It took an historic election to galvanize Americans to put aside their political cynicism and turn out in record numbers to vote in the November 4th election. Here in Canada, we wondered what it would take to ignite similar interests and public discourse in our political process. Well, we now have an answer.
In little more than one week, Canadians have transformed from political apathy to political activists. The impetuous, a power grab orchestrated between Jack Layton, leader of the leftist New Democratic party (NDP) and Gilles Duceppe, leader of the separatist, Bloc Quebecois party (Bloc) to oust the minority Conservative government. The combined 86 seats won by NDP (37) and Bloc (49) in our October 14th federal election fell substantially short of the 155 required to topple the minority Conservative government with its 143 seats. To overcome this minor but important hurdle they enlisted the support of Stephane Dion, leader of the Liberal party for its 77 seats.
On Thursday, November 27th the Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty tabled the Conservative government's fiscal update, both the leader of NDP and the leader of the Bloc immediately declared their intention to defeat the Harper government. The premise for their outrage, the economic update failed to properly address Canada's looming economic challenges. In reality, the leaders were pissed off that the Conservative government declared its intention to discontinue public subsidy for political parties. Of course, neither Layton, Duceppe nor Dion would publicly say this.
As Canadians began to slowly grasp the basis of this audacious political coup taking place in the nation's capital, the three leaders staged a signing ceremony to formalize the details of the coalition, on Monday afternoon. This was the beginning of the end for them. The image of Jack Layton gaining access to Canada's economic levers and Gilles Duceppe holding the balance of power crystallized for most Canadians exactly what was at stake and they didn't like it.
Unlike any other time in my life, Canadians of all political stripes became actively engaged in our political process. They are using every tool possible to voice their opinions. Rallies were held in most major cities across the country, Facebook sites popped-up, call-in radio and television shows are being deluged with callers. Broadcasters have seen their ratings jump as more and more Canadians are tuning in to evening political broadcast to learn of the latest developments. Overwhelmingly, Canadians made it clear that they oppose the proposed coalition's intent to wrestle power away from the Harper government. In fact, recent polls indicate that the majority of Canadians are opposed to the coalition.
Despite the very low voter turnout in our recent election, just 59% of eligible Canadians bothered to vote. Something tells me that neither Layton nor Duceppe expected such a political backlash from Canadians. Blinded by ambition and self-interest, the duo set in motion the undignified end of Stephane Dion's political career, ignited Canadians interest in politics and may have awaken the dormant national unity debate.
On Friday, December 5th Canada's Governor General, Michaelle Jean, granted Prime Minister Stephen Harper his request to prorogue Canada's parliament. This precedent setting move was the right decision. A politically energized and angry Canadian public breathed a collective sigh of relief.
While opposition party leaders try to hold their wobbly coalition together until parliament resumes on January 26, 2009, their members will deservedly face irate constituents when they return to their ridings.
Jack and Giles can be credited for unleashing the political passion of Canadians but they should pay the price at the polls for plunging Canada into a political crisis at a time when the nation is facing significant economic challenges. If an election were held today, Canadians would hand Stephen Harper a majority government. This, I am sure, was not what they had in mind.
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