The Prime Minister has long been acknowledged as a political wizard capable of transmuting the political elements, and he still is. He has now performed the feat of turning gold into bronze. Only he could put some backbone into a caucus as timid and enervated as the Liberals, only he could unite the three motley opposition parties in an enterprise requiring initiative, cooperation and trust. What is still inexplicable to me is how an entire government could commit hara-kiri, sitting back contentedly listening to a speech guaranteed to lead to its humiliation and defeat
Within 30 minutes of hearing the economic update I had been able to figure out its likely consequences. The removal of funding would force the opposition parties to do whatever they could to prevent it. Even a timid animal will fight when cornered, and the opposition parties were faced with losing two-thirds of their income. If your boss told you that your salary was being cut by two-thirds starting in the new year, and you had some way to get him fired before he could implement it, wouldn't you take it? So the opposition parties would have to unite to defeat this, no matter what else was contained in the same legislative package. And since they would be expressing non-confidence by defeating this measure, why not go the whole way and toss the Tories out of power? The majority opinion of constitutional experts would be (the Opposition parties would calculate) that the Governor General would refuse any request by the Prime Minister for a dissolution so soon after the next election; she would call on the leader of the second largest party and ask him whether he could form a government that would have the confidence of the House. That is a window of opportunity that eventually would close. After the government had been in power for a year or so the G-G would assent to a dissolution request — so the time to act had to be now. As Liberal strategist Scott Reid has explained so eloquently , once the Opposition attacks the King they must kill him. There is no public support for subsidies to political parties, so the Opposition needed a pretext to oppose the Government so strenuously, and one is readily available, in the failure of the Government to proceed immediately with a massive economic stimulus. Once the parties overcame their initial ingrained resistance to working together and defeating the government so early, the movement toward a coalition would take on a life of its own. Even if the Government recanted the funding threat, it would be too late to stop the coup. The Opposition parties could hardly back down because their funding was restored, because it would discredit their story that the whole thing isn't about funding in the first place.
If I could figure all this out immediately, where were Guy Giorno, Jim Flaherty, and Stephen Harper?
So where do we go now? The public campaign to arouse the public against this move will be a damp squib. Conservatives making their case are going to receive rough questioning from the media, and understandably so because they have been forced by their leaders to assert things that are, at a minimum, obviously disingenuous. As I type this, Heather Hiscox of CBC Newsworld is interrogating Pierre Poilievre in a voice dripping with contempt. And Poilievre asked for it, with ludicrous assertions such as that the GST cut enacted last year was a fiscal stimulus that would help the current situation. The opposition parties have concocted a plan to take power. So what? That's what political parties do — seek power.
The rumoured prologue of the Commons would seem to be the right idea. If there is a defeat it must come on the budget, not a non-confidence motion. And the budget must be a spectacular one, since it's the last one the Conservatives may be introducing for a long time. I suppose the crucial question must be whether to include a major fiscal stimulus or not. I have argued before that the Government had to go with a big stimulus, whether it's sound economically or not, to avoid being put in the position of looking uncaring about people's economic anxieties, of Harper's becoming an R. B. Bennett or Herbert Hoover, consigning the Tories to obscurity for two or three decades. Those who reject this as contrary to conservative principles will make their case too.
When the G-G refuses the Prime Minister an election, the Tories will try to make this a new King-Byng affair and foment public outrage. I don't think this will work. In any case the new government will be a stable one, and after two-and-a- half years the next election will be about the new government's record, not the niceties of constitutional conventions.
The sad thing is that the Tories may be down to one out. It is that the economy takes a disastrous turn after the new government takes over, and it, and Michael Ignatieff, end up getting the blame.
When the dust settles, I imagine Stephen Harper will be able to stay on. My fingers are pointing at Flaherty and Giorno. There was much good in the Harris governments in Ontario, but there was in it a thuggish, brutish element, and just as bad, its people usually had a political tin ear. People who fit that description need to be kept out of important positions.