The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The biggest game in history

... Well, Canadian history, anyway. And only if you don't count game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series.

A week ago, no one outside political science students and hardcore political pundits knew what proroguing meant. Today, after Stephen Harper's declared intent to ask the governor-general to suspend Parliament rather than face and lose a vote of non-confidence, "prorogue" is among the most searched terms on the Canadian version of Google.

Yet what would be the point? As things stand, there is little sense that things will change substantively between now and January 27, other than to not-so-quietly fester even more, in the backrooms and on the streets. Just look at this divide:
What do you want to see happen in federal politics?
The Conservatives stay in power: 48%
The Liberal-lead coalition takes over: 28%
Canadians go back to the polls and vote: 24%
With all the vote-stuffing on both sides more than likely cancelling itself out, more Canadians want a chance for change than want the status quo -- just, and let's not mention the margin for error -- but because the side for potential change is split between election and not, the side to keep the status quo will be seen as a "majority". Ours is a deeply divided nation, and it does not look as though there is any possibility for this to change in the next year, let alone the next month.

Nor is Harper's personal position likely to improve, not when already two cabinet ministers have quietly but publicly refused to stand with him. Is it really a good idea for Canada to have even less of governing over the next month than we have now?

And to face yet another election before Parliament even gets going, when we already knew, going into the previous one, exactly what the result would be: again, what would be the point?

This means that one way or the other, the governor-general will almost have to overrule the prime minister in order to preserve any semblance of a functioning parliament during a time when we really could use one. It is a given that any such action will not help unite Canada ... although, ironically, it won't be Québec which will cry "Separation!" Will it end with the Conservatives divided again, between the old centrist Tories and an Alberta-based near-separatist party? (Although if the global situation and especially the one south of our border continues to deteriorate, Alberta might soon be in for an economic shock.)

And it is an absolute given that, in any such overruling, the Conservative party, with or without Harper as its leader, will make political hay of it much as William Lyon Mackenzie King did, back in 1926. As with Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition acting as an actual opposition rather than a satellite state, any denial of less than absolute prime ministerial power will be spun to be the other person's fault.

I feel sorry for you, Michaëlle Jean.


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