I’m sure Humpty Dumpty thought he knew what he was doing when he settled down to enjoy a bird’s eye view atop that wall. But before he knew it, Humpty Dumpty took a fall, from which all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.
With a little forethought Humpty might have had someone spot him, or maybe wear a harness of some sort before beginning the climb. Alas, after the fall, it’s too late for such measures. So it might be with Canada’s 40th parliament or at the least, the Conservative party after today’s fiscal update.
Flaherty’s Union Disruption Measures
More shocking than the Harper government’s desire to axe the $1.95 in subsidies to Canadian political opposition parties is the call to temporarily suspend the right to strike in the public service, and to limit public service pay increases to 2.3 per cent this year and 1.5 per cent annually for the following three years.
Reading some of the comments on Yahoo, where I read about this news, it seems some people there, and certainly some among the general public, dislike unions. However, lest we all forget, unions were brought about to protect workers with provisions such as collective bargaining. Unions exist to protect workers, especially in times like this, where governments, such as this, try to implement their own shock doctrines by stealth.
Flaherty’s announcement today to legislate less freedom for unionized workers is illuminating, for it shows that he is willing to use this economic crisis to attack unions when so many unionized people are suffering, particularly in his Ontario riding, where GM and other car makers are reducing production lines and nixing employees by the thousands.
Manipulating Economic Crisis for Dogma
Such policies are right out of Milton Friedman’s playbook. According to Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine, it was in 1982 that Milton Friedman unveiled his thoughts on the benefits of using a crisis to push through otherwise unpopular policies:
‘Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.’
Klein calls those words the essence of the shock doctrine. It is also inseparable from free-market, capitalist ideology, as the Harper government demonstrates.
Clearly Canada is now in recession — though the Harper Conservatives are loathe to admit it — therefore, it would be best to implement, as soon as possible, all the stimulus measures Flaherty says will come in the January 2009 budget. But why wait to get the ball moving when it is well-known that the government is notoriously slow at starting programs or moving resources to the those that need it?
Well, apparently the Harper Conservatives prefer to sell the CN tower and other Crown assets, to the tune of $2.3 billion, under the guise of necessity, rather than renege on the party’s promised corporate tax cuts. Add to that threatening democratic freedoms via partisan games such as proposing to end public financing of federal political parties instead of working with the current opposition parties, as the people mandated in the last election. This, despite only saving what Canadian Press reporter Julian Beltrame states is approximately $27 million; And finally, further financing the war in Afghanistan rather than finance Canadian infrastructure projects, pensions, and protecting RRSPs.
It is most likely that the Conservatives, who provided snap shots of irrelevance rather than a political plan, now have no financial plan for a struggling economy and prefer incessant shock therapy disguised as austerity.
Coalition Government in Canada’s Near Future
The most interesting outcome may be that just as Humpty did, Conservatives too will fall, minority government and all. For, as one Yahoo comment suggests: “It is time for the other parties to form a coalition government to get rid of Mr.Harper.”
What we already know is that Stephane Dion’s Liberals would prefer to avoid another election because last one was less than two months ago. Secondly, the Liberal party and likely the other opposition parties are financially unfit for another snap election. On top of that, the Liberals plan to elect new leadership next May (even as party elite are rumoured to be working on expeditious Dion exit because neither the NDP nor BLOC favour Dion as leader of a coalition government).
All three opposition parties, according to the Associated Press, intend to vote against the measures in Flaherty’s fiscal update, and since the Liberals will try to prevent another election, a coalition government seems inevitable.
Dion said to the Associated Press that he was puzzled by the Conservative plan: ‘Mr. Harper told me that he didn’t want to have a confrontational process. He wanted to have this parliament working because we are in economic tough times and we need political stability.’ So he wonders why Conservatives are clearly contradicting the original message. Other Canadians will wonder about the bait and switch technique of this party also, which clearly suggests an alternate agenda besides protecting and stimulating opportunities for Canadians during a recession.
It would’ve been less partisan for the Conservatives to propose proportional representation than to nickel and dime their way out of the present situation, and as Bruce Cheadle cleverly pointed out, advancing Tom Flanagan’s opportunistic philosophy of coming into power by bankrupting your opponents, an idea grounded in ancient Roman thinking, and a society now relegated to the Dark Ages. But is that the point? Are the Conservatives’ policy wonks dooming Canada to its own Dark Age, as Jane Jacobs feared?
Coalition governments are what we are faced with in light of the current Conservative agenda.
Usually comprised of two or more political parties that formally agree to unite and govern as one, Canada has had coalition governments in the past; notably The Great Coalition (1864-1867) and the Union Government (1917-1920). The first led to Confederation and the second led to conscription.
Swallowing the Buckley’s to Oust Harper
The benefits of coalition governments include the fact that the largest party gains dominance, while the smaller parties gain significant influence compared to what would be possible in majority government scenarios.
For such benefits, coalition governments tend to swallow the Buckley’s and deal with traditional party policy differences, and apparently, so it shall again be; this time with the Liberals, NDP and Bloc joining to form a governing coalition designed to topple the Harper Conservatives.
That alliance will be challenging, but the NDP and the Liberals are expected to have the least difficulty working together. Also, with Dion as concensus builder and fluently French, he might be well-positioned to work with the Bloc, plus it will be a chance for him to improve his party’s chances in Quebec, if he does well, however unlikely his future as leader.
What will be most interesting and possibly concerning is the impact of a separatist party in federal government. Will Gilles Duceppe conceive of a Canada before Quebec?
In addition, will the NDP’s tax policies see the light of day, or will the carbon tax plan? Might we see tamed versions of each party’s top policies?
Nonetheless, what the Toronto Star’s Chantal Hebert once described as a “rickety” scenario appears to be bracing for reality despite itself.
I wonder if Humpty Dumpty prayed before his fall, as either the Canadian government or the Canadian people will need to? Well, beyond prayer, hopefully Canadians will participate in politics and this time not be sick with Obama fever come January, for it is likely that the Conservatives would try to launch the official budget, like all other controversial matters of importance, on a Friday or very near January 20th if Harper manages to bring his party that far without being overturned.