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Harper's "Time Out"

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They're calling it a time out. When little kids were naughty, or downright unbearable, many a parent would grab little darlings by the arm and sit them on the stairs or in a chair and told to stay put or else they would get a spanking. That, if what the leadership of the Canadian government is to be believed, is what the prorogation of the Canadian parliament is all about.

Grownup Prime Minister Steven Harper has gotten "Acting Mommy" Michaëlle Jean to take those naughty little boys Stéphane Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe, and stand them in the corner for a couple of months before letting them go out to play again. Assuming that they've learned their lesson of course.

The Canadian chattering classes have taken this metaphor to heart. Checking out the websites of most of the major Canadian newspapers as well as Maclean's, the national newsmagazine (which has prorogued its print edition for the rest of the year to facilitate Christmas vacation), quite a few columnists have declared the crisis all but over. This is not the case in real life, however, but Harper can take comfort in the fact that his presumptive successor, Stéphane Dion, has seemed to buckle at the knees in the first 24 hours since Harper forced Jean to shut down the playground.

The danger to the nation that has been looming over the heads of every Canadian has gotten worse. The Canadian dollar, commonly known as the "looney" has fallen to 71¢ US from parity last September, and the nation has lost 71 thousand jobs in November, rising the unemployment rate to 6.8%, and if there isn't an auto industry bailout by the US Congress, or so the US auto industry says, GM could collapse by the end of the month. GM has a good percentage of its plants in southern Ontario, that peninsula directly between Detroit and Buffalo, which is where a large percentage of the Canadian population lives. The emergency on the western side of Lake Huron is going to affect the emergency on the east side. If Detroit goes down, so does Windsor. Government action is called for. But Steven Harper has forced the national au pair to shut down the parliament and give the opposition a "time out."
While the Harper government has a great deal of power to do all sorts of things while parliament is temporarily out of business, the stuff that's needed to save the situation has to be done by the national legislature, and unless Harper has assumed dictatorial powers that, while suspected by conspiracy theorists, don't exist, he and his ministers can do precious little all by themselves.

So that's the dilemma, either just sit there and watch the economy go down the tubes, or recall parliament and get immediately clobbered. There's a majority there that's so angry over the prorogation that they're not going to vote for anything Harper proposes, even if it's brilliant and the best possible thing to do. This is a fact and Harper knows it.

On the other hand, the Liberal party is in disarray. The "putsch" has clearly failed for the moment, and the fault has been clearly set at the feet of Dion, who's performance with a badly produced taped speech may have convinced Ms. Jean that sticking with Harper was a legitimate gambit. Dion is seen as a wimp who blew the October election and this crisis, Rae, who was the New Democratic Premier of Ontario in the 90s, has never been forgiven by the NDP for his bad performance in power and for leaving the party to join the Liberals, and the other possible leader, Michael Ignatieff, has been lukewarm on the entire coalition thing and may be even more unacceptable than Rae might be. Then there are those in the Liberal party who don't want NDP leader Jack Layton anywhere near power, and letting the secessionist BQ have a veto on anything makes the "Rest of Canada®" feel really queasy. Thus the government is paralyzed.

What'll happen now is anyone's guess, but it's going to have to happen well before it's scheduled on January 26th.