Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Canada is Burning.

(cross posted at kickin it with cg)

Well at least until Jan. 26 that is.  


For those of you not in the loop, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper suspended the country’s legislature for more than 7 weeks in a bid to stave off a challenge from opposition parties seeking to bring down his government.

Harper, re-elected in October to a minority government, said Governor General Michaelle Jean, who acts as the country’s head of state, agreed to his request to close Parliament until Jan. 26. The government’s first order of business will be a budget scheduled for Jan. 27, Harper said, calling on the opposition to work with his administration on a “stimulus” package for the ailing economy.  

The political crisis was sparked Nov. 27 when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty presented a fiscal update that included cuts to funding for political parties, limited civil servants’ right to strike and failed to offer a stimulus package to spur economic growth. The three opposition parties said they would oppose the plan and banded together.

The main opposition Liberals agreed to Dec. 1 was to form a coalition with the New Democratic Party and the Parti Quebecois in a bid to accelerate a stimulus package for the economy and oust the Harper government. The turmoil centers on how to manage Canada’s response to the global economic crisis.

So in a bid to buy time, Harper refused to grant the opposition a vote in Parliament that would have brought down his government, instead asking Jean to let him suspend the legislature. The three opposition blocs combined hold a majority of seats in the House of Commons, Parliament’s lower house.

Harper admitted no errors in judgment today. Nor did he seek absolution during a nationally televised address on Wednesday.

The procedural move is unprecedented, marking the first time a prime minister has requested the suspension of the legislature to avoid a so-called confidence vote. Parliament’s suspension comes less than three weeks after the session began.

“For the first time in the history of Canada, the prime minister of Canada is running away from the Parliament of Canada,” Stephane Dion, the Liberal leader who would head the coalition government, adding he will “respect” the governor general’s decision.

Harper’s Conservatives went into the Oct. 14 election with 127 seats in Parliament and increased their total to 143, still short of the 155 needed to control the legislative agenda. The government needs support of at least one other party to pass legislation.

Harper, prime minister for almost three years, has since backtracked on the political funding and labor rights. He and Jean met for about two hours this morning. Jean didn’t speak to reporters after the meeting.  The role of Jean, Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in Canada, is mostly ceremonial.

In the Commons yesterday, Liberal MP Ken Dryden (my MP!) said the Prime Minister broke faith with Parliament in the economic update.  “How do we repair the irreparable?” Mr. Dryden asked. “To the Prime Minister to help him with his answer: Sorry, it is over; we cannot trust him any more. We need a new prime minister.”

Liberal MP Derrick Lee, meanwhile, compared Harper’s move to suspend Parliament to the burning of the Reichstag in Germany by the Nazis.  Hyperbole much?  But kinda true too.


  1. alyssa chaos

    secondly i started reading about it this morning and, i aint gonna lie, I didn’t know that you guys still had a Queen of Canada.

    Man I feel so uniformed/stupid about Canadian government and just parliamentary gov in general. seems very complicated at face value.

  2. They don’t have the faintest idea how a parliamentary system works. They also seem to have a very low opinion of Canada, mainly because they think of it as a socialist country. I swear, some of these people think anyone to the left of Attila the Hun is a socialist.

  3. anna shane

    he can do that, suspend parliament to stop from getting ousted?  Is anyone else glad Bush can’t do that?  

    CG, what does it mean?  Is this anarchy?  

  4. As usual, the answer was that most people are ignoring the whole thing.

    It isn’t easy to understand Canadian politics (even for most Canadians), but to give my own skewed view of it:

    o  Everything is left of US analogs.  

    – The Conservative party is not nearly as far right as the Republicans,

    – the Liberals are a good deal left of the Democrats.

    – the New Democratic Party is about as far left as any notable party in Europe,

    – the Parti Quebecois is separatist and doesn’t really recognize Canada (the Premier [governor] of Quebec is called Prime Minister [President] by the PQ).  Quebec politics is particularly obtuse and many Quebec laws violate basic senses of modern rights (you can’t have any language but French on your business signage, for example, and the Catholic church is explicitly connected to the gov’t moreso than in the rest of the country).

    o  At the federal level, the Liberal party has ruled the majority of the time for the past forty years.  IMHO, they were mostly awful.  

    o  In Ontario in the early 90s, the NDP held power and drove the province to the brink of bankruptcy (eventually closing down all gov’t functions one day a week – “Ray Days” in honor of NDP premier Bob Ray).  Conservative PM Mike Harris followed him and saved the provincial viability (bias alert, I know Mike Harris and like him), to public condemnation.

    o  You don’t vote for Prime Minister (PM), you vote for your local party representative (MPP), and whichever party wins the most seats picks the PM.

    o  Christian Dion is the federal Liberal party leader (would be PM) who I think is probably the least capable potential national leader in modern Western history.

    o  Steven Harper (current PM) is moderately popular by Canadian standards (IOW – not much), and pretty far right socially by Canadian standards (visibly Christian, but not to a Bush degree).

    In my view Canada still needs to move to the center as much as the US does, but in their case that means moving from the moderately far left.  The Liberal party had gotten extremely corrupt and arrogant prior to Harper (there is no four-year cycle and parties/PMs can stay in power forever), the choice of Dion for a leader hasn’t made me any more fond of them.

    I’m not following any current Canadian politics well enough to have a real opinion about the current situation, but imho the Harper Conservatives are less of a problem than the Dion Liberals or (god give me strength) the NDP.

  5. semiquaver

    for this commentary, cg.  I’m surprised the American media is completely ignoring this issue, even normally broad sources like NPR.  It’s extremely interesting.  

    I guess Harper did this to buy time, assuming that the londer goes on, the greater the likelihood that the coalition will collapse, as he expected them to have done already.  But this radical move will have the opposite effect, outraging the left and making them do whatever’s necessary to seat a new government.  Maybe SH has a secret plan to drive a wedge, but if not isn’t he just delaying the inevitable, or making it worse?  

    forgive me if these are ignorant questions:

    Why did Jean agree to close Parliament — isn’t she Québécois? (not saying she should be BQ sympathetic or anything just questioning why she’d help the conservatives so much with a radical move like this)  Is there any other mechanism to disband Parliament — i.e. is there any chance that if the no-confidence vote is still not going his way we will see further delay in January?

  6. is so superior to the one at the D it makes my head hurt.  I was like halfway through it there before I realized the diary would probably be here, too.

    Good stuff, cg, as usual.

  7. DeniseVelez

    explaining a bit more about her role in all this.  

    I am slightly familiar with her, vis a vis her husband, the filmmaker, and remember when she was on television.  But admit to having no real understanding of her position.

    I brought her up in my “Women of the Caribbean” class (here in NY) last semester, and not one student had ever heard of her!  


    He struck me as one of the Bush buddies that the neo-cons were pushing into power all over the place.  (Australia too)

    Time for Harper to go back to his ranch in Saskatchawan, or wherever.

  9. rfahey22

    This is fascinating.  Is there any reason to expect that Harper’s government could hang on?  What is likely to happen after the vote?

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