Back in early December, 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. This week however, with a new budget unveiled on Tuesday by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty it would appear that with new Liberal leadership, political maturity is back in the great white north.
The Conservative budget includes $85 billion in projected red ink, new regional-development programs, industry-specific bailouts and a scattershot of government funding for everything from cultural festivals to community newspapers, the profoundly 'liberal' 2009-10 budget drew both outrage and deep introspection from conservatives from sea to shining sea.
The newly minted Liberal party leader Michael Ignatieff made the correct decision on Wednesday in announcing that the Liberals will support the budget delivered this week. Flawed though it may be, it mostly embraces the approach the Liberals advocated – and its defeat would force the country into another prolonged period of political uncertainty that it can ill afford. Even to play a tactical game of chicken by demanding major amendments in return for the budget's passage could have forced the Liberals into a corner, creating a stand-off that Ignatieff was smart to avoid.
And most importantly Ignatieff has helped end one of the ugliest political chapters in Canada's recent history, and may well have contributed to a greater maturity in addressing the country's enormous economic challenges.
For the Liberals, at least, the threat of a coalition served its purpose. It humbled Harper, and forced the Conservatives – after holding on to government only by prolonging Parliament – to embrace many of the opposition's budgetary demands. And inadvertently, it forced the Liberals to address their own leadership issues, accelerating the replacement of Stéphane Dion by a leader with the apparent ability to seriously challenge Harper.
In the long run, however, the coalition was untenable. Forming a three-headed monster of a government, beholden to staunch leftists and sovereigntists, would have destroyed the Liberals' identity and credibility. More important, for Canada's immediate interests, it would have resulted in a fragile and unwieldy government at a time when strong and steady leadership is required.