Notes on a crisis: how it came to this

– The opposition parties did not have to bring down the government over the fall economic statement., whatever “provocations” it contained. They chose to. They had other options (aside from simply agreeing to rely more on voluntary donations, and less on the taxpayer). They could have proposed amendments. They could have stalled, filibustered, tied up parliamentary business. They could have demanded the resignation of the Finance minister. Instead, they went straight to the nuclear option.

They did so, as has since become clear, not because they were forced to, but because they could. They — the Bloc and the NDP at least — had been planning this for some time. All they needed was the pretext, and the government gave it to them. Leave aside that surreptitiously taped conference call. Our own Mitch Raphael was reporting a month ago on the nascent coalition plans.

It’s clear that the NDP was the one driving this. The initial Liberal response to the statement was much more cautious. It was the NDP that first declared “war,” forcing the Liberals to fall in behind them. Layton, in effect, rolled Dion. And Dion rolled his party: the whole deal was cooked up out of Dion’s office without any apparent consultation, either with the national executive or the various leadership camps.

– The government shares responsiblity for the mess we’re in, then, but only indirectly. That is, it should have guessed how the opposition would respond. It should have known what they were up to. It should have been more careful not to give them the opening they needed. They, too, had other options: they could have delayed implementation of the party funding changes, for example. But it’s a tactical error, not a moral one. There’s nothing wrong in principle with requiring parties to finance themselves.

And there’s nothing wrong with tying it to an economic package. In the next few months, possibly years, governments are going to have to say no to a lot of interests (unless it is proposed that they should bail out everyone). Is there not something more than a little unseemly in the image of a political party continuing to feast at the public trough, even as it is pushing others away? “Sorry, there’s no money in the till for you. But there’s just enough for us.”

– Should Stephen Harper wear this? Of course. It was his decision, and his error. Some have attributed this to hubris. I think it is rather timidity. It is of a piece with the whole strategy the party has pursued over the past several years. Rather than openly advocate a particular course of action — rather than clearly articulate a distinctive philosophy of government and a program of government that flows from it, they have relied on trickery, surprises, tacitcal manoeuvres — and sometimes on sheer thuggery. They don’t have the confidence that they can win the arguments on their merits, that they can beat their opponents, as it were, on the ice. So instead they try to lick ’em in the alley.