Thursday, December 4, 2008

Canada is Burning.

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.

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