Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Coalition!?!

Who would have thought it possible. A demoralized Liberal Party with a lame duck leader joining forces with the 'Dippers' to form our national government, kept in power by the Bloc. Truth is stranger than fiction.

I am part of the majority of Canadians who did not vote for the Conservative Party in the last election. I therefore feel a certain sense of elation at this window of opportunity for the opposition to unite and form a coalition. The question on the minds of many is: Can they pull it off? Cobbling something together, in the short term, although it seemed unimaginable 72 hours ago, I believe will actually prove to be the easy part. It is becoming clear that the 'throwing for the head' approach of Mr. Harper has so incensed the opposition that they now are beginning to dream the impossible dream of replacing the Conservatives. The much bigger question is: Can they rise above the absurd and childish partisanship bickering so prevalent in Canadian politics and be honest with us as they propose a new path for our country? Can they actually start behaving like the consensus building leaders that we need?

Last night, just in time for the supper hour newscasts, Stephen Harper delayed by one week a confidence vote in his government. The headlines read Harper Buys Time.

I have no doubt that his intent is to provide time to demonize the opposition as a bunch of sore losers who want to pervert the results of the last election. (Perhaps he needs to be reminded that a majority of Canadians voted for his opposition in Parliament, yet his party, with about 38% support, gets to run the government.)

I urge the opposition to take this gift of time to properly consider their strategy. What are they going to tell Canadians about how they shall govern as a coalition?

What I am looking for (which sounds laughable even as I try to write this next phrase), is honesty from my politicians, regardless of political stripe. I want politicians to stop pandering to me with nauseating sound bites and start explaining why they think their proposals are correct for our country. (Note to Jack: I know you like to sit around the kitchen table, and that you are trying to build your NDP 'brand', but, really, enough is enough.)

If a coalition is to have any hope of succeeding it must be based on an honest appraisal of the Canadian political scene. A joint statement needs to come from those who propose to lead the coalition that speaks to the aspirations of as broad a base of the electorate as possible. Here are some elements that need to be addressed by the coalition partners:

  1. Speak directly to the 38% of voting Canadians who chose the Conservatives and respect their choice.
  2. Recognize the immensity of the task before them. Acknowledge that they are seeking to do something that has never been done before.
  3. Provide concrete examples of what they intend to do with a timetable.
  4. Explain how they shall resolve conflict within the coalition.
  5. State clearly that they do not want to continually play political chicken with the everyday lives of Canadians. State their intention to rise above childish political oneupmanship and make a solid commitment to principled governance.
All of those involved need to take some water with their wine as they proceed. Stephen Harper and the Conservatives may lose their grip on power because they began to act as if they had a majority when in fact they had no such thing. The Liberals and the NDP need to understand this concept if their proposed coalition is to work. With less than 20% of Canadians voting for the NDP, Jack Layton should not reasonably expect to be Canada's next Finance Minister. He needs to remember that more than a third of voters picked the Conservatives, and their right wing approach to economics. A potential coalition needs to present Canadians with a workable plan for the next couple of years and then actually walk the talk on conciliatory consensus building.

I know that this is wishful thinking in the extreme. I realize it is a lot to ask of politicians whose strongest motivation is to seek power instead of building consensus.

As has been said many times, a week is a lifetime in politics. Our politicians have that amount of time to make a case for truly representative political action in this country. I urge the opposition parties to use this time wisely, and change the face of politics in Canada.

Lets see what this next 'lifetime in politics' brings us. It should be an interesting ride. The Conservatives will be out in full spin mode as the PM urges his MPs to "use every tool at your disposal." Will Canadians continue to buy what they are selling?

(Since writing the above, Scott Reid has said it much better than I in a blog posted at the Globe & Mail.)

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