For Pete's sake, I don't think I've ever been more embarrassed in my life.
For the past two weeks, grown adults who are supposed to be educated, civilized representatives of the Canadian people have made shmucks of themselves in a time of crisis when Canada need leaders, not shmucks.
The election was over, the specter of the economy looming ever larger, and Stephen Harper promised leadership in a time of crisis. And what does he do? In his promised fiscal update when the house resumed in November, the Conservatives and their finance minister Jim Flaherty delivered little in the economic department except for the sale of goverment assets amounting to $2.3 billion dollars. So we lose billions in public property, and we get a projected surplus of $100 million dollars. Now, I don't really know what the property included or what was significant about it, but I could have lived with the update if it had stopped there.
Instead, the Harper government chose to make a relatively minor cut to the public funding of political parties, saying something along the lines of the importance of political parties setting an example to the country in belt tightening. The facts here amounted to a saving of a paltry $22 million dollars by eliminating this subsidy to parties, with the Conservatives taking the biggest hit. This is because as the law stands now, for each vote a party gets in an election, provided it surpasses the minimum amount (which escapes me now), the party also gets $1.95. $1.95 per vote. Now, Harper says that this has never been a popular policy, presumably because political parties shouldn't have to rely on public funding, they should be able to stand on their own.
However what people fail to realize is that this subsidy makes each person's vote count for more. The policy encourages voting for the party you like, instead of the party you think is most likely to win, because even if your party isn't elected, if they get enough of the vote, they get funding that they can use to finance their next campaign. By making people's votes count for less, Harper is weakening the democratic process. And to throw this kind of measure in during an economic crisis makes it seem irresponsible and just plain uncalled for.
Not only is Harper weakening my vote, but he is also attacking other parties with the end to this subsidy. It's not common knowledge that current Conservative financing from donations is at an all-time high, whereas the fundraising machines of other parties have stalled. The Liberal party in particular is hurting, and other parties such as the Bloc Quebecois depend on the public subsidy for financial support. So percentage wise, this is going to chop into the Liberals, Bloc, and especially the Green Party far more than it will the Conservatives. In other words, saying that the Conservatives will be hurting the most after this is not the whole truth.
As I alluded to before, if you don't have money, you can't campaign nearly as effectively. Now, I could personally care less if the seperatist party collapsed, but this tactic to make it happen is underhanded. It's opportunistic and ethically ambiguous. Attacking the opposition parties when he should be working with them (that's what you do in a minority parliament) to fix the economy is a bad decision not only ethically, but tactically too, seeing as he has paid dearly for his actions with an uproar of the opposition parties.
Enough about the $1.95 per vote subsidy. In his update, Harper also cut back the rights for public servants to strike for 3 years. Now I'm not exactly sure who this group includes, but this policy seems like it has even less to do with the economy, and shows a distrust of the Canadian people by the Conservative party. Until there is a clear need to remove the right for public employees to strike, it doesn't make sense to take that right away. If Harper doesn't trust public servants to keep working at their jobs at a time when they are worried about losing those jobs, then there is something seriously wrong with him and his party. The policy seems redundant and showing a lack of faith in the Canadian people.
Finally, he has apparently attacked women's rights. I've skimmed through the economic and fiscal update that the Conservatives released for the details of exactly how women's rights are attacked, but because it was written by the government, it wasn't easy to find. Here's the link in case you have more free time than I do: http://www.fin.gc.ca/ec2008/Ec/ectoc-eng.html
Now I don't know how serious it is, but if it was mentioned as part of the reason that the whole nine yards were bad, it must have been in some way significant, otherwise there wouldn't have been a fuss in the first place.
To sum up, Harper made some bad tactical errors in his economic and fiscal update that have come back quickly to bite him, targeting opposition parties, women's rights and worker's rights in a way that is uncalled for in a minority parliament when he should be working with others, not making enemies out of them. The opposition parties also slam him for not including an economic stimulus package in his mini budget, but it seems to me that this is the kind of thing that needs to be given a little bit more thought before it's put through, so I'm with the government on that count. But all in all, I'm disappointed and embarrassed that my government should choose to be so opportunistic in attack when they should be compromising to work with others in a time of crisis.
The opposition parties have made a bad situation worse. They're all guilty of perpetuating this mess we have now and freezing up the whole process of trying to fix the economic crisis by putting their own interests for power ahead of the interests of those that they were elected to represent. The opposition parties had so many other options for action when Flaherty delievered the update. They couldn't let it pass for reasons that I've made clear, but they didn't have simply up and walk away from the table singing hymns of a coalition government that would bring the conservatives to their knees. They should have pointed out the flaws, voted against it, and demand a renegotiation with an all-party committee that would work together to create a working fiscal update that would create economic stability instead of promoting political chaos.
The whole move towards a coalition by the opposition is nothing but a power trip, and at great cost. I don't know if Dion just wants a chance to become PM, or if Layton wants a chance to sit in cabinet, or if Duceppe wants to finally get Québec to separate from the rest of Canada, but I can find no reason in my mind that a Liberal-NDP government would be any better for Canada than the current conservative one. The country just spent $300 million dollars on an election, and it's too early to put the country into political crisis again.
These are grown adults who are supposed to be setting an example for the rest of the country. They have all the power here, and they need to use it wisely to serve the interests of this country, not to delay action on a crisis that could tear the country apart. Instead, they have chosen to arbitrarily decide that now is the time to take power.
And at what cost? The contingency of this alliance that give the Bloc Québecois the balance of power is a scary prospect. If the Liberal-NDP coalition is forced to implement bills and policies that further the sepratist goal, then we could be facing another referendum on Québec separation within the next two years. Essentially the opposition parties have put in charge of the whole country a party that wants to break it up. Bad move. I don't want to lose Québec. I have French heritage. I love the culture and art and language that contributes Canadian identity. I do not want to see La Belle province separate from Canada, not now, not ever.
In short, the opposition parties struck back far too hard at the faulty Conservative economic update. They abandoned attempts at negotiation, resorting instead to an underhanded power grab, all at the possible, yet extreme cost of losing Québec for good.
The result of this back and forth partisan war between the parties? Government has been taken hostage for another month and a half, and Canada will see no more leadership on the current fiscal crisis until parliament resumes in late January. I expect more of my leaders than petty bickering. The blame is on both sides. Harper may have started it, but Dion, Duceppe, and Layton have made it worse. These politicians should be champions of the people, examples for the rest of us to follow and look up to. Not names that should make us all hang our heads in shame.
The only thing that this chain of events has served to do is weaken my faith in politicians. They have given into that stereotype that all people elected to office are crooks. Their crime? Negligence of their country.