Canadian constitutional showdown

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So it looks like Canada, only six weeks after an election saw a swing to the Conservative minority government, is headed towards another left-of-centre government.

Today the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party signed an agreement to form a coalition government, with the support of the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

The agreement would see the Leader of the Liberal Party as the new Prime Minister in a cabinet of 18 Liberal ministers and 6 NDP ministers. The government would be the third minority government, after the Martin government of 2004-2006 and the current Harper government, with the Bloc holding the balance of power. The BQ has vowed to support the government for 18 months.

The Harper government remains in office until a no-confidence motion is passed, which is currently scheduled for December 8, although there is discussion that Harper will prorogue the Parliament until January, when a budget can be presented to the House. The “opposition day”, when the Liberals have an opportunity to present motions, has already been delayed from the 1st to the 8th.

The immediate cause of the election appears to have been caused by the financial crisis, and in particular Harper’s proposal to drastically reduce political party public funding, which seems to have sparked action on the opposition benches. Harper has backed down on the proposal, but the Opposition appears to have tasted blood in the water, and are on the hunt.

While the recent election clearly saw increased support for Harper and a rejection of Stephane Dion as Liberal leader, it remains true that the three largest left-of-centre parties collectively received a significant majority of the vote as well as a majority of seats.

Indeed, it seems to make sense that the last election would end in the election of a centre-left government. Anyone who watched the election debate would’ve been struck by the clear sense of four left-wing party leaders on one side pounding the Prime Minister. It is also a good step forward for the country in terms of restoring its place in the international community’s push to deal with climate change. Along with New Zealand, Canada is only one of two countries which have gone backwards on climate change in the last decade.

The biggest complication in the Liberal-NDP plans is the upcoming Liberal leadership election. Stephane Dion announced his plans to resign as leader straight after the election, and an election campaign was kicked off. Liberal Party delegates will meet for a convention on May 2 to elect a leader from three candidates. The plans at the moment appear to be for Dion to take over as Prime Minister for less than six months, before giving it up to the new leader after May 2.

So what are the consequences for the political parties? In the short run, the Conservatives will attack the others for supposedly overturning the will of the people, but in the long run the lack of incumbency will surely hurt the Conservatives. Jack Layton’s plans for the NDP will likely remain to see his party overtake the Liberal Party, and if the Liberals struggle it could benefit the NDP. On the other hand, smaller coalition partners tend to get hurt at the next election. Yet the NDP has never previously had the opportunity to govern, and if they govern competently it could push the party to new levels of support.

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