Monday, 8 December 2008

The Second Death of Stephane Dion and the paradox of Canadian politics today



Almost a week after delivering an address to the nation that looked like something hostage takers release to prove their victim is still alive, Stephane Dion has resigned as leader of the Liberal Party. Dion thus becomes the first party leader in living memory to resign from the same position twice in one year.


The Liberals are current wrangling over how to expedite its leadership election process so that the party will have a new chief in place by the time that Parliament resumes on January 26th. It now appears that with Dion having been unceremoniously pushed under a bus, Michael Ignatieff will be crowned Liberal leader by caucus on Wednesday with the blessing of Liberal Party riding presidents - party members will be allowed to send their post hoc congratulations sometime next year when, in the best traditions of Stalinist Russia, a party convention will be held to "affirm" the Great Man's leadership. This illigitmate process is being undertaken in order to confer onto the Liberal Party a leader who has more legitimacy than the electorally deficient Dion.


But you can't have party unanimity without a few victims - just ask Stalin's victims. In this case, the murder victim will not be Kirov but Bob Rae's political ambitions along with the "Coalition" that would have brought down Stephen Harper had it not been for the last minute deus ex machina intervention of the monarchy in the form of the Governor General who, like the professor presented with a forged sick note by a bad student desperately seeking a postponement of an exam he's otherwise doomed to fail, gave Harper an extra six weeks to cram. It remains to be seen whether in that time Harper will learn the difference between governing with a majority and governing with a minority. Ignatieff has clearly signalled that if the Tories make concessions - and this means adopted the Coalition's program (weak as it is) the Liberals will likely support the budget.


Few people noticed the election night split-screen interview CTV News did with Rae and Ignatieff. In both his victory speech and in the interview Rae anticipated the broad strokes of the current parliamentary crisis and stated that with a minority parliament Stephen Harper is not necessarily going to be able to stay in government as his Throne Speech needs to gain the consent of the Opposition in order to pass. Rae was intimating that if the Tory Throne Speech was defeated the Liberals would have the opportunity to form a government. Ignatieff haughtily dismissed this scenario as "political science fiction" - the look on Rae's face was priceless. A mere six weeks later, what Iggy had dismissed as fantasy threatened to become reality (over a Fiscal Statement rather than the Throne Speech) and Ignatieff reluctantly signed on and then went into hiding. On Sunday, Ignatieff all but declared his opposition to the coalition idea and went on CBC Sunday to paraphrase William Lyon Mackenzie King by saying "a coalition if necessary but not necessarily a coalition" and explaining that he saw the coalition as a tool to get concessions from the Tories and little else.


Bob Rae, conversely, has been selling the coalition as if it's the Second Coming. After spending an election campaign as the Stephane Dion's designated hitter against the NDP - bashing Layton and his social democratic party at every opportunity - and after years of denigrated his former party as not worthy of support, Rae now posits himself, unconvincingly, as the NDP's best friend in the Liberal Party trumpeting a Liberal-NDP coalition as good for the Liberals and good for the country (good for everyone but the NDP, it seems). How the NDP could be beneath contempt in Rae's eyes on October 13th but potential cabinet colleagues on December 1st remains unexplained. But the ironies don't end there for it is the dire threat posed to the Tories by the coalition that has made it a necessity for the Liberals to expedite their leadership election - an act which will not only sunder aside Bob Rae's leadership ambitions in order to crown Michael Ignatieff as leader. In other words, in order to be prepared for the possibility that the Coalition might bring down Harper and be asked to form a government the Liberals are pushing aside the pro-coalition candidate in favour of the candidate who sees the coalition as expendable.


And people say Canadian politics is boring.
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1 comment:

Beijing York said...

The Liberals are their own worst enemy. The coalition announcement was the first real wound Harper has ever felt since becoming PM. It was heady while it lasted. Harper must be giddy with the turn of events.