Saint City News column: Strange bedfellows – PM’s only hope is to cozy up to NDP and Bloc


This column ran in today’s edition of the Saint City News:

The DNA of victory is embedded deep in the bone and sinew of the Liberal Party of Canada.

This is not good news if you happen to be a true believer of either the left or the right.

Not so many weeks ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appeared to be prepared to do or say anything to stave off a desperate coalition of convenience in Parliament between the then-faltering Liberals and the New Democratic Party, aided and abetted from the sidelines by the Bloc Quebecois.

But that was the result of a confluence of unexpected events. First, the Liberals were led by the hapless Stephane Dion, a man who just couldn’t connect with Canadians. Mr. Dion saw one last chance to make history before his party corrected the mistake it had made by choosing him. At that very moment, the prime minister blundered badly, proposing a budget with a political funding formula that posed an existential threat to the Bloc and New Democrats.

The result propelled the three opposition parties momentarily into each other’s arms. Mr. Harper’s Conservative government was only saved by the intervention of Liberal-appointed Governor General Michaëlle Jean.

At the time, Mr. Harper desperately assailed the coalition as an undemocratic devil’s brew of socialists and separatists, something his Conservative Party would never countenance. From the perspective of his personal political survival, that was probably the right thing to do. But with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, we can now see that the long-term welfare of his party might have been better served if he’d let the sure-to-be-shaky coalition rule for a spell.

Without the coalition to kick around, the Liberal instinct for self-preservation swiftly reasserted itself. Mr. Dion was immediately sidelined, replaced by the much more sure-footed Michael Ignatieff. Talk of working with the NDP ceased forthwith.

As soon as Mr. Ignatieff took charge, he got to work rebuilding the broad coalition of moderate right and left that has been a hallmark of Liberal success for generations – a coalition that does not include NDP leader Jack Layton or Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe.

Mr. Ignatieff clearly recognized that if the Liberals could retake the centre, they could retake the country. He was soon stitching together a tent big enough to hold the Canadian centre more comfortably than either the Conservative or New Democratic parties, both of which are much more closely tied to the ideologies of right and left.

The latest polls indicate his strategy is working. Liberals are now outpolling Mr. Harper’s Conservatives nation-wide. The margin was 36 to 33 per cent in a recent survey. In other words, Mr. Ignatieff probably has enough support to become prime minister, if only he can figure out a way to make an election happen.

There, from Mr. Ignatieff’s perspective, lies the rub. With only 77 members in the 308-member House of Commons, all the positive polls in Canada won’t give him enough votes to bring down Mr. Harper’s government.

From Mr. Harper’s point of view, the situation is ironic in the extreme. Notwithstanding his rhetoric last winter, the only way he can now hang onto power is by climbing into bed with social democrats and separatists! Talk about sleeping with the enemy!

It’s hard to imagine a more gruesome threesome, but if Mr. Harper wants to live to fight another day, he’s going to have to cozy up to Mr. Layton and Mr. Duceppe, exactly what he assailed Mr. Dion for doing.

Come the election, it’s pretty easy to imagine what the Liberals under Mr. Ignatieff will make of that. But then, as the old saw goes, politics makes strange bedfellows.

4 Comments on "Saint City News column: Strange bedfellows – PM’s only hope is to cozy up to NDP and Bloc"

  1. janfromthebruce says:

    Journalist have a responsibility to write responsibly based on facts to support their opinion. Pray tell, sir, what knowledgable facts do you have to base this opinion on (beyond the opinion of other opinion writers):
    “From Mr. Harper’s point of view, the situation is ironic in the extreme. Notwithstanding his rhetoric last winter, the only way he can now hang onto power is by climbing into bed with social democrats and separatists! Talk about sleeping with the enemy!”So since 2006 election until this date, the Iggy Liberals continue to back up the Harper agenda (72 in bed together votes and counting), the NDP has not once voted in confidence with the Harper govt.
    The Liberals, I will remind you – based on fact – that the Liberals under Iggy – again have the worse record in the House of actually showing up for work. http://www.nationalpost.com/story.html?id=1513223

    “The Liberals posted the worst record for voting of the four parties in the House, standing to be counted fewer times on average than even Bloc Quebecois MPs. And when Liberal MPs did show up, they voted the same way as the Conservatives 79% of the time.

    By contrast, Bloc MPs supported the government on only 14% of votes. With the exception of a few MPs on one motion, NDP members voted against the Tories at every chance. Most of the votes where the Liberals aligned with the Tories were related to the budget.”

    So let’s wrap up here: “spin” is a journalist’s choice, and hopefully you aren’t teaching your students the fine art of spin 101.

  2. David J. Climenhaga says:

    Of course Iggy votes with the Conservatives! From a policy perspective on most issues the Harper Conservatives and the Ignatieff Liberals are not that far apart from one another. My friend Tiny and Janfromthebruce are right insofar as they assert the Liberals’ post-Dion voting record. But so what? This in no way detracts from the thesis of the column, that with Iggy’s Libs rising in the polls (as they unquestionably are), the prime minister’s only hope of survival is to try to build an alliance with the Bloc and especially with the NDP. If this seems unlikely from an ideological perspective at first blush, perhaps it is still possible for the very reasons my two commentators point out. To wit: the NDP will be worse off if they permit the Liberals to defeat the government and then enter an election Iggy and the Liberals can sweep. Who would get swept away in such circumstances? From the NDP perspective, it makes sense to prop up the Conservatives for now, and to try to at least moderate their worst instincts. The column in no way endorses the Liberal record on policy, or condemns the NDP’s. It merely states the real political situation faced by both the Conservatives and the NDP.

  3. pogge says:

    I realize we still have First Past the Post but even so, 36% does not a sweep make. It might be a bit premature to talk about opposition parties being swept away.

    And it might be worth bearing in mind that the last Liberal leader who was presented with such high expectations was Paul Martin. We all know how well that worked out. (Come to think of it I got a lot of traffic out of making fun of Paul Martin. Maybe I shouldn’t fight this.)

  4. janfromthebruce says:

    except David, the column is suggesting this is fact when it is fantasy. Based on what, and it makes a good game?
    If Harper put forth great legislation that IE was reformed the way the NDP and Bloc want it, well of course, they would support it.
    If it goes the way Iggy and the banks want it, overall it hurts a whole of bunch of workers has it raises the qualifying theshold, well not increasing the rates or extension of the EI payments.
    Anyway, when the author actually has “proof” this is so, well it is just spin.

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