Win-win coalition

Jack Layton, Stéphane Dion, Gilles DuceppeJack Layton, Stéphane Dion, and Gilles Duceppe
The CBC reports:

The Liberals and New Democrats signed an agreement on Monday to form an unprecedented coalition government, with a written pledge of support from the Bloc Québécois, if they are successful in ousting the minority Conservative government in a coming [Monday, Dec. 8] confidence vote.

The accord between parties led by Stéphane Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe came just hours after Liberal caucus members agreed unanimously that Dion would stay on to lead the Liberal-NDP coalition. …

Dion, who previously announced he would step down as Liberal leader, also pledged he would hand over “a strong government for a stronger Canada” to his Liberal successor on May 2. …

The proposed coalition cabinet will comprise 24 ministers and the prime minister. Six of these ministers will be appointed from within the NDP caucus. The position of finance minister would be held by a Liberal, while the NDP would be allotted six parliamentary secretaries.

The accord between the NDP and Liberals will expire on June 30, 2011, unless it is renewed. The Bloc is only committed to 18 months. …

The Bloc would not officially be a part of the coalition, but the new government’s survival would depend on its support.

This is a win-win scenario:

  • The Liberals benefit by returning to government sooner than anyone had expected.
  • The NDP benefit because, as Paul Wells has reported, the party sees the coalition “as a chance to groom a young generation of New Democrats” who have no experience of running a government.
  • Canadians benefit because the Liberals, the NDP, and even the separatist Bloc Québécois are demonstrating bipartisan [tripartisan?], adult leadership at a time of crisis.

All three parties are progressive on social issues, and inclined to “big” government. Nonetheless, the proposed arrangement easily could have blown up. For example, the frontrunner for the Liberal leadership, Michael Ignatieff, could have insisted that Dion be ousted immediately. Or the NDP could have insisted on an NDP Minister of Finance. Or the Bloc Québécois might have concluded that there is no political benefit to them in this deal, even though they are an essential component to making it work.

In sum, everyone has set their egos to one side for the greater good of the country.

The coalition government also plans to establish a panel of expert economic advisors. It would include three senior Liberals and one NDP representative. The Liberals are Paul Martin, John Manley — both of whom served as Finance Ministers under Jean Chrétien — and Frank McKenna, former Premier of New Brunswick. The NDP representative is former Saskatchewan Premier, Roy Romanow.

The Liberals have a strong team. I would choose Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae, John McCallum, and Ralph Goodale over any four Conservative MPs you could name. The second tier includes Ujjal Dosanjh, Ken Dryden, Scott Brison, Martha Hall Findlay, David McGuinty, and Gerard Kennedy. And I should add that Stéphane Dion had some notable achievements as a Cabinet Minister, even if he hasn’t provided good leadership as the party leader.

Add some strength on the NDP side of the ledger — Jack Layton and Paul Dewar come to mind — plus the four members of the economic advisory panel, and you have the makings of a government capable of meeting the challenge of the current crisis.

The overall strength of the team is very important, precisely because Canadians will be dubious about a government led by Stéphane Dion.

The change of government isn’t a fait accompli yet. As the CBC reports,

If the prime minister moved to prorogue Parliament, the Conservative government could not be defeated in the current session of the House. But Harper would also need the approval of the Governor General to do that.

But [Liberal leadership candidate Bob] Rae said a move to prorogue would lack legitimacy, as it would clearly be to avoid a vote of confidence.

At this point, I’d say it’s 99% certain this is going to happen. Prime Minister Harper has clearly lost the confidence of the House of Commons. That’s the way the system works:  a minority government has to conduct itself in such a way as to maintain the confidence of the House, or the opposition is within its rights to pull the plug.

And the Governor General knows Canadians don’t want another election just six weeks after the previous vote (which was held on Oct. 14).


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