The Tories made them do it


The Tories made them do it

Well that didn’t take long. Barely three days after the Finance minister rose to deliver his annual fall update, it is all in the dumpster: the fiscal plan, the curbs to subsidies to political parties, the suspension of public employees’ right to strike, maybe even the government itself.

And the settled wisdom of every single pundit in the country is that it is all the Conservatives’ fault. After all, they provoked the opposition beyond endurance. They made demands of the opposition that they could not possibly accept. How could Harper have been so reckless? What a toxic gambit! What a colossal miscalculation!

Absolutely no one pins even a sliver of blame on the Liberals, the NDP or the Bloc. Of course not. Faced with the unreasonable and extreme proposal that they raise funds in the same way as the Conservatives have been doing for years — by asking people for their money, rather than taking it from them — they really had no alternative but to seize power. What on earth were they supposed to do? Revamp their moribund fund-raising organizations? Find a message and a leader capable of motivating large numbers of Canadians to click the “donate” button on their websites? Get off their collective duffs? What were the Tories thinking?

No. No, the sensible, restrained, pragmatic thing to do when threatened with the loss of subsidy is to take down the government. The sober, reasonable, moderate thing to do in this time of economic uncertainty is to provoke a constitutional crisis — to cobble together a coalition without a prime minister or a program, propped up by a separatist party, and demand the governor general call upon it to form a new government, replacing the old one we just elected. It’s been six weeks, after all.

Thank God that Canada has such statesmen in this time of peril, willing to put partisanship aside in pursuit of high office. What a contrast to those hyper-partisan, power-mad Conservatives, with their insane demands that the parties make do on the millions in tax credits and reimbursements they receive outside the subsidy.

But what am I saying? Notwithstanding the hundreds of column-inches attacking the Tories for their intolerable affront to opposition sensibilities, it is important to remember that the opposition’s sudden lurch for power had nothing to do with the impending loss of public funds. No, the reason they are absolutely forced to defeat the government this time, having declined to do so over Afghanistan, or global warming, or budgets 2006, 2007 ot 2008, is on account of the fall update. Nothing bespeaks the fierce urgency of now so much as an annual statistical review.

Again, the commentariat is as of one maddened mind. How could the government be so blind? Can it not see that unemployment has soared to 6.2%? Why, that’s four-tenths of a percentage point above its recent, thirty-year low. And what about Canadians’ fears of losing their home, what with the proportion of mortgages more than 90 days in arrears standing at an all-time record 0.2%? Okay, it’s an all-time record low, but still. When will it realize there’s a Depression on? Or coming? Or quite possible, certainly, in other countries.

While this laissez-faire, do-nothing government contents itself with spending more than any government in the history of Canada — 25% more, after inflation and population growth, than at the start of the decade — and pumping tens of billions of dollars into the banking system, what Canadians demand is “stimulus.” And stimulus, we all know, in a sophisticated, 21st century economy, can be delivered in only one way: by hiring large numbers of unionized men to dig holes in the ground (see “infrastructure.”) Loosening monetary policy doesn’t count. Tax cuts don’t count. It only counts as “stimulus” if the government spends it.

Or rather, it only counts as stimulus if a Liberal government spends it. The Tories have already promised to deliver billions more in “stimulus” in the next budget. But that’s, like, 58 days from now. We can’t possibly wait until then. We cannot wait to see how the economic situation evolves, or what effect the extraordinary series of measures countries around the world have taken to date will have. We cannot wait to see what the Americans will do. By then the polls might have shifted. By then the crisis might have passed. The government must fall now — so that it can fall again in a month’s time.

Because, as absolutely everyone agrees, the Conservatives made them do it. Not that that had anything to do with it.

CODA: To be clear, the opposition is entirely within its rights to defeat the government, and to request the Governor General to call upon them to form a government. And it is entirely within her prerogative to accept their request, rather than to defer to the Prime Minister’s apparent preference for dissolution.

On the other hand, it is also within her prerogative to refuse their request. They have to show, at a minimum, that they can command the confidence of the House, that is to say that the coalition is stable and secure — which at this point is anything but certain. For goodness sake, the Liberals can’t even agree who should lead them, let alone whether and on what terms they can get along with the other parties.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.