Monday, December 8, 2008

If Harper Survives

By Murray Dobbin (BIO)| December 5, 2008, Reprinted from

I am surprised that my astute Tyee colleagues Rafe Mair and Bill Tieleman have outright rejected the coalition government being proposed by the Liberals, NDP and Bloc.

Both know only too well just who Stephen Harper is and what he would do to the country should he ever achieve a majority.

With no mandate to do so, he would dismantle the work of three generations of Canadians in building a decent, if far from egalitarian, society.

He would, for starters, gut and or sell off the CBC.

He would repeal the Canada Health Act and open the Medicare system to massive privatization and balkanization.

He would, as quickly as he could, further gut the spending powers of the federal government with more destructive and ill-considered tax cuts for the wealthy and for Canada's corporate welfare bums.

He would rapidly devolve power to the provinces, balkanizing the country and its egalitarian approach to social programs.

Our foreign policy would be made in Washington and our energy and environmental policies would be made in Alberta. More billions would be poured into making our military a war-fighting adjunct to the U.S. war machine. (If you think Obama is going to dismantle the American Empire, think again.)

None of this will ever be part of a Harper election platform. But it is what he would do.

No ordinary moment

This is not an ordinary government, nor an ordinary prime minister. Harper has proven himself incapable of compromise. For more than two years, he governed as if he had a majority - not because the House of Commons was in broad agreement regarding his policies, but because he is contemptuous not only of the opposition parties but of virtually every aspect of our democratic system. He is contemptuous of Parliament and its committees - producing a 200-page guide on how to cripple the democratic process inside those committees. He is equally contemptuous of the 62 per cent of Canadians who rejected him and his party.

Having set elections dates, he cynically ignored his own law, then made barely any effort to broaden his political base during the election, preferring instead to solidify his already solid right-wing core.

Why? Because he simply can't stand the idea of compromising his rigid political ideology for the sake of the country.

Harper is a right-wing revolutionary manipulating a democratic system, which he detests for what it has produced: a pluralistic society, an activist state and a compassionate society.

So rather than compromise in the interests of the country, he determined before the election to govern by destroying the opposition parties through eliminating the government funding of political parties.

And don't forget, this government funding formula was a democratic breakthrough of historic proportions - eliminating the possibility of corporations seizing control of the political process with their money (and eliminating union funding, too).

Harper never 'evolved'

His arrogant response to the coalition government proposal of the three opposition parties demonstrates that he is not the least bit interested in changing his approach. If he outmaneuvers the coalition, he will continue to govern as if he has won a majority of the votes of Canadians, and not the 38 per cent he actually received. There is no humility here, no mea culpa, not a hint of any apology for his blatant brinkmanship.

Stephen Harper is a political leader out of control and he must be removed from power before he does even more damage to the country and to our democracy.

That is the context for the proposed coalition government. Canada faces not only an economic crisis, it faces a crisis in democracy. And the only way it can be solved is to remove Stephen Harper from power.

Is this a perfect solution? Hardly. It is messy and unsavoury in some aspects. Stephane Dion was massively rejected by Canadians. He, personally, does not deserve to be prime minister. Gilles Duceppe is a separatist - nominally at least - and it seems bizarre on the face of it to have him being key to the survival of the Liberal/NDP coalition.

But given the circumstances, these are acceptable flaws. The Harper government is doomed to defeat at some point simply because Harper is incapable of changing his governing style. He will continue to run roughshod over Canadian democracy and Canadian political culture. The opposition parties will, sooner or later, be obliged by their own mandates to throw him out.

Preview of proportional rep

As Jack Layton pointed out in the news conference of the three leaders, the coalition is exactly the way a government under proportional representation would work: parties with often very different philosophies and policies come together, find common ground, and put together a government that actually reflects the will of the people. If this coalition comes to pass, there needs to be a massive public lobbying campaign to ensure that it puts in place a system of proportional representation before the next election.

On purely constitutional grounds, the three coalition partners are completely within their rights and mandate to defeat the Harper government. The government has quite simply lost the confidence of the House. Period. When that happens, governments fall.

Bill Tieleman says this coalition will be terrible for the NDP. But he misses perhaps the most important aspect of this coalition. The three parties are all taking huge risks by putting the country before their partisan interests.

Duceppe is taking a huge risk in propping up a federalist coalition.

The Liberals risk alienating their more conservative supporters across the country.

The NDP risks losing support in the next election if the Liberals get credit for running a decent, moderate govt.

The three parties should be congratulated for taking these risks.

Send a message

Everyone who cares about the future of this country should drop what they are doing and vigorously support the proposed coalition. It is far from a done deal and Stephen Harper will do anything to hang on to power he does not deserve to wield.

We can only hope that the three coalition partners are just as determined in their efforts to rid the country of this destructive prime minister.

This column was first published on The Tyee.

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