I read this funny comment today by Matthew Yglesias, who writes one of my favourite political blogs:
“One happy result of recent election outcomes is that now liberal Americans get to tease our liberal Canadian friends about the role reversal — they’re the ones saddled with government by rightwingers, and they’re the ones who’ll need to flee ‘cross the border to enter the bountiful Land of Obama.”
Except, as he points out, possibly not for much longer. I obviously have had my head in the sand for the last few days, because it wasn’t until last night, listening to Cross-Country Checkup on CBC as I made dinner, that I first heard of the Conservatives’ massively controversial budget and the response of the opposition parties. I’m still a little hazy on the details of what made this budget such a “F*ck You!,” but the consensus I heard last night, from both sides of the political spectrum, was that Harper’s arrogance finally got the better of him—promising a conciliatory approach after the election, and then explicitly poking the opposition in the eye with a stick.
Which brings us to the two possible routes from here (or three, if we take into account the oh-so-Canadian strategy of doing nothing) being the opposition getting together to bring about another election, or the opposition literally getting together and forming a coalition government. The former prospect makes me want to jab the aforementioned stick in my own eye, but the latter is kind of exciting. Not necessarily because I think a coalition government would be the answer to our prayers or the solution to our problems, but because it would have the effect of driving federal Canadian politics out of its rut, and make three of our four major parties actually work together.
Also, it makes federal Canadian politics more interesting. The last election was such a dour affair because its outcomes, and indeed the process of the campaigns, were so predictable as to be practically foregone conclusions. I can’t remember the last time Canadian politics ever actually inspired me … actually, it’s entirely possible that my country’s politics have never inspired me, which is extremely sad. In fact, one of the last times I heard any of our leaders say something that moved me was when Rick Mercer interviewed Paul Martin on the October 28 episode of his show; Martin said “My father understood that government has a really positive role to play in the lives of people. You start with individual freedom, and then the question becomes, ‘Well, how the heck do make sure that people have that individual freedom?’ Well, if you’re not born to privilege, then you don’t have the same freedoms as people who are, and government has a responsibility to put you in that position with the best education, the best health care. That was my father’s belief, and it’s certainly mine.”
It says something about our current state of affairs that I really miss Paul Martin.
So I’m profoundly interested to see what happens should the opposition give this coalition idea the old college try. I suspect if it goes forward we’ll see Bob Rae as its nominal leader, because Stephane Dion would be a non-starter with the Bloc, and Ignatieff a non-starter with the NDP; Bob Rae, given his history with the New Democrats and massive amount of experience to boot, will likely rise to the top. The big question is the composition of the cabinet: the Bloc can’t possibly expect that a separatist would be an acceptable prime minister to the rest of the country, but they’ll have to be given something. Some key portfolios, at the very least, would be dropped in their laps.
I must admit, I am slightly gleeful at the fact that this prospective coalition will necessarily give the party of separatism a hand in government, largely because it’s exactly the kind of surreal logic that surfaces in Canadian political life from time to time that makes me love my country that much more. The very first comment on Matthew Yglesias’s post read “A separatist party joining a coalition government? Man, Canada can be weird sometimes.” Yup, we certainly can—and we’re not even mentioning the Trudeau years, or Mackenzie King’s séances, or Sir John A’s drunken whistle-stop campaign speeches.
But it also, I think, speaks to something in the Canadian character, in finding strength and consensus in accommodating difference. And to those calling in to Rex Murphy’s show last night with apocalyptic predictions of Canada’s demise should the Bloc get ANY power, I ask you this: have you not been paying attention to Quebec all this time? Separatism gains steam when Quebec feels disenfranchised, and withers on the vine when Quebec wields genuine political clout in Ottawa. Paradoxically, giving the Bloc a seat at the table in a coalition government would, I honestly believe, do more to marginalize extreme separatists than aid them.
On the other hand, the enfranchisement of Quebec at the expense of the Harper government, while denuding Quebec separatist sentiments, is more than likely to foster them out west, especially in Alberta. One caller last night hit the nail on the head when he observed that such an unlikely coalition would be read by Albertans as representative of the lengths Quebec and Ontario will go to claw back power from the western provinces and deny them a voice in the governance of the country.
So we’ll see. It’s all a great reminder that democracy is an intractably messy thing. I think it’s moments like this that Winston Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government in the world … except for all the others.