The Canadian Parliament is back in session, and the Conservatives have just tabled a budget. Michael Ignatieff (Liberal leader) says the Liberals will support it. The headline takeaway is, The coalition is dead.
And Jack Layton (NDP leader) doesn’t like it. Not one little bit.
Ignatieff has asked for one concession: that the Conservatives report back to Parliament “no later than five sitting days before the last allotted day in each of the supply periods ending March 26, 2009, June 23, 2009, and Dec. 10, 2009.” Ignatieff says,
Accountability is something that Stephen Harper has always said is important. I agree with him.
But this budget does not include one word about accountability.
We will require regular reports to Parliament on the budget’s implementation and its cost — one in March, one in June and one in December.
Each of these reports will be an opportunity to withdraw our confidence should the government fail Canadians.
Layton, who specializes in bristling with outrage, is bristling with outrage:
Mr. Layton, visibly angry, declared Mr. Ignatieff’s conditions a “fig leaf” for caving in to the Tories.
“What you and I heard today is that you can’t rely on Mr. Ignatieff to oppose Mr. Harper,” Mr. Layton said. “We have a new coalition: Mr. Harper and Mr. Ignatieff.”
Therefore the NDP will oppose both the budget and the Liberal Party’s amendment to it.
But here’s the thing. Jack Layton had an informal coalition with the Conservatives which lasted for two election campaigns (when the Liberal leader was Paul Martin). And that coalition was a very cynical manoeuvre, considering that the NDP is at the opposite end of the political spectrum from the Conservatives. (The NDP are often derided as “socialists”, although that’s an exaggeration of their policy positions.)
At the time, the Liberals were bleeding support. The NDP and the Conservatives were both vying for disillusioned Liberal voters. And so Canadians were treated to a bit of tag-team wrestling: the Conservatives and the NDP took turns pile-driving the Liberals.
Relatively speaking, the Liberals and the Conservatives are not so far apart. Not since Stéphane Dion (decidedly left-wing in his views) was replaced by Michael Ignatieff (who is centre-right). And not since the Conservatives’ near-death experience in December led them to surrender to the deficit-spending-economic-stimulus craze currently sweeping the globe.
It seems a tad hypocritical to me that Layton, who was prepared to sell his soul to the Conservatives for the opportunity to gather Liberal voters into his basket, is now working himself up into a mustache-quivering lather because Ignatieff is going to support the Conservative Party’s economic stimulus budget.
And here’s the other thing. As I’ve already mentioned, the NDP are going to oppose the Liberal amendment to the budget. But the amendment calls for the Conservatives to report back to Parliament. How can the NDP justify voting against accountability to Parliament?
In sum, Jack Layton threw a hissy fit yesterday. I guess it’s not too shocking, given that his pool trick has misfired.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives say they will support the Liberal amendment:
By 4 p.m., the government, relieved that the conditions did not require more substantive concessions, accepted the amendment, saying that providing updates to Parliament and facing votes wasn’t really a new burden.
“This is nothing new. … We always report back to Parliament,” Government House Leader Jay Hill said.
“The amendment just states the obvious, so we’re very pleased to comply with it as we move forward.”
Hence the budget will pass. The Conservatives have survived last month’s crisis, and they will continue to govern for the immediate future.
Meanwhile, Canadians will get their economic stimulus package. Now we don’t have to feel like we’re missing out on the goodies every other Western nation is receiving from its government.