Friday, December 05, 2008

Liberal-NDP Coalition Government - Day of Reckoning with Voters Awaits

Coalition Not Ready for Prime Time

NDP will pay big for what looks like a failed gamble.

By Bill Tieleman

Published: December 5, 2008

The proposed coalition government is not ready for prime time -- or for the Canadian people.

The best laid plans of the federal Liberals and New Democrats for a coalition government supported by the Bloc Quebecois now lie dashed almost completely.

Earlier this week in a Tyee article, I argued that: "All political parties appear to have lost their collective minds."

But in fact, four separate national polls show that a majority of Canadians believe only the opposition went nuts -- and they want to punish them for it.

The polls all draw the same conclusion -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives would destroy the opposition and win a "massive" majority government if an election were held.

The polls also show Canadians absolutely do not want to be governed by lame duck Liberal leader Stephane Dion -- our putative YouTube Prime Minister whose amateur hour, late, hand-held Super 8 video to the nation on Thursday made it clear why he badly lost the recent election.

Now some Liberal MPs are publicly abandoning the coalition plan, and with Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean's decision to grant Harper's request for a seven-week proroguing of Parliament until Jan. 26, the likelihood of a confidence vote installing Dion as PM is remote.

Backlash against NDP, Grits?

But what isn't far off is a day of reckoning for the Liberals and NDP, who seriously misjudged public opinion as they hatched the coalition plan.

The polls by Ipsos-Reid, the Strategic Counsel, Ekos and Compas are quite consistent. The Conservatives have national support in the range of 44 to 51 per cent, the Liberals are at between 20 and 24 per cent and the NDP at 10 to 14.5 per cent.

Even worse for the opposition, the Ipsos-Reid and Strategic Counsel polls both had 60 per cent of Canadians opposed to replacing the Conservative government with a Liberal-NDP coalition backed by the BQ.

Compas found that 66 per cent of those polled oppose the Bloc Quebecois having any say in who forms a national government.

Ipsos-Reid found that 62 per cent were "angry" with the coalition's attempt to remove the Conservative government just weeks after a federal election.

Only 34 to 37 per cent of those polled supported the coalition idea, and 56 per cent in Ipsos-Reid survey said they would prefer to have an election than be governed by the opposition -- a result which would of course lead to a Conservative majority.

Bad news rolls in

To top matters off, today it was announced that Canada lost 71,000 jobs in November -- the biggest one-month job loss since the 1982 recession 26 years ago. StatsCan also reported that the national unemployment rate has jumped to 6.3 per cent, with Ontario losing a stunning 42,000 factory jobs last month.

And today, three Canadian soldiers lost their lives in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan, marking 100 military deaths there.

These two tragic stories of workers losing their work and soldiers losing their lives will likely further convince Canadians that their members of Parliament from all parties have their priorities completely wrong -- and make them even less likely to tolerate any efforts of the opposition to push Harper out of office.

The Conservatives were judged to be the best managers of the economy in troubling times by 60 per cent of those polled by Ipsos-Reid.

And Ipsos-Reid also found that getting rid of public funding of political parties -- the lightning rod for the opposition strike against the Conservatives, who proposed exactly that -- is actually supported by 61 per cent of Canadians -- they don't want taxpayer dollars going to the parties.

Canadians blame Harper, too

Is there any good news for the Liberals or NDP?

Just a little. When asked who is responsible for this captivating political car crash, 49 per cent blamed the Conservatives and 45 per cent the opposition, says Ipsos-Reid.

And 45 per cent of respondents say the root of the crisis was indeed the battle over public funding for political parties, while 44 per cent saw it as a fight over economic stimulus -- or lack thereof.

What happens next? The Conservatives will use their superior private fundraising ability to continue running a heavy dose of negative advertising to further seal the coalition coffin right through until they present a budget on Jan. 27.

That budget, one suspects, will look nothing like their do-nothing for the economy but smash our enemies statement that began the battle -- and will be very hard for any of the opposition parties to reject.

Meanwhile, Liberal MPs who had a good look at impending disaster when they tuned in to Stephane Dion's amateur home video are now realizing there is no way putting their outgoing leader into office for at most three and a half months will do anything but further sewer the party.

Outspoken Scarborough-Agincourt Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis said what others are clearly thinking, saying of the coalition that: "I cannot see it holding together" and that he wants Mr. Dion to leave "sooner than later."

"Unfortunately, Mr. Dion didn't do so good in the last election. We bombed. And he didn't do so good last night. And we bombed again," Karygiannis said of Dion's "YouTube" appearance on national television.

Strategic retreat?

The Liberals are likely to realize Dion must go and soon if they are to have any chance to defeat the Conservatives in Parliament and replace them without an election -- if that's even remotely possible.

More likely the new Liberal leader -- with Michael Ignatieff the odds-on favourite over Bob Rae and Dominic LeBlanc -- will decide that it is best for Harper to wear the oncoming recession for a year or more and will pick a better time to defeat the Conservatives and force an election they can win.

The New Democrats and leader Jack Layton will have a bitter Christmas, getting a lump of coal instead of the tantalizingly close chance of six cabinet spots in the coalition government.

But even worse, the NDP now faces the challenge of explaining to supporters why they were willing to jettison key 2008 election positions -- like wanting Canadian troops out of Afghanistan and opposing $50 billion in corporate tax cuts that both the Conservatives and Liberals supported -- to install Stephane Dion as Liberal prime minister.

The Liberal Party knows what it can and must do in the next election, whenever that happens -- eviscerate the NDP once again as an irrelevant third party with no hope of holding power and every chance of splitting votes to let the Conservatives win again.

It's standard Liberal strategy and like a great joke, it never gets old.

But it will be even more deadly for the NDP.

Who won? The Bloc

Does anyone win big? Likely the Bloc Quebecois, which could still benefit in the unlikely event the coalition is re-born in the new year and which otherwise has seen Stephen Harper rashly denounce them repeatedly in order to trash the coalition partners.

Gilles Duceppe has cemented his position as the only truly great strategist in the House of Commons, ensuring the Bloc will be a force to be reckoned with in yet another divisive federal election.

Further, Duceppe has ensured that once again Quebec will be the recipient of maximum federal largesse -- either from a repentant Harper trying to hold the few Quebec seats he has or the coalition paying off its part of the bargain.

And so the holiday season begins with very little good cheer in Ottawa or across the country politically -- except for ordinary Canadians who will now focus on rum, egg nog, Christmas trees, Boxing Day sales -- anything but politics as unusual.


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with you on one thing, Duceppe is probably the most apt politicians in the house.

It is too bad he is a separatist, because he is probably the most capable of all the leaders, the most straightforward, and has a great sense of sarcasm.

Reporter: "So do you think Harper will try to pull a rabbit out of his hat to save his government."

Duceppe: "He will try but right now we need a leader, not a magician."

Reporter: "If Harper made concessions would you be willing to support him."

Duceppe: "If my grandma grew wheels, she would be a tractor."

Eleanor Gregory said...

Thoughtful analysis. Good stuff.

DPL said...

The only good thing so far is that Harper has been found to lie a lot. He has managed to lose some of his supporters in Quebec as well. The closing down of parliament as the unemployment rate goes up, personal bankruptcies are up and the food banks are asking for help.And all to protect Harper from being shoved. But the guy is no longer an asset to his party. The Liberal leader showed his weakness. The only two guys that showed much sense was Layton and Duceppe, both will be blamed if the coalition fails. The urge to oust Harper sort of backfired but the citizens are the big losers. Who to blame? The PR machines are spinning and the Conservatives have very deep pockets. The Liberals are broke. The events actually made it onto Us television in souther California , but the folks there figured it was some sort of election.

Anonymous said...

We have no leaders, no options and ultimately . . . NO HOPE.

And we all must carrying the blame by allowing this generation of Mall-Managers to pretend to be our leaders.

Even changes in party leadership (in all the parties)is meaningless since the party organizations themselves are equally corrupt and ineffective.

For our sins we are going to pay a heavy prices for years to come.


morven said...

I actually believe some good will come of this. The realities of federal politics is now laid bare for all to see and we might henceforth have policies that reflect reality not the fond imaginings of the spinmeisters.

But whether our Ottawa politicians are capable of self analysis is another things and to judge from the noises emanating from the Liberal party, they are unlikely to see events clearly.

Too bad.

Really stupid "ditties" for really stupid politicians! said...


If one couldn’t laugh at it you would have to cry…so after a night of too much alcohol and hilarity discussing what had transpired in Ottawa this week, a friend and I ended up composing two “war chants” (one for each side) for our most “brave” and “wise” federal politicians.

Hope you enjoy or not!

1.“I want Stephan Dion.
The coalition must go on.
Stephan is my man.
Don’t let the coalition go down the can.
Stephan Dion is not left he is always right.
His coalition will not be a blight.”

2.“Stephan Dion you little wimp
Electoral Prime Minister ship you want to skip.
Stephan Dion you will be a blip.
You are on a sinking ship.
Stephan Dion you will be gone tomorrow.
My $1.95 will be your sorrow.”

Heaney said...

Bill, I almost could have said it better myself ;).
Whoever came up with this grand plan in Ottawa wasn't thinking what it would mean west of Ontario. I haven't proudly worked for the orange team these 26 years so that we could make an entirely discredited Liberal the PM or, for that matter, to put Jack or any other of our members in some other party's cabinet.
I cancelled my federal PAC after the Quebec convention when Jack and the establishment decided we were ready to pull the troops out of Afghanistan and sit down with the Taliban. Who could have known he would dump that principle in exchange for making privy councillor?
It's a shame the federal Party isn't scheduled to discuss leadership for another 20 months.

Budd Campbell said...

I was in Edmonton on business, Monday through Thursday. Some of the reaction there was quite disturbing.

The Opposition has every right to vote non confidence in the government. Do I have that wrong? If so, will someone please tell me how?

If there isn't to be an immediate election, what is the alternative? Can you tell me, Bill?

Polls tell you what people are thinking and feeling, and they are valuable. But putting all you faith in them is a straight case of vox populi, vox dei. Maybe we should do what the polls tell us and bring back hanging and flogging as punishments for repeat car thiefs. Do you have any problem with that, Bill, are you willing to go against public opinion?

Anonymous said...

Spot on Bill. I think that may be the first I've ever said that, well second time. Duceppe played them like fools. He got them to sell their souls for a whiff of power and now stands to gain immensely. It's too bad the smartest politician in Canada despises Canada. Well he says he despises Canada, but judging from his continuous payouts it's hard to believe.

Anonymous said...

Like the COPE-VISION aggreement, this coalition has been put together because the public sector unions want it to happen. The Conservatives' update which threatened to freeze their wages and remove their right to strike frightened the public sector unions so much that they coerced the
NDP into striking a deal with the Liberals and the Bloc.

G West said...

You're making sense Budd, as usual - my contacts in Calgary tell me the blood is running in the streets there too.

The ignorance of the electorate - compounded by the failure of the media to accept some responsibility for actually explaining HOW the system is meant to work - is almost as worrying as the irresponsibility of the current incumbent at 24 Sussex.

Even sensible people like Bill are being fooled into thinking that polling has become little more than a tool for manipulating the masses.

morven said...

Duceppe may not necessarily be the best strategist. If voters thought the PC's were a bigger threat to Canada than the BLOC, the coalition would succeed. If the reverse, then the coalition fails. After three years of slagging the PC's, the embryonic coalition naturally thought they had the lock on pushing the PC's into a corner. But lo and behold, after the shenanigans of last week, it seems the voters see the BLOC as a bigger threat to Canada. Bang goes the coalition and bang goes the strategic cards held by the BLOC.

Mind you, this all could reverse in a month but I would be doubtful. I just think the coalition partners were unable to judge the public mood. The public were unhappy about the selective nature of the coalition's concerns and the seeming ease with which they equated Ontario and Quebec concerns (real as they are) with the concerns of Canada as a whole.

Am I wrong ?

Heaney said...

I love it when folks who presume to tutor people on democracy use words like "the ignorance of the electorate" - so revealing

Anonymous said...


All signs point to a non-confidence vote on Jan. 27, and then all heck breaks loose. Yikes.

G West said...

Heany - how would you describe the apparent inability of the 'electorate' to recognize that losing the confidence of the House is the at the centre of representative democracy?

I think the obvious ignorance of the electorate is not something any thinking person should ignore. The electorate returned a minority government - perhaps you think that's ignorant - under the circumstances, thank goodness they did.

Facts are facts - this is not a 'coup' and people who say such things are ignorant. Whether polls support them or not. If you or they need a little education I think that's fine - although a little late in the day. Did you sleep through the lectures on responsible government?

You may not like it - I don't much like people who use such constructions and display such contempt for our governmental arrangements.

Heaney said...

Garth, you're a sanctimonious pill and I'd be surprised at your ability to persuade anyone other than yourself of anything.

That a majority of the public might prefer the CPC carry on for now, rather than be replaced by Stephan and Jack, may have everything to do with the public's perception of the latter gentlemens' abilities and motives than the public's conclusion on what 141 years of convention and precedent demms what "must" be done now.

That you ascribe the poll results to the public's ignorance of your view of the proper functioning of responsible government (a subject in which I received an A+ from one of Canada's top scholars)says so much more about you than it says about the public.

Please cite me any convention and precedent for the conclusion that a) the GG should have denied the PM prorogation or b) if the economic update has failed to receive a majority of votes, the GG was compelled to ask Dion to govern with the NDP and Bloc.

G West said...

That makes my point very nicely Heaney - thanks.

Look back and see how this started: I made a general remark about the public in agreement with someone else's observations.

YOU personalized it - live with it.

Like Harper, you appear to be ‘25% sanctimonious troll’ (those words are Rex Murphy’s, not mine by the way).

As for your point about prorogation, I've never suggested that Jean shouldn't have given the Prime Minister a time out - that was absolutely in keeping with precedent as I've written extensively elsewhere.

What I actually wrote, had you taken the time to read and understand was something quite different.

Why not go back and try again before you make yourself look more foolish my friend?

As to the second point, under the circumstances I'd be surprised you didn't realize that the Prime Minister would never have used his 'get out of jail free card' with the GG if the weight of precedent on the other point were not so strong against him. That's the whole point, his political survival and personal insecurity are the fountainhead of this disaster. Now the public, in its ignorance, is having to live with it.

While 70,000 jobs disappeared.

Could I make a suggestion that, if the prime minister and his Harris holdover finance minister had been more concerned about doing their jobs before indulging in a needless exercise of false electoral bravado on Oct 14 that something positive about the economy might already be entrained.

Instead we have competing bongo bands and banners in the streets, a manufactured unity crisis and discord on tap...nice job Harper!

In my books that was pretty stupid and people who can’t see it are even stupider.


Anonymous said...


I read on the front page of The Priovince newspaper that Ujjal Dosanjh, Hedy Fry and Joyce Murray are going to save Stephen Harper and his minority government.

And what impact does this federal disorder have on the provincial scene?

Tom/Victoria said...


Too bad the "smart" people who are running the federal Liberal Party (like that "egghead" who quotes Aristotle) don't know there ancient history because perhaps then they might finally realize that JEAN CHRÉTIEN = TIBERIUS JULIUS CAESAR AUGUSTUS!

Anonymous said...

You probably shouldn't post this.
But have a look.

Budd Campbell said...

Heaney or Bill,

Please tell me why the opposition parties have no business proposing an alternative to an immediate general election if the budget were to have been defeated today, just 50 some odd days after the last one.

Heaney, since you have the A+ in the subject, does this prorogation allow other PMs/Premiers to escape for sixty days whenever defeat in the legislature seems likely? How long can they prorogue for, and how many times can they prorogue?

I am not interested in public opinion polls, I want to know what you think.

Bill Tieleman said...

Budd - you miss my point - I've never said there is some rule stopping the Coalition from proposing an alternative government - except the rule of common sense!

Everything that's been proposed by the Liberal-NDP agreement is constitutional - as is the Governor-General's decision to prorogue the House at Stephen Harper's request.

What's wrong is that quite obviously a strong majority of Canadians disagree! You can denigrate polling all you like but it won't change that simple fact.

If the Conservatives bring in a budget on January 26 that is defeated and the Coalition still exists and wants to propose it have a chance to govern, that is completely legitimate.

Michaelle Jean may then give them a chance or may grant Harper a dissolution for an election - both are possible.

You and Garth West seem to miss an extremely central point - the "confidence" of the House isn't lost when three parties sign an agreement - it's when MPs actually stand up and vote down the government.

I was in the Press Gallery in Parliament in December 1979 as a young reporter watching history being made when Joe Clark's government was defeated.

So far, by Parliamentary rules, the Conservatives still have the confidence of the House. You can argue that Harper chickened out of a vote Monday by proroguing and you can argue it was unprecedented but you cannot argue until there is a vote that confidence has been lost.

Lastly, polls are snapshots of public opinion at any one time. Every politician pays attention to polls - or ignores them to their great peril.

I have never suggested polls replace politicians and I have advised politicians to go against polling results in order to actually change public opinion - that's how real progress is made.

But because you simply don't like the fact that 4 separate polls all say the Coalition is a dead duck, don't shoot the messengers.

And on this one, don't retreat to the canard that the media changed public opinion - because they didn't have time.

Stephane Dion and separatists were a combination that was unsafe at any time, period.

G West said...

Not at all. I don’t and have never asserted that the technical 'confidence' of the house is not preserved until the vote takes place. The simple fact that the House is locked at a time when it should be meeting and doing the peoples’ business is, I’d say, a clearer indication of what the current government’s priorities are. And that, the screamers in the street tell me is what they’re all steamed up about Bill.

But, that's not the point. You, Bill, and your erstwhile partner Stephen Harper are indulging in moral sophistry on the one hand and indulging in an exercise of crass manipulation on the other. One of you spouting the lies while the other wrings his hands about the fact that people are becoming overwrought at hearing the lies. I’d ask you to read again a few lines from Susan Riley because she isn’t afraid to recognize who threw the levers to manipulate public opinion:
But worse, by far, Harper has been fanning the flames of division, appealing, as usual, to everyone's worst instincts. In Alberta, his agents raise the prospect of a Central Canadian cabal, intent on stealing the election; in Ottawa, he lustily bashes "separatists," reviving the language of the constitutional wars. Harper's tactic is unworthy and cynical.
And, she wrote that days before ANY of the polls whose results you’re so exercised about were taken.

Stephen Harper lost the moral authority to govern the moment he took his case to the Governor General - he began the public relations exercise of deceiving the public a few days before that the moment he realized he had overplayed a weak hand with his economic update.

From that point forward this has been an exercise in cynical and vile spin and, insofar as you and others have failed to address these facts and resorted to quoting manipulative polls you have been acting as his partner.

The fact that the Prime Minister is using lies and innuendo to create the impression that black is white and up is down among an ignorant and unsophisticated electorate is not a surprise - Stephen Harper has been trade marking that kind of behavior since he was Deborah Gray's assistant.

The fact that someone like you, who ought to have known better, are not calling him on it more forcefully is, in my view, much harder to understand.

No one knows how this mess is going to shake down in the end but the suggestion that it won't go down in Canadian history as anything but a black season is certain.

The last time a Prime Minister used such a ruse to escape his just desserts was in 1873 - that PM was also a Conservative and he was dodging the Pacific Scandal.

Stephen Harper is dodging something much more banal - his own lies and deceptions.

The sad part is the fact that so many good people have decided to be as nominally cynical as he has been.

Not much of an excuse for a country when the only thing you care about is the result of the next poll. Once upon a time politics was about urging people to work for something better.

Stephen doesn’t disappoint me Bill, you do.

G West said...

Quebec election 42% Liberal; 35 % PQ; 17% ADQ; others 6%

Congratulations Mr Harper - your venture into disunity has been quite a success!

Thanks for posting that Bill, it is a good thing to be able to actually have a 'real' debate without the kind of childishness our Prime Minister mistakes for leadership and political 'smarts'.

I appreciate your work, even if I think you're dead wrong.

morven said...

I would say the sophistry lies with G. West rather than Bill. In an ideal world, the MP's votes would reflect the wishes of their contituents, not the wishes of the party appartchicks. The closest we come to the reflection of voter intentions are the opinion polls which, while not conclusive, are pretty strong indications that general Canadian voters disliked the Coalition more than they dislike Harper's tactics.

G West said...

Morven - to suggest that people don't understand the way representative parliament works is sophistry?

Please. The point is that, despite Preston Manning and Reform - who tried very hard to change the level of voter control over the individual MP - that "little" revolution hasn't taken place yet - thank God.

The sophistry, my friend is the expression of those who:
a) don't know about the way the system works, and;
b) are dishonestly trying to change it in UNdemocratic ways.

Will you be carrying a pitchfork or a torch if and when the coalition takes over?

morven said...

In response to G. West.

Morven writes: nothing such as a pitchfork and/or torch when the coalition takes over, just pen and paper.

G West said...

Well, then I hope you'll talk to your allies on the Harper side of this question because they've been doing the pitchfork thing pretty regularly since Pee Wee told them to take to the streets.

morven said...

In response to G.West.

Your allusions to pitchfork and torches is a tad excessive.

I assume therefore you represent the party of "law and ordure" (pace Times of London)

Budd Campbell said...

"Lastly, polls are snapshots of public opinion at any one time. Every politician pays attention to polls - or ignores them to their great peril."

Right. Which means they could change with circumstances, and might change favourably if a coalition did come to office.

From a pure public relations standpoint it might have been a smoother scene if the opposition parties had simply talked defeat, not replacement.

However, they may have been advised that they needed to state and to document their willingness to install a replacment government without an election in clear terms prior to defeating the government if they wanted Michaele Jean to call upon them, given the huge 80 seat gap between the Liberals' seat total and a majority.

The notion that Jean would be able to dissolve parliament in January or February without giving another party a chance, given the coalition agreement, is not one I agree with. Under these circumstances, barring a clear statement from Ignatieff that he's not even interested in trying, I would think she would have to at least ask him to give it a go.

If the thinking now is that Ignatieff isn't at all interested in a coalition with the NDP, then that settles the matter. And it also makes it crystal clear to people that the real problem isn't separatists, (who are NEVER a problem for ANY party any other time they vote they way someone wants them to), but social democrats, and day care, and pension regulation, and aid to auto and forest industries that's tied to requirements that these industries make changes, and so on.

G West said...

Morven, with all due respect:
There was a picture on the front page of the Times Colonist the other day of a group of enraged anti-coalition demonstrators; I'm sure you've seen the same sort of thing on the evening news. Red faced, irrational, screaming idiots! Put 'em in brown shirts and they'd have been right at home in a Munich beer hall.

These are Stephen Harper's foot soldiers.

Pitchforks and torches wouldn't have been at all out of place in those crowds - these are the people you see as 'rational' human beings and representatives of the electorate.

I see them as ugly avatars of mass emotionalism and thoughtlessness.

The creation of a man who doesn't have the emotional equipment for the job he's charged with doing.

Whatever you might think of Jack Layton and Stephane Dion, they stand on a higher rung of the ladder than Stephen Harper does.

His palpable fear of failure and rejection has revealed the man's true nature and utter lack of character - when given a chance by Mansbridge today to actually behave like a decent human being he rejected the opportunity and heaped on more slander and lies.

This man is not worthy of the country nor his office.

He apparently thinks 'some' coalitions are fine though – you couldn’t have missed that.

morven said...

In response to G.West:

It is unfortunate that the image conjured up by the demonstrators was pitchforks and torches. I did not see that clip but am quite prepared to accept that is how it looked.

On the other side, some of the NDP and Liberal bloggers conjured up the image of TRICOTEUSES.

These were the old women who sat around the guillotine knitting as the heads rolled. Brought into focus the term knitting together a coalition.

It seems both sides have lurid images.

Budd Campbell said...


I would still appreciate an answer to these questions concerning the full extent of the precedent that Harper and Michaelle Jean have set:

"Heaney, since you have the A+ in the subject, does this prorogation allow other PMs/Premiers to escape for sixty days whenever defeat in the legislature seems likely? How long can they prorogue for, and how many times can they prorogue?"