Editor: Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, shut down the country’s legislature yesterday until January 26, in an effort to avoid a no-confidence vote that he was about to lose. This has provoked a constitutional crisis. Canada’s parliamentary opposition reacted with outrage. The opposition accused Harper undermining Canada’s democracy.
Harper shut down Parliament once he had gained the approval of Governor General Michaelle Jean, who represents Queen Elizabeth as the nation’s head of state. If his request had been rejected, he would have had to choose between stepping down or facing a no-confidence vote Monday.
by Bruce Campion-Smith and Tonda MacCharles / The Toronto Star / December 5, 2008
OTTAWA–The decision to prorogue Parliament didn’t bring out the white flags of surrender for the Liberal-NDP coalition united to defeat the Conservatives.
But it changed the strategy of battle. The fight moves from a now-shuttered Parliament Hill to the airwaves and Internet as Conservative MPs square off against the Liberal and NDP MPs trying to push them from office.
Instead of a quick victory over the Conservatives, the NDP, Liberal and Bloc Québécois MPs now face the prospect of a drawn-out public relations campaign to win Canadians to their cause before Parliament returns on Jan. 26.
“I think both the coalition and Mr. Harper are going to be working hard on presenting economic ideas to Canadians over the next six to seven weeks,” said Liberal MP Bob Rae.
The creation of the political coalition – and the threat it presented to the Conservatives – had already sparked a public relations war by both sides, featuring radio ads, Internet blogging, talk shows and public demonstrations, like the pro-coalition rally on Parliament Hill yesterday.
Thousands jammed the front lawn outside Centre Block, chanting and waving signs that read “Coalition – Yes!”
As of yesterday, a pro-coalition rally scheduled for Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square tomorrow was still going ahead. Anti-coalition rallies, billed as “Rally for Canada” assemblies are also planned for the weekend. Pro-coalition radio spots, paid for by the Canadian Labour Congress, began airing across the country this week.
NDP Leader Jack Layton urged his caucus last weekend to enlist NDP supporters – “labour councils, childcare groups, environmental groups” – as part of a pro-coalition effort involving petitions, phone-in shows and letter-writing campaigns.
The Conservatives have a healthy war chest and unlike an election campaign, are free to spend as much as they want to get their message out, which gives them an advantage over the cash-strapped Liberals.
The government is expected to roll out some announcements of its economic plans over the next few weeks. Prime Minister Stephen Harper will also get a chance to highlight his economic agenda when he meets with first ministers in mid-January.
Canadians can expect to see “competing platforms and proposals” take shape, Rae said. “We have a responsibility to present an alternative and I’m sure what will happen at the end of January will be a consideration by the House of the two alternative plans,” he added.
On the Conservative side, there is a clear determination to shift to the next stage after a week in which Harper and his team were knocked back on their heels by the rear-guard action of the opposition.
On Tuesday, the Conservatives launched a communications offensive in the Commons and on national television that painted Harper as a defender of national unity.
But after a week of inflammatory talk, the tenor shifts to reaching out to the opposition. Senior cabinet ministers acknowledge there is much ground to make up.
One said seven weeks gives enough time for Harper to adopt a more conciliatory tone.
Already, yesterday, Harper did damage control with the BQ and its Quebec supporters.
His attacks during the week on the “separatist” Bloc as a force in the coalition backfired badly in Quebec where it was viewed as an attack on Quebecers’ democratic choices.
Harper yesterday said the Bloc has “every legitimate right to be here, but their game is not about working on the economy to serve the greater interests of the country.” He said the other national parties did not share that “fundamental difference.”
While many opposition MPs are still talking tough, there’s no doubt the dynamic has changed. If the Jan. 27 budget delivers the kind of measures they were seeking to boost the economy, they could be hard-pressed to defeat the government and potentially delay any economic aid.
“We will think responsibly and thoughtfully about the challenges we face,” Liberal MP Michael Ignatieff said.