It's been an exciting couple of weeks in Canadian politics, and it doesn't look like the action is going to slow down any time soon. When Conservative party leader, Prime Minister Steven Harper received permission from Governor-General Michaelle Jean to postpone parliament until January 26th/09 in order to avoid facing a vote of non-confidence in the Parliament, it appeared he might have dodged a bullet. His popularity had risen in the polls and the Liberal Party, leaders of a proposed coalition government poised to replace him after the non-confidence vote, were starting to turn on themselves over who should lead their party when the house reconvened.
Before the events of the last two weeks or so went down, the Liberal party was just beginning the process of electing a new leader to replace Stephane Dion who had led them to their worst election result in twenty years. Of the three men who had announced their intention to seek the position, two, Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff were considered the front runners, with Igantieff having a slight edge due to his popularity among the Liberal Members of Parliament (MP). Still, in a leadership convention anything can happen and Rae was planning an extensive cross country tour in hopes of convincing those selected as delegates to the convention that he was the man for the job.
However with the very real possibility of the government still going down to defeat when the House reconvenes, Dion was being a considered a liability by even members of his own party in the event of the coalition being called upon to form a government or, even worse, if an election were to be called. One of the reasons that Stephen Harper felt fairly secure in postponing parliament was for that reason. He figured by the time the house re-convened the Liberals would be too busy with picking a new leader to risk defeating him in an election with a lame duck leader.
The Liberals have called his bluff, and two very intelligent and proud men have put aside their own political ambitions in order to make the Liberals as unified and strong as possible no matter what happens at the end of January 2009. Stephane Dion offered to step down immediately, and Bob Rae has stepped aside to allow Michael Ignatieff to become leader of the party. The party had been discussing ways of holding a speeded up leadership convention, either by having a new leader elected by the Liberal caucus or expanding the vote to include riding association heads (a riding is the equivalent of an electoral district and each riding represents a seat in the House Of Commons) and all candidates from the last election to ensure that all ridings had a say in the matter.
While they will still be going through with both votes, it will now simply be a formality as there is only the one candidate, Michael Ignatieff. This does raise the question of what happens now? When the Liberal party was rounding up caucus members to sign the coalition agreement the last to sign was Ignatieff, in fact he signed it three hours after the deadline for signing had passed. It has also been said that if the coalition had taken office earlier this month, he would not have accepted a cabinet post in the new government. Now whether or not that's because he was preparing to be the new leader as of May 2009 and wanted to distance himself from anything to do with Stephane Dion, or he didn't believe in the idea of a coalition, isn't known. What is known is one of his staffers has been quoted as saying "coalition if necessary, but not necessarily a coalition" It appears that he is more than willing to use the threat of the coalition to keep Steven Harper in check, but not about to jump the gun and vote Harper's government down just for the sake of voting against him.
The one hitch in that plan is that he did sign the coalition agreement and backing out at this late date unilaterally would quickly sour his relationships with the other opposition parties unless he can convince them it's in all of their best interests. Both Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) the other member of the coalition, and Gilles Ducette, leader of the Bloc Quebecois, who have promised to support the coalition in parliament for eighteen months by not voting against them on bills that would cause them to lose power, have publicly said that they believe the coalition still stands and are still planning for that eventuality.
(As opposed to the lie that Steven Harper and his Conservative Party have been spouting, that the Bloc Quebecois would not be part of the coalition government and would not be given any cabinet posts in that government. Anyway, he was willing to do a deal with them two years ago when he was in opposition to try and form a government so he should be careful about who he accuses of what. In fact he pissed off Quebecer's so much with his anti-Quebec comments over the last couple of weeks that he is considered responsible for the improved showing of the Parti Quebecois (provincial separatist party) in the Quebec provincial election this past Monday, December 8th/08)
I have a feeling that unless the Conservative Party do something incredibly stupid, like still try to pass the same financial plan that caused this mess in the first place, or not offer a solid package of financial incentives to help stimulate the economy in whatever plan they do propose, they will probably ride this storm out. Michael Ignatieff is an unknown quality for Canadians, and he's wise enough to know that he would be risking his political career by becoming Prime Minister as the head of the coalition unless he can offer an iron clad case to Canadians that the Conservatives and Stephen Harper are unfit to rule. Instead I think he will take this opportunity to establish himself and bash the crap out of Harper and his party until the summer recess, and then next fall pull the plug on Steven Harper and run head to head with him for the Prime Minister's office.
Of course, considering the volatile political climate we find ourselves in right now, everything could change again overnight. There have been rumbles of discontent from the rank and file of the Conservative Party. Harper has had two elections now with which to attempt to win a majority and even with a weakened Liberal party encumbered with a leader nobody really liked, he was still unable to deliver a majority government this time. The Liberals may not be the only party who change their leadership between now and next year.