Prime Minister Dion had a question. “Does the Prime Minister,” he asked, “still believe that he enjoys the confidence of this House?”
Prime Minister Harper would not tolerate such a tone in this place. “When the honourable gentleman speaks about playing politics,” he said. “I think he is about to play the biggest political game in Canadian history.”
The Conservative leader sounded envious.
Mr. Harper had entered the House at precisely 2:13pm, his frontbench leading a standing ovation at his arrival. Several opposition members clapped along. A couple minutes later, Mr. Dion stood to ask the first question and received a bipartisan ovation from both the Liberal and NDP benches.
Half a dozen suited young men from the PMO watched from above. The press gallery was near capacity. Prime Minister Elizabeth May took a seat in the visitors gallery.
Prime Minister Gilles Duceppe took his turn, Liberals and NDP cheering him on as the Conservatives taunted. Mr. Harper invoked Laurier. Peter Van Loan, that euphoric look returned to his face, took to heckling Justin Trudeau’s father.
“There’s Justin Trudeau, son of Pierre, going along for the ride,” yelped Van Loan.
Prime Minister Jack Layton stood to applause from the Liberal and NDP caucuses.
“Why should anybody have confidence in the leader of a party who would agree to fold his own party into another party?” scoffed Mr. Harper, repudiating his own history of political leadership.
“Why in the world would Canadians put any trust in him now?” begged Liberal Michael Savage of Harper.
“They would rather make a deal with the devil,” cried Jim Flaherty, referring to the Liberal flirtations with the NDP.
Prime Minister John Baird was positively giddy. Prime Minister Peter MacKay fiddled with his blackberry. Prime ministers Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff lounged in the corner. Prime Minister Dominic LeBlanc arrived sporting a sharp new haircut.
Prime Minister Layton reminded Prime Minister Harper of discussions the two had once had about working with Prime Minister Duceppe. Prime Minister Harper accused Prime Minister Layton of offering no advice on how the government might handle our minor economic crisis. Prime Minister Layton reminded Prime Minister Harper that the NDP had tabled such ideas in the House of Commons.
Prime Minister Harper dismissed all who would commune with separatists. Jim Flaherty thanked the Bloc for its economic suggestions and promised to consult them in drafting the next federal budget.
“How can Canadians trust the finance minister,” asked Liberal Scott Brison, “a finance minister who cooks the books?”
“Mr. Speaker, there is something cooking and it is a new-found friendship and some strange bedfellows over here,” sniffed Flaherty, “these clueless people that he is making arrangements with about economic policy.”
Prime Minister Jim Prentice had been working to appear stoic throughout, furrowed brow and pensive look and expensive suit. Then the Bloc’s Bernard Bigras ventured a question about government economic policy. This, Prentice obviously figured, was his chance.
“Mr. Speaker, I do not agree with much of that,” he said, squaring up to the Speaker and thrusting his left hand into his pocket, “but the real question for the House is how this poisonous and temporarily happy alliance will advance Canada’s interests at all, specifically in the context of international conventions.”
Glasses in hand for studious effect, he waved his right arm all about, stabbing at the arm and gesturing wildly. His voice groped for gravitas.
“The NDP has a policy supporting a cap on trade. The leader of the Liberal Party supports a carbon tax. The Bloc supports only the breakup of our country,” he proclaimed.
“Leader! Leader! Leader!” the opposition benches cried.
A couple hours later, just short of 5pm, the deal was signed. Seated beside each other on a small riser, Jack Layton, Stephane Dion and Gilles Duceppe put their signatures to Canada’s first three-way marriage. Layton looked typically enthusiastic, Dion typically awkward, Duceppe typically nonchalant.
A Liberal officiated the signing. An NDP official presided over the press conference that followed, two Liberals at his elbow. In one corner of the room stood three of Dion’s closest aides. In the back of the room, the braintrust of the NDP. Senator David Smith, that breathing emblem of the Liberal family trust, took a seat beside Olivia Chow, the NDP MP and wife of Mr. Layton.
“Unbelievable,” murmured Liberal Mark Holland. Rookie MPs Bonnie Crombie and Frank Valeriote snapped pictures of the three leaders with their blackberries. Liberals Mario Silva and Marlene Jennings sat close up front.
“We are ready,” Mr. Dion announced, “to form a new government.”
Behind him stood the flags of each province and territory. In the corner, a carefully manicured Christmas tree. Overheard, two massive brass chandeliers. On the south wall, a large painting depicting the fathers of confederation.
Dion explained the terms, Layton made sure to be seen listening intently. Twenty-four cabinet ministers—18 Liberal, six NDP. A coalition between Liberal and NDP sides until June 30, 2011. Support from the Bloc until June 30, 2010.
“We have not made these choices lightly,” Layton said.
He called on the Prime Minister to accept that the Conservative government has lost the confidence of the House. He asked him to “accept this gracefully.” To the credit of all in attendance, the room did not then descend into laughter. Indeed, the room was notably quiet. As if even so much as a raised voice might scuttle this fragile thing.
All seemed hesitant to appear overly excited. “It’s a great privilege that I will receive,” Dion managed at one point.
There were questions of detail and intention and process, few details and specifics beyond the written agreements already signed. Finally, someone raised Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Dion’s rather obvious differences on the future of the country and asked the most pertinent question of the day: How is this going to work?
“We have an agreement,” explained Mr. Duceppe, succinctly enough.
Mr. Dion repeated his commitments to national unity.
Layton could not resist imparting his analysis.
“If I might add,” he said, “I think a lot of people in Canada have been looking for politics to be done differently.”
This is without doubt.
“To me, this is an expression of enormous optimism,” he continued. “I think it’s likely to produce very good government.”
This resolutely remains to be seen.