Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What We're Learning -- Or At Least Should Be

The apparent rise of a coalition government teaches us about more than the dishonesty of those involved

Depending upon who you ask -- and how honest they're being with themselves and others -- Canada is on the brink of experiencing something that falls anywhere in the range of an orderly exchange of power and a political junta.

The most fervent supporters of the Conservative party, naturally, are insisting upon the latter. The most fervent supporters of the Liberal party, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois are insisting upon the former.

The truth falls somewhere closer in the middle. Though distasteful, the displacement of Stephen Harper's Conservative government with a Liberal/NDP/Bloc coalition is actually perfectly legal.

But this transition of power is anything but orderly. The coalition is displacing a minority government that was recently returned to power stronger than it was before the 2008 federal election. Its legitimacy is far from clear, and its making this move under false pretenses -- insisting that it's due to the lack of an economic stimulus package in the government's economic update rather than what it's really about: the protection of each party's government subsidies.

In other words, at least one of the leaders involved is lying. That would be Liberal leader Stephane Dion, who is expected to become Prime Minister in this coalition, and accused the NDP and Bloc of playing "political games" by voting against the Speech from the Throne, but is now prepared to topple the government only after his party's subsidies were threatened.

The Liberal party is hardly acting in the country's best interests -- it's acting in its own self-interest.

During the recent federal election, Dion spent the entire election complaining to anyone who would listen about "Stephen Harper's lies" -- which were actually much closer to the truth about Dion's ill-fated and now-aborted Green Shift plan than Dion would ever care to admit.

We're learning that Dion is, himself, far from a paragon of honesty.

We're also learning that Stephen Harper has failed to learn his own lessons. His first minority government provided many opportunities that, in retrospect, he simply squandered. While Harper accomplished many worthy goals -- no matter what his most intellectually dishonest and cowardly detractors insist -- he blew many opportunities to legitimately build a softer image.

Instead of cooperating with the opposition parties on key issues such as health care reform, Harper instead resorted to political strategy.

While the opposition stuck to their ideological guns on issues such as criminal justice -- in defiance of the expectations of Canadians -- there were plenty of issues on which compromises could have been worked out.

Harper received a golden opportunity to undo the fear mongering tactics of the Liberal party in particular. Instead, he often made himself appear as ideological as anyone else, even if his opponents were often just as ideological -- and often hypocritical.

Conservative politicians simply do not have the option of always governing as if they have a majority. Whether or not Harper has learned this remains to be seen. Indeed, it may never be seen.

One other thing we're learning from this is that our politicians simply do not learn from example.

As Canada lurched into the 1990s, it faced a mounting debt crisis and an out-of-control deficit. The Keynesian principle of governments spending more than they have led to considerable speculation that Canada would be facing a default on its debt obligations as the 90s drew on.

To his credit, then-Finance Minister Paul Martin got the mess under control, even if most Canadians don't like the way he did it -- by slashing programs such as health care and education.

South of the border the Republican administration of George W Bush spearheaded a reckless program of deregulation that eventually led to a mortgage crisis as American financial markets hemorrhaged on reckless loans -- actually mandated by the Clinton administration -- and by an absurd sub-market in which such mortgages were actually bought and sold by third parties. In other words, a market in which accounts receivable were being sold off as assets.

In the wake of this economic collapse, left-wing blocs on both sides of the 49th parallel are getting set to take advantage of the disaster in a not-so-atypical left-wing embrace of Naomi Klein's shock doctrine, each lining up a Keynesian budget in which governments will essentially attempt to spend their way out of the crisis.

What we are learning about now is the failure of our politicians to perceive the failures of the past and chart a course that will lead us toward economic success. It's going to be a very harsh lesson, and one can only hope that more Canadians -- and Americans -- will actually learn it this time out.

If our politicians fail to find alternative methods of managing the economy -- something that embraces the strengths of Keynesian economics and market economics -- there is really only one future for Canada, or for any other country that follows this course: lurching from economic crisis to economic crisis, and lurching back and forth between ideologically rigid left- and right-wing blocs, accomplishing very little of sustainable value in the meantime.

Sadly, politicians like Stephane Dion, Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton may be more than content to do this so long as they get a taste of power every now and again.

Which is something we've learned about Canada's Opposition parties (which now seem poised to ascend to government): that at the end of the day, what matters to them most is power.

All the lies and dishonesty aside, that is what Canadians should be learning.

Some other bloggers writing on this topic:

Matthew Hayday -- "King-Byng: Lessons from History"

Barry McLoughlin -- "A Very Canadian Coup"

Tom Collins - "Three's Company"

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