- In late March, early April, the government, seeing that the Conservatives were ahead in the polls, feared the Conservatives might use this opportunity to bring down the government -- the Bloc and the NDP were against the budget so the only thing preventing a non-confidence vote was the Conservative decision to abstain. Paul knew he'd be facing an election with Gomery still big and the opposition leading in the polls. Clever Paul decided to do what any megalomanic would do -- the government yanked 'Opposition Days' --- thereby removing any threat that the opposition could bring business to the House. He began to filibuster his own budget to prevent it coming to a vote. No one really noticed. Success.
- The three opposition parties were justifiably outraged at their parliamentary rights being arbitrarily revoked. Harper, as the leader of the official opposition decided to call Martin's bluff. The government wasn't going to allow them to bring business to the House so the Conservatives would now vote against the budget rather than abstaining. Bloc and the NDP were already against the budget, if the Conservatives were to vote against rather than abstain this would bring the government down. Paul Martin wasn't about to be outdone. Martin took to the airwaves and whinged, giving rise to the infamous statements: 'Let Gomery do his work!' and Canadians don't want an election! The media came away parroting those lines. Instead of focussing on the government actions that had thwarted democracy and created the acrimony in the House, the media reported that Harper was 'angry' without out hammering the issue of why. The absence of this sort of commentary suggested he was unjustified. Success.
- Not to be left out of the 'movers and shakers' lane, Jack Layton got up that same night and pulled a rabbit out of his hat. He offered that rabbit to Martin and the gang in exchange for being allowed at the big people's table. Jack started the now ritualistically recited mantra that he was committed to 'making this parliament work' . Paul Martin took the bait. Between the two of them, and Union activist Buzz Hargrove they cooked up a deal in a hotel room. The deal would provide vague outlines of where the NDP wanted money directed, but had none of the specifics of a 'real' budget. Layton called for $4.6 billion in new spending after the removal of corporate tax cuts from the original budget. The NDP could lay claim to influence. The Liberals were saved by a hair. Stephen Harper and the Conservatives could be painted as being against post secondary education, against the environment, against foreign aid, against cities, against affordable housing -- all on the back of a budget which will never come into fruition due to conditions of deficit reduction etc. (which can't possibly be known during this mandate). Canadians would be duped into believing that this budget was necessary. Business received a nudge and wink that their tax cuts would stay, and the socialists convinced their constituency that money would begin to flow immediately. For the price of a lie, the Liberals bought 19 votes. Success.
- At the first opportunity (May 10) the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois indicated their lack of confidence in the government by passing a motion in the House, adding an amendment to a bill which called on a parliamentary committee to request the government's resignation. The motion passed, 153-150. Despite the fact that this motion clearly indicated the government did not have the confidence of the majority of MPs, the government ignored it declaring that the motion was a procedural one (without benefit of Opposition Days -- removed in #1 above-- no business could be brought forward by the opposition in the usual manner, the government refused to bring the budget to a vote -- so this route was taken as the only route available). The opposition points out that according to parliamentary conventions, the government is obligated to quickly introduce a formal confidence vote which, if passed, would necessitate the dissolution of Parliament. The government came out the next day with the following statement: On May 17, voters in British Columbia will be going to the polls in a provincial election.Next Tuesday and Wednesday, I will be in Regina to welcome the Queen to Canada. On Thursday, May 19, I will be in Ottawa. And I am proposing that there be, on that day, a vote on the budget bill. This vote will be a matter of confidence. . . By scheduling this vote, I am respecting my obligations to our Parliamentary tradition.I call on Stephen Harper and Gilles Duceppe to respect their obligations – to demonstrate respect for Parliament and for Canadians by ensuring this House is able to function between now and the day of the vote, and by committing to Canadians that they will honour and recognize the outcome of the confidence vote. People didn't take to the streets decrying the assault on democracy. There were no rallies, no protests and very few suggestions that this was in fact wrong. The Liberals used Paul Martin's itinerary, and unrelated events in the country, to grant themselves a full week in which to shore up it's shaky grasp on power. Success.
- May 17 Conservative MP Belinda Stronach crossed the floor and joined the government. Her principled stand included accepting a plum Cabinet role. Stronach, considered by many to be a 'moderate voice' within the Conservative Party, used this opportunity to slag Stephen Harper, saying: "I do not believe the party leader is truly sensitive to the needs of each part of the country and just how big and complex Canada really is." She suggested she was uncomfortable with the Conservatives 'working with the Bloc' to bring down the government because it threatened national unity. This confirms Jack Layton's 'in bed with the separatists' suggestion, so the media runs with it (ignoring the fact that without the that the role of the opposition parties is to hold the government to account -- without co-operation on issues of confidence the government could never be toppled). Harper's leadership was questioned by pundits and conservatives. The shadiness of the deal proved less interesting to the media than the subsequent remarks of some provincial Conservative MLAs and the broken heart of her ex-boyfriend Peter MacKay. The one week delay in the confidence vote has benefitted the governing party -- hence the reason behind the unheeded calls for a quick confidence vote. Success.
- Then there were the Grewal tapes, where the borderline criminal behaviour of the natural governing party was dismissed because of questions of 'who approached whom' and whether the taping was 'entrapment'. The charge of tape doctoring put out there by the Liberals was echoed by the media, and 'confirmed' through tests to copies of the tapes. There is still no word as to whether the RCMP will investigate, and they are in possession of the real tapes. This episode caused the Toronto Star to accuse Harper of having provoked the Prime Minister's "seedy vote-buying". At worst, the parties appear to have engaged in criminal behaviour, at best their behaviour had the appearance of being unethical. Only Grewal came away from this scandal bruised. Success.
The Liberals were undoubtedly successful this year. They clung to power at the expense of Parliamentary convention. They muddied the concepts of right and wrong. They made lies into the truth, and truth irrelevant.
Some blame the Conservatives for 'not communicating the message'. Blame Harper, his communications staff, blame anyone you want, but it was you and me. We acquiesced as we watched a government ignore the will of the majority of the House, and decide to stay on anyway. There were mild protestations of a few, familiar with parliamentary custom and procedure. Their observations barely sparked debate beyond conservative blogs.
There was no country-wide outrage. There were no protests. There were no riots in the street. There was public questioning of the Conservative leadership. There were admonitions about the 'angry Stephen Harper' and the 'impatience' of the opposition, and 'power hungry Conservatives.'
The Liberals stole parliament, and most people seem to have decided it belonged to them anyway.
These stories are part of our national heritage now. They are part of what it means to be Canadian.
Happy Dominion Day.