Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Two thoughts...

on the current state of play in Ottawa.

1) This "reversing the verdict of the election/ overturning the popular will" gambit isn't going to fly. The rules of the game in a US Presidential Election are: the one to get a majority in the Electoral College wins. The rules of the game in a newly-elected Parliament are: the one who can put together a government that has the confidence of the House of Commons wins. Harper doesn't represent The General Will. He leads a plurality-but-minority party. The Voice of The People didn't make him Prime Minister and reject Dion; a bunch of people voted for a bunch of different outcomes. Lo and behold, a parliament split among four parties is prone to some ormanipulation by those willing to build coalitions.

That said, it's no doubt weird that this happens now. This coalition was possible any time during the last Parliament. What's changed between then and now is an intervening election wherein Harper increased his party's share of seats and Dion took a drubbing. So, yes, for that to have the upshot "Prime Minister Dion" is unusual. But it doesn't overturn the election-- the three opposition parties were elected to their various numbers of seats, too, and those are real seats in Parliament.

2) Taboos break down. It's interesting to see the Bloc evolve into a party that's taking active responsibility for outcomes in (though not yet for governing) a country it wishes to see taken apart. There's real power that's been sitting there taking up seats year after year, not doing anything. But now-- well, a system of responsible party government makes it awfully hard for a party to refuse responsibility forever. But that's a big step for the Bloc-- it points the way toward being a party of Quebec interests rather than a party of Quebec secession. Could the Bloc someday become Shas-- the perpetual coalition-making swing party, just selling its coalition participation to the highest bidder, where the bids are goodies for Quebec? Doesn't seem impossible to me. The PQ is in a different position-- it doesn't face the same kind of pressure to change its agenda. But for the Bloc to sit in Ottawa year after year not able to do anything has been anomalous.

It's not just the Bloc's taboos getting broken, though. Working with the separatists isn't something the Liberal Party can be happy about at some fundamental level. And many parliamentary systems do effectively have some outcast party that's deemed not to count for purposes of counting heads... until, someday, it does count. Israeli governments always aim for a "Jewish majority;" it's considered unacceptable for a government's survival to depend on the participation of Arab parties. Post-totalitarian parties-- the post-fascists in Italy, the post-Communists in Germany-- are sometimes in the same position. But as I recall the post-fascists finally did count, when Berlusconi needed them to assemble his first right/ center-right coalition (along with the secessionist Northern League!). And the PDS in Germany has been part of some state-level coalitions (IIRC), even if it's still taboo in the Bundestag. The UK hasn't needed a coalition to govern in a very long time, but Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party are both traditionally outside polite Westminster society-- and it would be a very strange thing if some future Lib-Lab coalition depended on, say, the SNP to reach a majority.

The current Spanish government depends on the passive cooperation of the Catalan and Basque nationalist parties-- they abstain from confidence votes, allowing the plurality socialists to retain power.

Update: Mario Dumont, leader of the "autonomist" (but not secessionist) Quebec party ADQ, is trying to make hay in the Quebec election of the Bloc getting into bed with Dion.
Mario Dumont turned his guns on Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois Tuesday, accusing her of working against Quebec’s interests by supporting a plan in Ottawa that would make Stéphane Dion prime minister.

Dumont, leader of the Action démocratique du Québec, charged that Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, supported by Marois, had made “an unbelievable gaffe” in supporting a Liberal-NDP coalition government to replace the Conservative government.

Dumont, campaigning for Monday’s provincial election, called on Marois to force Duceppe to abandon the coalition agreement.

The “Duceppe-Marois gaffe” would lead to either Dion becoming prime minister or a federal election. Quebecers want neither option and both are contrary to Quebec’s interests, he said.

“(Marois) called on Quebecers to vote for the Bloc Québécois, she forgot to tell them they would be getting Stéphane Dion as prime minister a few weeks later,” Dumont said after a speech to the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal.

[Note to non-locals: the Bloc Quebecois is a party that runs for federal Parliament, the Parti Quebecois is a party that runs for the government of Quebec; they're closely allied but not identical. The ADQ doesn't have any particular federal counterpart, but is broadly more right-wing than the PQ/BQ.]

On occasion Dumont can be very effective with an attack issue. He hasn't found one yet this campaign-- but maybe this is the one.

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