Here’s the scenario. You’re an opposition party in the federal House of Commons in Canada right now, where, as everyone knows, there’s a Conservative Party of Canada minority government. The Conservatives are going to introduce a whole bunch of legislation that nobody in opposition is going to like when the house reconvenes in April.
Now you have enough votes that you could defeat them in the house on any vote you so desire, but that could also be seen as non-confidence vote. The last thing anybody wants to do right away is have another election. Being the one who pulled the plug on the government would cause a big backlash against your party in the next vote.
So if you don’t want to have an election, but at the same time you don’t want to support what the government is doing, what do you do? Well the New Democratic Party (N.D.P.) has come up with a solution. Olivia Chow, wife of party leader Jack Layton, has announced her intention to introduce national childcare legislation that would confirm the original deal that the Liberal government had worked out with the provinces.
Mr. Harper’s Conservative Party had rejected that deal and made plans for their own legislation that has no support outside of his own party. Ms. Chow’s proposal would receive the support of all the opposition parties, ensuring its passage into law.
The Conservatives will be faced with either scrapping their proposal or having to pay for two sets of childcare legislation. Since the latter choice would make them look ridiculous they will be forced to swallow their pride and enact the more widely supported act that the previous government had negotiated with the provinces.
Now I’m sure there will be much bleating from the right wing about the opposition subverting the democratically elected government. But they don’t have a majority government and have already made it clear that they will try and force through any legislation they can.
The Conservative Party of Canada was willing to cynically take advantage of the opposition’s unwillingness to call an early election by defeating them in the House. They have not shown themselves to be willing to work with the opposition, and work out compromises that would make their legislation more palatable to the opposition.
The previous Liberal government, who the Conservatives accused of arrogance, were able to hold onto power by showing a willingness to work with other parties to garner enough votes to be able to enact the legislation they wanted. In a minority government situation, if you want to be able to govern you have to be willing to bend.
It’s the Conservative Party’s own intransigence that has caused the opposition to start proposing their own legislation. By refusing to compromise, or even give the appearance of willingness to work with the opposition, the Conservative Party has left the opposition very few choices. The fact that they are willing to offer alternative solutions to issues, instead of just rejecting them and voting them down, should be seen as something positive.
The opposition is giving the Conservatives the chance to prove that they can govern and work with the other parties by offering a counter proposal. It is now up to them to make the next move. If they continue to refuse to work within the confines of a minority government they face the very real possibility of becoming redundant to the actual governance of Canada.
There is nothing stopping the other three parties from forming a loose, unofficial coalition. The N.D.P., the Bloc Quebecois, and the Liberals have more in common with each other than any of them have with the Conservative Party. If they work things correctly they should be able to ensure that it is their agenda that is carried out and not that of the Conservatives.
This is a situation without precedent in Canadian politics. While there have been minority governments before, the circumstances that have caused this dynamic to develop are new. For the first time ever we have four viable political parties with significant support in the house. The other factor is that the governing party has no one in the opposition whom they can turn to for support.
The Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois are the only parties with sufficient seats to guarantee Conservative legislation passing in the House. The chances of the Liberals endorsing any part of the Conservative platform enough to come to an agreement on governing are slim to say the least. ( Of course if David Emerson is anything to go by, Steven Harper may just have to offer enough of them Cabinet positions and he could have a majority government)
While the Bloc Quebecois may support the Conservatives on issues of provincial rights, they are miles apart on social issues. The Conservatives didn’t do anything to endear themselves with the Bloc anyway by appointing a non-French speaking Anglophone as minister in charge of French Language rights. The chances of The Bloc forming any sort of permanent alliance with the Conservatives is slim at best.
Of course, that alliance would be problematic for the Conservatives, seeing how they had spent a good part of the campaign condemning any perceived alliance with the Bloc by other parties as a betrayal of Canada. Than again, judging by their actions in the last week they seem perfectly content to say one thing and do another, so that may not be such a problem for them after all.
Ideally, what will come from the opposition forcing the government’s hand by introducing legislation is that we will get a situation where all four parties work together to best represent all of Canada. This will require the Conservative Party of Canada, and it’s leader Stephen Harper, to realise they will not be able to cram their legislation down the throats of Parliament.
On the other hand if Mr. Harper is not careful he may well become the first Prime Minister of Canada who’s a lame duck before he even starts his first term of office.