oct 14 election.

  23. “nobody tried to overturn the election results.”

    The conservatives won a confidence vote. This means they have the right to govern–including things like advising the GG on things like prorogation–until they lose a vote on a substantive matter. The budget will be such a vote. If they lose that vote, the coalition can have their turn. Fine. But they cannot seize power a few days after voting for the throne speech for no good reason.

  24. As a Canadian I am sad that folks like Richard continue to deny the basic reality of what just transpired and fail to see how it is no good for our country.

    As a partisan conservative, I’m am hopeful that Liberals have once again learned nothing, feel no need for any introspection, and will carry on in their ways as they have over the past three years, leading to one successive downgrade in support after another.

  25. Well, kody, there finally is the Tory majority you’ve been predicting since the beginning of the recent campaign. One problem: there’s no election right now.

    I am surprised GGMJ agreed to prorogue. I had expected “Sorry, too soon, you haven’t done anything yet, and you’ve got a confidence motion you shuffled to next week to deal with. Good luck with that.”

    Some combo of “respect the PM’s advice” and Wells’ First Law coming together, I suppose. Or perhaps the absence of BQ within the coalition and the GG can count (CPC > Lib + NDP). I doubt that the “separatists!” argument held sway — at least I hope it didn’t. And I hope it wasn’t GGMJ being smarter than the boobs in the coalition, seeking to save these two parties from themselves. Whatever. It’s done. My boss needs a complicated report early next week. Maybe I could knock on the front doors of Rideau Hall and get an extra week or two off before we all disappear into yuletide joy…

    To the extent that people believe Harper’s team when they exclaim that the opposition just can’t gang up on them and expect to win, well, that’s bad for the country. I doubt too many people believe this rhetorical excess — we’ve been dealing with minorities for a while now, and if people can’t keep up, it’s a darn good thing we don’t have mandatory voting. I still would have preferred the Tory line being “it’s legal but bad for the country” to “they can’t do this!”

  26. And as a hypocrite, you never had it so good.

  27. Sorry, myl, my vicious & uncalled-for jibe was directed at kody, not your esteemed self.

  28. You see Richard, the way it works in Parliament is that the governement governs until they lose the confidence of the House (the majority of seats). If they government loses the confidence of the House, then the Prime Minister asks the GG to call an election. But here, the opposition didn’t want an election. Looking at the polls above one can say they wisely didn’t want one. So they wanted to wield the big stick, a non-confidence motion, but didn’t want the consequences: going to the people in a general election. I think it’s called having your cake and eating it too. That’s not the way Parliament works. A vote of non-confidence leads to an election and forces everyone to compromise. Here the opposition was in no mood to compromise.

    Remember the Parliamentary session. Stephane Dion was to scared to face the electorate so he told his caucus to stay away from the House when it came time to vote. This is just another version of that except that here he would get to play Prime Minister without going through an election and having to actually get legitimately elected. Does that make any sense to you? I can tell you that it makes no sense to Canadians.

  29. Jack,

    namecalling is the refuge of one who, not only has lost the arguement, is aware he has lost the arguement, and therefore indulges in the self soothing attacks with full knowlege that it is fleeting.


    Harper is in complete control. If you think he will sit back in minority status, when the numbers show supermajority, you are mistaken.

    There WILL be an election, and it will come sooner than you think.

    On the bright side for my liberal friends, a CPC majority is the only thing that will enable the party to renew.

    Only in circumstances where the sweet tantalizing pull of immediate power is eliminated will the otherwise bare powerhungery/valueless-principal free, party that is now the Liberals be able to gain a compass and figure out WHY it wants power other than for power’s sake.

  30. Jarrid: “the way it works in Parliament is that the governement governs until they lose the confidence of the House (the majority of seats). If they government loses the confidence of the House, then the Prime Minister asks the GG to call an election.”

    That’s not actually the way it works for the first few months of a new Parliament.

  31. John Manley calls for the immediate removal of Stephane Dion.

    What a Wise Man.

  32. Andrew, it is funny that the coalitionistas are consitutional fundamentalists; clinging to 19th century interpretations of things. Do you wear powdered wigs at your coalition planning meetings, too?

    Here is Michael Bliss from the National Post today. He is Professor Emeritus of History at UofT. His is not the final word, but he does carry some authority:

    “Sadly, instead of taking the lesson from this precedent that, in a modern democracy, the will of the people trumps Parliamentary deal-making, the architects of the 2008 coalition trotted out the same old assumptions about Parliamentary freedom, and how little the popular will matters. Their conceit has been that they can legally succeed in what millions of Canadians see as the overturning of the outcome of a democratic election, and do it without giving Canadians the ultimate say in the matter.

    This is a huge error of both political and constitutional intelligence. Constitutions are living bodies of precedent, convention, comity and adaptation. Canada has evolved a long way since the era when Sir John A. Macdonald opposed universal suffrage and condemned democracy as an American disease. No constitutional expert — certainly, no governor-general — can ignore the democratic conventions that have emerged and evolved throughout the 20th century. These have been constantly in the direction of moving sovereignty from Parliament to the people.”

  33. Van Centre, if that is really the view of the Canadian people, fuck this country.

  34. So, my liberal friends, my interests are your interests.

    We will win a majority – one that will be the largest in 100 years in Canadian politics – buy your party will renew.

    And after 12 to 15 years in the political wilderness you will be back. Stronger, wiser, principled, and capable of at least mounting some semblence of an ideological alternative to the pure, truth, and logic laden approach that is conservatism.

    I wish you all the luck.

  35. It’s interesting that kody and Jarrid keep bringing up those polls.

    The Ipsos Reid survey for Canwest News Service and Global National showed that a slim majority of Quebecers and Atlantic Canadians appeared to support the coalition, but that nearly two of three Canadians from Ontario to the West Coast would rather see Prime Minister Stephen Harper fight to continue governing.

    The findings were in response to a question about whether Harper should remain in government “because of the severe economic situation the country faces and the fact the Liberals and NDP have entered into an ‘unholy’ deal with the Bloc separatists.” Overall, sixty per cent of respondents across the country said they agreed with that statement.

    Who in their right mind would take a poll based on a question that idiotic seriously.

  36. Jarrid: The GG would be very unwilling, and in my opinion, should be unwilling, to call an election lo two months after the previous one. In fact, in 1979 the GG asked Trudeau if he wanted to form a government–and that was NINE months after the last election. Trudeau declined, but that is beside the point.

    The mandate from the people is fresh. The GG will only go back to the people if the house cannot produce a stable government. It is yet to be seen if the Coalition would be stable. All evidence so far is that it might not last 7 days . . .

  37. “f*** this country.”

    Might I suggest that for a slogan for the coalition. At least it would honestly reflect their views of Canadians, apparently.

  38. Yeah, I like that choice of words, “unholy”. My guess is that Canwest and Global, who commissioned the poll, wanted to reach out to some religious base.

  39. Van Centre: it worked for PET

  40. Jack – I think Van Centre has given you a complete answer. I think you’re something of a polyglot and if you read French you can look up Laval University constituional lawyer Guy Tremblay’s article in Le Devoir which is linked at Norm Spector’s site on yesterday’s “The Column I wish I’d Written”. He says that the GG had to accede to Harper’s request to either prorogue or if he fell on a non-confidence, to call an election.

    So sorry Jack, we live in a democracy, not some banana republic. Get with the times man.

  41. Jarrid, the GG has the option of inviting an alternate collection of MPs to gather together with the confidence of the House. By convention, this would most likely happen at a time like now, so early following an election.

    Jack: Deflection noted, thanks, but “vicious & uncalled-for jibe[s]” are best left out of the debater’s quiver in any event, no? Would that more of us would heed that thought. Although at least the flame wars that erupt here (with a few egregious exceptions best ignored) usually accompany some kind of argument, sometimes even having to do with the original post. I find Macleans still miles ahead of the other comment-enabled news sites. Fellow guests, let’s all keep it that way, please.

    Kody: I suspect the election would have been far sooner had the coalition-of-the-inept actually carried the day. No way that two-or-three-headed beast’s heart keeps beating for months and months. The Liberals may well yet revert to hiding behind the curtains for the yeas-pour and the nays-contre, at least until they get themselves a new head.

  42. Van Centre: that is an absurd viewpoint. Are you suggesting that we forego votes in the HoC and have national policy set by polling?

    The only poll that has any weight in the functioning of our government is the election poll. Any suggestion otherwise is madness.

    The problem with the prorogation is that Martin could have done the same thing in 2005 before his government went down to defeat. He could have asked for a 90 or 120 day prorogation so Gomery could finish his report and government could prepare its response and a plan to implement his recommendations. It would have been an egregious abuse of prorogation, but it would have been constitutional, and the GG would have granted it.

  43. Mr. Mclelland,

    while I couldn’t be further from your worldview,

    i must say, that unlike the Liberals here, you are steadfast in your beliefs, and hold them close regardless as to the political consequences.

    I suggest the Liberal party at least adopt some semblence of truth (though I wouldn’t recommend Robert’s version of it) and build the party around that. Power for power’s sake was a winning formula in the last century – in which modern communications and information dissemination was not as developed and therefore could be exploited by the manipulative and power hungry.

    Robert’s model is form (though not in subtance) is a potential winning one.

    Again, I’m always glad to lend a hand to my brethern on the other side of the political isle.

  44. Here’s what John Manley has to say about Stephane Dion’s attempt at power this week:

    “The notion that the public would accept Stéphane Dion as prime minister, after having resoundingly rejected that possibility a few weeks earlier, was delusional at best. Mr. Dion had seemed to accept responsibility for the defeat (although somewhat reluctantly), and should have left his post immediately.”

    Manley is publicly saying Dion should resign. Liberals there may yet be hope for you yet. John Manley is a voice of reason.

    Methinks that Dion’s time a the helm can now be counted in days if not hours. It would be a Christmas present to the country.

  45. John G: thanks for that Manley link.

    Thank god there are still some adults around the political class.

  46. Government by poll? No, Andrew. But I think that it is equally absurd to entirely ignore public opinion. Or at least, that’s what the grits told me during the Mulroney government.

  47. “The problem with the prorogation is that Martin could have done the same thing in 2005 ”

    Sorry, Andrew. You’re forgetting that Martin first LOST a confidence vote. He then chose to ignore it. He then chose to do a ‘do over’ in a week. He then chose to bribe an MP to cross the floor.

    Not the same.

  48. I know the idea that Harper is a strategic mastermind has taken a shellacking over recent weeks but has anyone considered that it still might be true?

    After the election, pundits across Canada were flirting with the idea that Harper was a changed man, a more cooperative and less partisan leader. They were shocked and disappointed by his sudden 180 degree reversal when he included the political funding cuts in his economic update.

    What prompted this change? Well, we know that through the “overheard” NDP conference call, Harper became aware that the plans for an opposition coalition were very real – they would defeat him on a confidence vote when the liberals had chosen a competent leader and the Conservatives were at their weakest because of the faltering economy.

    Harper, ever the chess player, forced the coalition out of the closet prematurely, knowing that they would be weakened by Dion at the helm, by the reliance on BQ support and by the public perception of illegitimacy.

    Now, polls show that Harper enjoys support approaching 50%, the highest for any Canadian leader in the past decade, and the opposition parties are weaker than they have ever been. Contrary to what the pundits have been predicting (by calling for the “fatally weakened” Harper to step down) Harper is now in the strongest position of any Canadian politician since Chretien in 1993, or Mulroney in 1984. Check and mate?

  49. “Government by poll” Furthermore, should Harper ever win a majority, I guess that means that you’ll just sit back and shut up for 4 years since any further input from the public would be undemocratic, right?

  50. Interesting that the small number of conservative commenters on this site,

    seem to be the only ones remaining.

    A sign of righteousness in position?

    Of course.

    A sign that the political adversaries, having scraped the bottom of the barrel to dredge up the last insult to use in place of logic and reason, have nothing left?


    A sign that this comment thread reflects the polls, and the broader political reality in which the left is in full retreat?

    You bet.

  51. Or maybe this topic has been flogged to death. Maybe something interesting will happen in Canadian politics before 26 January.

    Backroom deals and rumours of backroom deals?

  52. Well, we’ll just see how Mr. “I control the timing” Dion makes out. Interim Leader of the Opposition Goodale or Dryden wouldn’t be too bad. But I place no bets on a pre-May departure; I bet Dion still believes it is he who belongs there until the convention. And, with all MPs dispersed until the budget, caucus won’t meet together to revolt until then. So I don’t see Dion stepping down as a Christmas present.

    It is a shame. The very articulate defender of the federation, the letter-writer who exposed separatist thinking for the stupidity it is, reduced to the butt of jokes and hatred even from the party that named him their leader. He deserves better, but that would have involved (I now see in retrospect) a “thanks, but no thanks” at the convention. Pity. And it shows what I know — I was thankful Dion got in, figuring we now had a serious, smart leader atop each of the leading parties. Oh well.

    The Tories clearly need a better, stronger opposition to keep them honest. The country needs it. All that said, thank heavens the Liberals are re-grouping in opposition; as a government the libs would have made things quite painful indeed.

  53. I can’t believe how many of my friends came to me to seek an understanding of the situation in Ottawa. I study politics and share news items frequently, so I wonder if other political types got the same reaction from their friends and family.

    Any one?

  54. Van Centre: No, I expect the government to be responsive to the will of the Canadian public and for MPs to be responsive to their constituents. But, I do not expect the GG to bend to opinion polls or people protesting on her lawn.

    I think if a government loses a confidence motion, it should go ask the GG to dissolve Parliament, or allow a government to test the House to see if it can command confidence. I don’t see a particular reason to deny a government a chance to immediately ask for another vote of confidence if it has a credible plan to gain the confidence of the House.

    This applies to Harper as well. If he lost the confidence motion on Monday, I’d think it appropriate for the GG to give him a chance to have another vote in the subsequent few days to see if he could change the outcome. If he could not, then it would go down to deciding between another government or a dissolution. Allowing a government to retest the confidence of the House is not undemocratic, and respects the legitimacy of elected representatives of the people.

    Assuming Martin didn’t lose that first vote in Fall 2005 but suspected he might, and prorogued Parliament instead until after Gomery reported, it is from a constitutional standpoint no different. Some people would have screamed blue murder, and others would have supported it. But doing so without having the prorogation authorized by the House would have been a terrible blow to Canadian democracy.

  55. Canadians think we have the American system of govt. Contrary to what many Canadians think, the majority of us did NOT vote for Harper to be PM and therefore the Coalition is perfectly democratic & reasonable.

  56. James – a good question. I believe we have the highest level of university attendees per capita, yet I’d bet less tham 10% of our population had a sweet clue what just happened or why.

  57. James: Lots of questions. From friends, family, co-workers. Surprising how few people understand the basic mechanics: confidence, the GG, the House of Commons, Representative Democracy (not a presidency).

  58. “Sorry, Andrew. You’re forgetting that Martin first LOST a confidence vote. He then chose to ignore it. He then chose to do a ‘do over’ in a week. He then chose to bribe an MP to cross the floor.

    Not the same.”

    Nonetheless, Martin could have prorogued. My point isn’t that Harper is a bad guy (not that he isn’t, it’s just not my point).

    My point is that prorogation is not a power that should be wielded by anyone but Parliament. I tried to illustrate that point by putting the power in the hands of someone you’d perceive as abusing it.

  59. ” can’t believe how many of my friends came to me to seek an understanding of the situation in Ottawa. I study politics and share news items frequently, so I wonder if other political types got the same reaction from their friends and family.

    Any one?”

    Are you kidding? Many people have no idea what is going on. But I think that is also party due to the fact that Canadian style politics is still very old style. Don’t let the public in on what’s really going on. The old style politician still believes they know best, and they truly believe that. Keep the masses dumb. Or pull some more wool over their eyes, by saying for instance that 62% was against voted against the Conservatives. Well, for the record, 62% had also been against one of Chretien’s majority governments. ……….Mmmmmm…..then all of a sudden the 62% means squat all……..

  60. The problem is that our politics are often portrayed as a presidential system. This is done by all the parties, because it is much easier to market the leader and the party and treat the House as a pseudo-electoral college than to try to cultivate and market strong local representatives.

  61. Myl – The Liberal caucus meets next week. Wednesday, I think.

  62. If so, Sisyphus, the leaks to Taber for the following day’s Globe will be an interesting read. Maybe Dion doesn’t control the timing. Or maybe Dion will prorogue caucus, in a flagrant attempt to avoid getting turfed by a vote of non-confidence…

  63. “Canadians think we have the American system of govt. Contrary to what many Canadians think, the majority of us did NOT vote for Harper to be PM and therefore the Coalition is perfectly democratic & reasonable.”

    “The problem is that our politics are often portrayed as a presidential system. This is done by all the parties, because it is much easier to market the leader and the party and treat the House as a pseudo-electoral college than to try to cultivate and market strong local representatives.”

    I disagree and will think Canadians do understand that we have a parliamentary democracy, but have a clear preference for democratic consultation on big questions. Those preferences have existed throughout much of Canadian history, as well as in our commonwealth neighbours.

    1. King Byng was an utter fiasco: we probably should have learned from the King-Byng affair that Canadians do not accept parliamentary supremacy. The notion that the government might change without consultation with the people (coupled with some other things Meighen did) led to a massive outcry that King was able to turn into a majority, despite a scandal. In the dismissal of 1975 in Australia, while Malcolm Fraser managed to win the election that resulted, governor-general Kerr became an utterly despised figure, a pariah that had to stop working because of the constant protests he inspired. I don’t think either is a case of a system working well – Fraser’s caretaker government and Meighen’s brief period in power did not last long, and were unpopular. I hardly think that is the product of Americanization, but rather long-standing beliefs about how democracy should work.

    2. Meech Lake, Abortion and Quebec referendums: Meech Lake was an entirely legal process, which was trying to accomplish something relatively uncontroversial. While it failed for legal reasons, the outcry over Meech surely played a large role. Similarly, nobody would ever accept a unilateral declaration of independence from Quebec. Canadians, whether there are written laws or not, EXPECT to be consulted not about every nitpicky thing (like our American friends who think sanitation commissioners should be elected and often partisan, as if there is a conservative and liberal way to process crap). The abortion case is probably the strongest example of the importance of democratic sources of legitimacy in Canada, because of how the referendum ended almost any will to change Canada’s abortion laws (which are among the most liberal in the world). By contrast, in the US, where a highly legalistic system put the supreme court in the cockpit of the debate, there has never been a referendum, and many social conservatives reject the legitimacy of existing abortion laws. A national (Americans are detestably ignorant of state politics) pro-choice referendum victory would split the pro-life movement, into a narrow rump of hard-core opponents of abortion and those that opposed abortion but deemed the law legitimate.

    3. The legitimacy of the senate: Once upon a time the senate was deemed entirely legitimate in slowing down bills. Mackenzie Bowell was prime minister from the senate, and while this posed logistical difficulties for an already terribly Prime Minister (namely in that he couldn’t keep tabs on his MP’s), it demonstrates that in the 19th century the senate was seen as a legitimate and important branch of government. Contrast that to the GST debate, where Mulroney was able to call up the Queen and stack the senate with pro-GST senators in order to pass the GST. The senate was probably in violation of Lascelles rules (my understanding is that they don’t matter on money bills), but the debate that ensued had little to do with the legitimacy of Mulroney’s action and everything to do with the merits of the GST. This is because everybody accepted that Mulroney was a legitimate and elected, if “wrong-headed” leader, while the senate was not.

    As Potter suggested earlier, there are two kinds of legitimacy, input legitimacy and output legitimacy. Canadians do not “fail to understand” their system for worrying about the latter. In fact it is utterly stupid NOT to worry about the latter – the purpose of a set of rules isn’t that people follow the rules, it is to effect good outcomes. In the case of the rules governing parliament, good outcomes mean stability, national unity, peace order and good government. Unlike a highly legalized system, our system is capable of change and evolution (ironically, progressive coalition members oppose an evolutionary system, preferring a strict constructionist view). As I think I have shown, democratic legitimacy is one of the cornerstones of Canadian government (its in the Quebec reference case too, alongside federalism and individual rights). Our system of government needs to account for this in matters of macro-constitutional affairs, or similar events.

    I propose a policy solution that, at the very least, should improve the clarity of the governor-general’s decision-making, without inhibiting the flexibility that makes our system work (Americans know what is going to happen in the future, but often get stuck with unworkable governments). Force the governor-general to call a referendum before making decisions that violate existing precedent. I suppose some body like the supreme court could regulate this. Referenda on macro-constitutional changes (because that is what a decision that changes precedent is), ensures the continued marriage of output and input legitimacy in our system of government.

  64. “I’ll go even further and say that the media did a good job, much better than we did during the election itself. ”

    I’d agree with that statement, Potter, except for the part where you pulled a McCarthy on us and called the NDP a bunch of commies.

  65. Jarrid,

    You really are a shill for the Conservatives and are quite selective in your characterization of Manley’s message. You and your ilk really don’t deserve the ear of Canadians, although I admit your money can buy it. Too bad you have to pay for the privilege of governing and can’t come buy it honestly. Canadians do deserve honest brokers.

    Here from the Globe and Mail is only part of what John Manley has to say about Harper’s Financial Update and the contemptible tactics it displayed. Manley is the sort of truthful and fair-minded Canadian you, your leader and your party can never be — and that is the real reason your party will never achieve a majority of Canadians’ votes:

    “Whether this was stupidity, arrogance or an intentional tactic, I cannot say. But to have created a totally avoidable political crisis when the economy was the task at hand was highly irresponsible. This has only become worse in the past week as a government desperate to hold on to power showed itself willing to be reckless on the national unity file. That is one sleeping dog that should be left alone.”

  66. Jarrid,

    I neglected to point out for the benefit of neutral comment readers — every knowledgeable and credentialed unaffiliated Canadian, from journalists (Andrew Coyne included) to University professors, while critical of the coalition and Stephane Dion places, the initial blame for this fiasco on Harper.

  67. The Conservatives won enough seats to assume power but not enough to keep it. Back in the day knowing large numbers of people wouldn’t understand that would have made a strong case against universal sufferage.

    My church prayed to stop the “overthrow” in Ottawa. I nearly died from stifled laughter. It still makes me chuckle.

  68. Geiseric the Lame,

    I believe that, if a triangle could speak, it would say that God is eminently triangular, while a circle would say that the divine nature is eminently circular. Thus each would ascribe to God its own attributes, would assume itself to be like God, and look on everything else as ill-shaped.

    – Baruch Spinoza

  69. Geiserec: That’s actually seriously concerning to me — quite the mingling of church and state.

  70. “My church prayed to stop the “overthrow” in Ottawa.”

    What’s with all the religion in the anti-coalition movement? Ipsos-Reid takes a poll on the coalition referring to it as “unholy” in their question, people at the anti-coalition rallies refer to praying for Harper, one woman goes so far as to say God put Harper in power. Is this just the Conservative base showing up when things get tough?

  71. “Van Centre, if that is really the view of the Canadian people, fuck this country.”

    Jack M

    Is that your ‘let them eat cake’ moment?


    “I can’t believe how many of my friends came to me to seek an understanding of the situation in Ottawa.”
    “In fact, I said (to Jian’s obvious surprise) was that democracy had been well-served by the events.”

    I agree with Andrew P and James Munro

    I obsess about politics and all the inside baseball stuff and many people wanted to talk to me this week about what was happening in Ottawa. Most people had a sense that what was happening might be technically legal but believed the oppo parties weren’t operating in the spirit they were meant to be. Also, there were a lot of people who didn’t really understand what was happening but they knew they didn’t want the BQ anywhere near the levers of power.

    It has been a fantastic week for democracy because people were talking about politics, and people taking an interest in how their system works is always a good thing.


    Glen McGregor writes: “It also suggests that Conservatives may not readily accept a decision from Governor General Michaëlle Jean should she ask the coalition to govern and refuse Mr. Harper’s request for an election.”

    I wonder what he is implying. I don’t believe the Cons will ignore whatever decision GG makes in January and I am not sure what else they can do but follow her decisions.

    David Warren’s article, also in Ottawa Citizen, was more to my liking today. I am sick and tired of all the whinging from, and about, Quebec and how their feelings have been hurt this week. I would say the Quebec cabal that tried to take over power this week definitely stirred up the ROC.

  72. “Geiserec: That’s actually seriously concerning to me — quite the mingling of church and state.”

    In fact it is not at all the mingling of church and state. It is a private organization having an opinion (that may not be shared by all of its members – I would have cringed a bit if I were in that church). Churches have all kinds of opinions – poverty is bad, gay people are bad, etc. Your problem Mr. Thwim is that you dislike the mingling of church and church.

  73. jwl,

    I too dislike the whinging from Quebec to the extent it happens (and from the “West” for that matter).

    I read a lot of whinging from the “official” Conservative commenters here as well, by the way.

    So here’s another whinge from me before I go to read Warren’s article:

    “The wolf changes his coat, but not his disposition.”

    — Chinese Proverb

    Will the wolf pretending to be conciliatory at last be returned to his natural habitat before he does any more damage?

  74. hoosiertohooosier says:

    “Canadians do understand that we have a parliamentary democracy, but have a clear preference for democratic consultation on big questions. Those preferences have existed throughout much of Canadian history, as well as in our commonwealth neighbours.”

    Where and when did Canadians have the chance to express their preferences on the ideas expressed in the Financial Update?

    Were those merely small questions and exempted?

    I do not believe we should blow in the wind of public opinion polls, nor be bound to rigid ideologies. But those issues were never expressed in – as other’s have put it – the only poll that counts.

  75. It seems to me that there is a problem in our system to the extent that money prevents our government from being held to account. What we have seen for the past few years is a government that has run roughshod over Parliament, acting with impunity knowing that the opposition couldn’t afford to oppose it. There is something deeply troubling about a fairly tiny plurality of the electorate being able to exercise that much power.

    If our Parliament is not seen as having any legitimacy in selecting a government, perhaps the election of the government should have nothing to do with Parliament!

  76. I’m sick of these comment boards and am retiring from my lucrative commenter position to spend more time with my family.

    What this week has demonstrated to me is that 90% of the people who follow Canadian politics do so because they have a serious personality disorder, like Leafs fans. Few people indeed are concerned with the country itself; most are just cheering for their team. It’s pointless to argue with people whose opinions would change on a dime if the Great Leader so willed it.

    Politics is a waste of time, folks. My patriotism no longer includes it.

  77. Jack,

    Please don’t leave. Your insight is valuable. I know it’s frustrating to endure a barrage of propaganda posing as opinion (on all sides of the issues) in the comments section, yet losing one of the rare voices of reason and moderation that you represent would be tragic.

  78. It’s not an easy addiction to deal with, Jack. I’ve tried several times to go cold turkey. But the existence of a number of rational people, like yourself, keeps drawing me back.

    I’ve found I can best manage the nonsense by scrolling rapidly past the names that I recognize for their idiocy. Granted they can occasionally change their names. But they can’t change their style.

    I hope that your leaving is really a prorogation and that you will return from time to time. Don’t let the b–t–ds beat you down.

  79. The conservatives won a confidence vote. This means they have the right to govern–including things like advising the GG on things like prorogation–until they lose a vote on a substantive matter.

    Like a fiscal update?

    Alternatively, if the FU was not a substantive matter, why did the Vulcan Chessmaster turn turtle and prorogue?

  80. “f*** this country.”

    Might I suggest that for a slogan for the coalition. At least it would honestly reflect their views of Canadians, apparently.

    Actually, that is (without the bowdlerism) pretty much how I would have interpreted the statement, “Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term.”

  81. Current polls are nice, like a sunny Wednesday morning, and about as useful if your company picnic is on Saturday.

    The next poll that matters will be the budget vote. And by then, the popular polls will change.

  82. McGregor seems to suggest that the Conservatives would defy the Governor General on the basis of some lawyer’s opinion. I don’t know how seriously to take this, as something Harper would actually do.

  83. David,

    You nailed it. Now for a bowdlerism for Stepen C********R Harper.

  84. Jack Mitchell’s mention of Leafs fans is appropriate, but you could broaden the comparison to sports fans in general. I get the impression that many who comment on politics in here do so in the same spirit they might comment on sports — exulting in their team’s victories, taunting their opponents, lashing out when their favourites lose. For such folks the actual matters of policy and process at issue are practically irrelevant.

  85. Stephen B,

    “McGregor seems to suggest that the Conservatives would defy the Governor General on the basis of some lawyer’s opinion. I don’t know how seriously to take this, as something Harper would actually do.

    Not seriously at all, coming from Gerald Chipeur. He may even be a creationist.

  86. Andrew Potter

    I was just re-reading this post and Two Concepts of Legitimacy and it made me wonder if people are starting to turn against elite accommodation that has been popular here for decades.

    The polls are showing that people of different political beliefs are tired of pols dividing up the spoils of power in backroom deals while the rest us can go hang. The argument that what the Coalition is trying to do is technically legal is not carrying much weight with the electorate this time and that’s a change I am over the moon with.

  87. Here is part of a story in the Sunday Hindustan Times (yes, it’s Sunday there). Speaks to the danger of disinformation. At risk of seeming an alarmist, I have a real concern — if this “constitutional crisis” stuff doesn’t cool down, some zealot out there will try to foment a deepening of the ill feeling that is already too high for comfort:

    Nuclear-armed Pakistan was put on ‘high alert’ last weekend and was eyeing India for possible signs of military aggression, after a threatening call made to President Asif Ali Zardari by someone from Delhi posing as Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

    Whether it was mere mischief or a sinister move by someone in the external affairs ministry, or if the call came from within Pakistan, remains unclear. But to some world leaders, the probability of an accidental war appeared high.

  88. Well, for those following my own Oprahesque personal battle to keep the faith, an update.

    Shortly after penning my resignation letter (above), I loaded up the ol’ iPod with the most depressing music I could find (“Everybody Knows,” “Paint It Black,” etc.) and headed off to the Tim Horton’s (where else?) at University and Dundas in Toronto. I had just finished my second bacon breakfast sandwich, washed down with the tears of disillusionment, when who should I see walking east on Dundas but a group of people in yellow scarves and with a couple big-ass yellow flags. “Aha!” thinks I, “the Finnish Liberals are out in force today.” So I scampered forth and asked them were they were going: turns out they were United Steelworkers going to a rally. “Which rally?” To support the coalition, they say.

    So, carrying my heavy book-laden briefcase, I joined them on their way to nearby Nathan Phillips Square (in front of City Hall), where lo & behold there was a pro-Coalition rally going on. I grabbed a “62% Coalition” sign (the other freebie choice was “Coalition Yes/Oui”) and a flag and hung around while the samba drummers toodled around and the crowd began imperceptibly to grow. It was a mixed bunch, with a few lefties (Socialist Worker signs demanding that US deserters be allowed to stay), a certain union presence (CAW and USW mainly), a number of environmentalists; but the overwhelming majority were just ordinary folks, many obviously not used to political rallies (including me!). It was extremely cold — cold even by Winnipeg standards — with a sharp wind that blows like a jet engine around the funnel-shaped City Hall. I saw Olivia Chow chatting with a CityTV camera crew, and was amazed not to see Margaret Atwood anywhere.

    Soon we were all quite squished together and the Square was full — and it’s a large square. I think there were at least 5000 people there, maybe 7000; but I’m not good at guessing these things. If you’d been a middle-sized rock band you’d have been happy with the crowd. Mary Walsh warmed up the crowd, quite ably, with the natural oratory of the Rock. Then MP’s began arriving on-stage. It was hard to see what with the many large flags and signs (the best one quoted Plato: “This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector” in nice red & white; another had Harper as “the Grinch who Stole Parliament”). We need to educate the public about how to spell “prorogue,” especially the gerund form.

    Dion is introduced. We do our best to go nuts. He gives usual leaden speech, which we try to cheer. (During the French part I got off a good “Vive la coalition!” which was much appreciated around me.) Of course it was another demonstration of how incredibly strange it is that someone with virtually no political skills could be leader of a major political party. But when in Rome etc. Next was Layton, whose speech was about 35 times better than Dion’s and who really managed to get the crowd stirred up. A certain reliance on talking points, however, as the climax of the speech, which is really not adequate oratorically; somebody should hire me. Anyway, we all chanted “Shame! shame!” a certain amount and cheered at every optimism. It was really freakin’ cold, for the record. I’m not totally objective, but it seemed to me that the things that the crowd cared most about were the attack on the right to strike, the equal-work thing, and (most of all) the “locking the doors on Parliament,” which Layton rather deftly called “locking 300 workers out.” I was delighted to see people exchanging handshakes and smiles in the common cause of supporting parliamentary democracy.

    Overall, I was impressed they could muster 5000 people in weather like today’s, and they seemed well-organised (buttons, signs, stage, bands, MP’s). I was going to go check out the pro-Harper rally that was happening somewhere else at the same time, but it was frankly too friggin’ cold out, did I mention that? I’m not totally happy with the “line” they’re taking, since I’m not sure their financial policy makes much sense, and I actually object to being part of a “62% majority” — since this is not about the goddamn polls or election vote percentages but about the supremacy of Parliament. At least as far as this patriot is concerned. But it definitely put me back in a hopeful mood, about the country if not about the Coalition per se. I agree with jwl that it’s nice that people are actually paying attention to our system of government, even if half of them are rallying against democracy and in favour of prime-ministerial fiat. Of all Wells’ Rules, the one that depresses me the most is #1, and at this point (from a patriotic angle) I’m in favour of things happening; politically, this country has the circulation of an overweight 60-year-old couch-potato smoker, and it’s time it started jogging, even at the risk of heart attack.

    So, I’d like to recant my disavowal above. Thanks to those who said that mine is a sane voice. I have a feeling that Conbots are making notes on my partisanship as they read this, but actually I’m not partisan, I just want the country to be a good country with pride in its history and confidence in its future. Hokey as that sounds, I know.

  89. Jack M

    Glad you had a change of heart. Don’t agree with much you write, and vice versa I am sure, but I was hoping you wouldn’t pack it all in. Your crisis today reminds me of Simpson’s episode Mr Lisa Goes To Washington when Lisa loses all faith in democracy but, at the end, has it restored.


    “some zealot out there will try to foment a deepening of the ill feeling that is already too high for comfort:”


    Scott Reid, a significant figure in Lib politics, wrote about Harper:

    “First things first: take him out.” and “Their imperative could not be more clear: kill him. Kill him dead. Do not, whatever you do, provide him with an opportunity to extend his hold on power.” Globe And Mail, Nov 29 ’08

    Does that qualify? I know there will be lots of crazy things written by conservative partisans as well but I don’t think they compare to senior Libs writing death threats in the Globe.

  90. Thanks, jwl. I think we don’t see eye-to-eye on much, but I know you’re sincere, and at this point that’s more than enough for me.

    Re: Reid, I think it’s just a metaphor; and rather appropriate given the whole “If you strike at a Prince” thing.

  91. Thanks for the report, Jack.

    The only thing I’m confused about is that initial reports indicated that all the ” ordinary folk ” were at the minority government rally. I guess some them couldn’t figure out what minority means, eh. Wonder how that happens ?

  92. Sisyphus — Yeah, plenty of ordinary folk at my pro-coalition rally. Of all the Harperite talking points, that one is the most absurd. Reminds me of Palin’s line about “It’s great to be here in the real America!” — i.e. somewhere where they liked her. But apparently being fed your talking points from Tory Central isn’t “top-down” at all, no sir.

    It’s classic Caesarism, really. You get a renegade aristocrat (or, in our case, a career lobbyist and party operative) and declare him the salt of the earth; so that when he speaks to you from his mahogany-panelled Centre Block office, complete with makeup, Kleeg lights, and teleprompter, it’s “the voice of the people.” I don’t, personally, think that “the people” exist — there are just people of various stripes; but those who self-identify as “ordinary folks” always want to treat their politicians like royalty. You hear a few Tory voices saying that Harper screwed up, but whereas nobody, AFAIK, on the Liberal side has said anything positive about Dion himself in the last 7 weeks, the great majority of Harperites think of him as Moses. And in the next breath they have the gall to talk about democracy.

    It’s the influence of American media, I’m convinced. In the US the President has all the sacred status of a King, a Pontifex Maximus. They like to say they rejected royalism in 1776, but actually it’s we Westminster-types who rejected it, by separating the executive from the Crown. I find the cult of Harper genuinely frightening and profoundly unCanadian. You can like the man, you can like his policies, but enough with the deification of someone who is, objectively, the most ruthless politician since Mackenzie King.

  93. So, Jack, welcome back from your “walk in the snow.”


  94. Well Jack,

    I do think that Cretien would not only give him a run for his money, I think that in a dark alley Harper would emerge sans jewels.

    That said Cretien is gone and Harper is the best chance for Canada right now.

  95. “What’s with all the religion in the anti-coalition movement?”

    With the law of the land against them they are reduced to moralizing.

  96. “In fact it is not at all the mingling of church and state.”

    But of course it is and contrary to what McVety et al would have us believe separation is NOT a one-way street. I was astounded by that bookmark the Conservatives came out with a while back that rewrote Corinithians, but not surprised.

  97. excuse-moi

    Timothy. It was 1 Tim 2:2 they munched. no small accident.

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