Happy New Year! History will show that former Liberal leader Stephane Dion did at least one good deed for our country.
By merely talking coalition with the NDP at a dire moment in Canadian economic history, he forced the highly ideological and irresponsible minority government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to go against its base instincts and behave a little more responsibly.
One can’t call the behaviour of the Harper Conservatives to date responsible exactly, but under rather fraught circumstances at least they have restrained themselves from fighting the economic fire by letting it burn, which judging from their Nov. 23 economic “update” was their original idea.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s so-called update combined vindictive and partisan attacks on labour and the Opposition with a breathtaking lack of action on the desperate economic straits in which the country found itself.
This, thank goodness, was enough to spur Dion, then the leader of the Opposition, to talk coalition with the leaders of the other two centre-left parties, which together with the Liberals hold a majority of seats in the House of Commons.
That, in turn, provoked a panicked prime minister to persuade the Governor General to suspend democracy for a month and a half, and, not incidentally, to back off his dubious plan for a do-nothing economic policy.
As a result, it now seems likely that at the end of the month we will see a federal budget that is good enough to allow Mr. Dion’s replacement, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, to revert to making normal political calculations. That is, Mr. Ignatieff will now be able to conclude with a relatively clear conscience that the economic health of the nation has been safeguarded enough for Liberals to support the January budget, and thereby look after their own political future unhindered by the need to compromise with any coalition partners.
This means that unless the Harperites make another astounding blunder, the coalition idea is almost certainly done like dinner. Another major blunder is, of course, unlikely. For even if many Conservative supporters cannot do the democratic math and believe that for a majority of members of Parliament to vote against the government amounts to treason, Mr. Harper surely understands that no matter how much it galls him minority does not add up to majority.
The good news is that at least the Conservatives’ 2009 budget will likely be a reasonably responsible document that contains some needed fiscal stimulus measures.
Harper and Flaherty would rather use the continuing economic crisis to weaken democracy by de-funding their political opponents, tilt workplace rules in favour of employers and shrink government, the better to afflict the powerless and comfort the mighty. So they will grind their neoconservative teeth with frustration when they deliver a responsible budget. But deliver it they will in the certain knowledge that to do otherwise would be to revive the moribund coalition.
As a result, the recession we face will be less severe and less prolonged than it might have been. Fewer jobs will be lost. The prospects of fewer ordinary Canadians will be destroyed.
We have Stephane Dion to thank for that. Imperfect as the outcome may be, we should do so.