Canada's Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on the brink of collapse. The centre-left opposition Liberal Party is in talks with the democratic socialist New Democratic Party with the aim of forming a coalition government. The vote which would bring down the government and set this scenario in motion is slated for Monday.
The non-confidence motion follows on the presentation of an interim financial statement by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. The main complaint of the opposition parties is that the statement contains no plans for economic stimulus to combat the current fiscal crisis; and that the Tories squandering of the surplus bequeathed them by previous Liberal governments will almost undoubtedly trip into a deficit for the first time in a decade.
The Liberal motion reads in part:
In light of the government's failure to recognize the seriousness of Canada's economic situation and its failure in particular to present any credible plan to stimulate the Canadian economy ... this House has lost confidence in this government and is of the opinion that a viable alternative government can be formed.As many of you know, Canada just went through an election in October. The result was a second Conservative minority government, albeit with slightly more seats in the House of Commons (the members of the upper chamber, the Senate, are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister). The Conservatives currently hold 145 of the 308 seats - in other words nine seats short of a majority. Combined, the Liberals and NDP hold 114 seats, with the balance going to the separatist Bloc Québécois. It is all but certain that the Bloc neither would nor could be brought into a coalition given their over-riding agenda of Quebec independence. But the Bloc's leader, Gilles Duceppe, has always maintained that his party's support for any government is contingent on its fulling what the Bloc feels are the best interests of Quebec.
Politically, what a defeat of the Conservative government in the House would mean is that the Prime Minister would be required to advise the Governor General - who represents the Queen of Canada as head of state - that he has lost the confidence of Parliament. Michaëlle Jean would then be faced with the alternative of dissolving Parliament and calling another election, or asking the Leader of the Opposition, Stephane Dion, if he is able to form a government which could garner the support of Parliament. It is not clear what, if any, advice Harper would give Jean concerning a course of action, or how constrained she would feel to accept it.
A couple of wrinkles in the ointment, as I like to say, are that the Liberals are holding a leadership convention in May to replace Dion, who resigned following the party's disappointing showing in the recent election. It is assumed he would be caretaker Prime Minister until then, assuming the coalition survives that long. With a new leader (and Prime Minister), undoubtedly a federal election would follow soon after.
The second wrinkle is the novelty of coalition government in Canada, which has not been seen since a conscription crisis in World War I attracted Anglophone Liberals into a union government with Conservative Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden. The tradition has been that a minority government has relied on the tacit support of other parties to survive (by tailoring legislation to accommodate their demands). The inclusion of the left-leaning New Democrats would be the first time that party has experienced government on the federal level.
This is a very fluid situation. There is a lot of reason to believe that the government is going to throw bones to the opposition to stave off a non-confidence vote. There is already talk that they will back off from a proposal to do away with the progressive public-financing law introduced by Jean Chretien's Liberal government, which took corporations and unions out of the electoral process.
Stay tuned to this uncharacteristically exciting situation!