Monday, December 1, 2008

My Canada includes Quebec, s'il vous plait!

Today's news conference with the new coalition triumvirate illustrated that social democrats can work together on specific principle-based issues. The presence of Gilles Duceppe was critical.

In each of the last elections, M. Duceppe has invariably impressed me in the debates. I dispute him on the separatism issue but I have respect for his ability to represent the voters in Quebec. The BQ MPs work hard to represent their constituents and these MPs have agreed to support this coalition until June 2010 with possible renewal beyond that time.

In my opinion, the most profound indication of M. Duceppe's capacity as a respectful political servant of the people was during the last election campaign. On the day that ConTV aired those exceptionally unethical re-runs of the tapes from M. Dion's Halifax interview, it was M. Duceppe who denounced this treatment of a fellow politician. Despite their vast differences on the issue of federalism, I believe it is entirely possible for M. Dion and M. Duceppe to regard and to treat each other with respect while they both serve Canada and Quebec. These two are men with an emotional maturity and capacity that Steven Harper has been incapable of illustrating tp Canadians in all his years as a politician.

I believe that Canada must include Quebec and we should heartily encourage the involvement of the BQ in the Liberal/NDP coalition to the extent that each party can still hold true to its principles. The BQ are very much on the left of the political spectrum on many social and financial issues. Quebeckers, are generally, more socially left than the rest of Canada. This coalition will benefit from their involvement. Canada will be better served by this coalition than by the current government. This means we need to get beyond the unfamiliarity of this situation.

This is a new way of politics for Canadians but many democracies have been working this way for a long time. Stephane Dion showed a capacity for bringing disparate forces together in the Montreal Climate Change conference in 2006 and in the way he handled the Elizabeth May situation. Different, but diplomatic and mature. If we had a different voting system, such as a form of proportional representation, we would likely have to develop many new ways of working together while still being able to compete on principle-based platforms during elections. Prime Minister Dion may be the best person to show us the way.

Yes, this is different but isn't this also the best opportunity that we've ever had to show Quebec and Quebeckers that we respect them and their ideas as part of Canada. Isn't it long past time we stopped fearing the BQ and tried to understand their point of view on the many shared principles that we have?

As Duceppe said today in reply to the question about Harper pulling a rabbit out of a hat to hang on to government, "Canada doesn't need a magician, it needs leaders."

If we stick with Steven Harper, each Canadian family will shiver in the dark all alone through this storm worrying if their pension will be there or if EI benefits will help them through a period of lay-off. Today, Stephane Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe together offered forward thinking leadership for all Canadians, including Quebeckers. With this team, Canadians will have direction for facing the economic storm together. It won't be easy but the leadership is now available to show the way.

It's the We versus Me situation. When the storm clouds are gathering, I prefer to know that we'll all be helping or watching out for each other through the storm. Let's include Quebec and the BQ in Canada to work through this storm together. They need us and we need them. Let's pick the "We" team!

Maple Syrup and Turkeys

An American friend asked me to summarize what happened over the weekend here in Canada. Thought I'd share my response here so those who've been hibernating this weekend can get caught up too.

We've had a busy few days in Canada while you folks were having your turkey. Actually we had a bit of a revolution. Maybe you've heard that we elected a minority neo-con government on October 14 then watched with envy as you folks chose hope on November 4.

Well, we might have fixed that little problem. It's taken four days but...

About 20 minutes ago, the news came across the wires that our three parties on the left have united in a coalition and will be putting forth a motion of non-confidence on Monday, December 8th. A week is a long time in politics, sometimes but if all goes according to Hoyle (or Roberts, possibly), we will have a progressive government too.

The background:

On Thursday last week, the minority government led by PM Steven Harper put forth a Fiscal Update (like a mini-budget). The vote on this was to occur tomorrow and because it's a money bill, it is a vote of confidence in the government. In a minority situation, the government falls if it loses the vote.

The contents of this update should properly have included an economic stimulus package and a truthful evaluation of our current economic situation.

Instead we received a vicious partisan document
- removing the right to strike for federal employees,
- ending pay equity,
- ending public election financing,
- reducing government spending over the next year by $6 billion and
- selling off over $2 billion in government assets.

in addition to those insults, the Finance Minister told a bald-faced lie by saying the government would not be in deficit next year. A close inspection of the numbers illustrated that his base assumptions were predicated on old information which was a little rosier (as in before the bottom fell out of the commodities markets) than the current situation.

All three leaders of the parties on the left howled in protest of the lack of spending or economic stimulus when every other country in the world is intending to do something. By Friday morning, the leaders were huddled together to indicate that they would consider a coalition.

On Friday afternoon, the wording of a non-confidence motion was put forth by the Leader of the Official Opposition, Stephane Dion of the Liberal Party for the vote that was to happen tomorrow.

On Friday evening, the Prime Minister exercised his right to put the vote off for one week to Monday, December 8th.

All weekend, the three parties on the left worked tirelessly to put together a coalition agreement.

Three times the government was in a news conference backing down from their own bill trying to stave off the formation of a coalition in the opposition parties.

First on Friday night, they said okay we won't put the removal of election finance in the money bill. This was the trap that they had laid thinking the Opposition parties were only interested in their own access to financing for elections. But right from the beginning all three parties stated they were voting against the government for being incompetent in dealing with the current economic crisis. The carefully laid trap snapped shut on the butt of the PM as he stormed out of a press conference without answering any questions.

Second, on Saturday, they backed off on removing the right to strike for public servants.

Third, on Sunday, they say okay, okay we won't get rid of pay equity and we'll bring in an economic stimulus package on January 27th with a full budget document (usually this happens in March or April).

So, we will no doubt be subjected to one week of vicious attack ads by the minority Conservative government but if the vote does in fact take place next Monday, the government will fall and be replaced by a progressive coalition, which will include the three parties that 63% of Canadians voted for.

Some of our Canadian bloggers named this the Maple Syrup Revolution.

There that was our weekend, how was yours? Did you enjoy your turkey? I think we stuffed ours!

Now, this was a simplified version of the situation which I shared with American friends somewhat less familiar with our situation and I didn't separate out the three parties and their specific involvement. Obviously the Bloq plays an important role when voting to support the government but has chosen not to be part of it, but the coalition government will include the members of the NDP and the Liberals.

H/T to all Progressive Bloggers, it's been a hoot keeping up to y'all this weekend.