A little breathing space
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, December 4, 2008

Whatever the future holds for Canada’s government, it is incumbent on the prime minister and ultimately the governor general to ensure it is achieved in a stable and orderly way. Haste towards a coalition government, which the opposition parties might have instigated as early as Monday, is antithetical to this. The prime minister is therefore properly requesting that Parliament be prorogued, a request the Governor General should grant.

Wiser heads may then prevail. Should the government then fall on a confidence motion when the House reconvenes in January, and should a coalition replace it, it will have had the benefit of additional time for reflection. More importantly, it may reconsider its position entirely. Riddled with dangers, hidden and obvious, the Liberal/NDP coalition will depend for its support on a separatist faction that renders it inherently unstable; worse, a coalition that has little representation in Western Canada but that will use the proceeds of its powerful economic engine to prop up antiquated or failing economies in the East can only reawaken western separatist sentiment and the possibility of another kind of national unity crisis.

If, as anticipated, the government does eventually fall on a confidence motion, the Governor General will have to decide whether to allow a coalition government or call another election. According to Roger Gibbons of the Canada West Foundation, she has a third option – that is to require Parliament to go back to the drawing boards and work something out. Clearly, this is the best option. Determined effort will be required on both sides but, failing that, and with national unity implications hovering over any coalition government, the only remaining option is an election. This has the added benefit of distancing Michaelle Jean from the controversies that marred her original appointment. The last thing Canada needs is a crisis around the office of the governor general.

Much, then, is at stake in these constitutionally challenging times. The strategies of a talented prime minister’s leadership have been tested and found wanting. His failings, it must be said, are merely those of a higly competitive intelligence. On so large a stage, they have been amplified and with potentially dire consequences. That the opposition has reacted disproportionately, matters little now. He may of course recover, ideally by co-operating with opposition parties on creating a new budget proposal, though an overwrought stimulus package has its dangers too.

Last night’s prime-time television address was timely and wise. A second address, perhaps after Christmas, that reassures the people, the markets and our trading partners, would allow him to explain the nature of the global downturn, where Canada is situated, why his government has taken the action that it has and why political stability is now so necessary. He can also demonstrate his pride in the political institutions that give expression to the will of the people. At times, he can further explain, hyperpartisanship casts them in a poor light but at all times, they assure peace, order and good government and whatever the outcome of this current crisis, they will continue to do so.

In the sandbox on the hill that sometimes passes for Parliament, the strengths and weaknesses of its principal players must finally accede to the political institutions on whose integrity Canada stands or falls. Some breathing space and a little humility from all quarters is now surely in order.

MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.

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