Of Marrying for Money and the Liberal Loop-hole

December 1, 2008 by  

It’s an old theme, retold in many stories. Single meets Prospect who is not all that attractive or charming. Prospect is perfectly honest with Single. However, having misunderstood a conversation Single was listening-in on, Single thinks Prospect is (or is going to be) exceptionally rich. Single convinces him/herself that he/she loves Prospect. Prospect asks Single to marry him/her. Single accepts. They are to be wed. Single really believes he/she loves Prospect or, at least, he/she really wants to believe it. Then Single learns that Prospect is not rich – and is not going to be rich – after all. Not wanting to believe that his/her feelings toward Prospect were not genuine; not wanting to believe that he/she was, subconsciously, attracted by money, Single is torn about whether to go through with the wedding after all. If Single does marry Prospect, the marriage may very well amount to a life of loveless misery and guilt. If Single does not marry Prospect, Single will either have to lie to everyone about why he/she has changed her mind or he/she will face their condemnation and – worse – Single will have to conclude that he/she is a shallow person who is willing to marry not for love but for money. Ultimately, Single wishes he/she had never overheard the conversation that led him/her to believe that Prospect was rich.

Such is the nature of the current situation in Canadian federal politics. For those who find the news over the last couple of weeks to be a bit dizzying. Here’s the condensed version, with some comment, and with some recommended spin for the Conservatives and Liberals.

On Wednesday, November 19th, 2008, the Governor General read out the government’s speech from the throne. The speech included no bail-outs or corporate welfare (in weasel-speak: no “economic stimulus”) of any note. The opposition parties said that they wanted it to include economic stimulus. However, following the speech, Liberal leader Stéfane Dion said that, even though the speech lacked an economic stimulus plan, his party would support the throne speech. Not doing so would be a matter of no confidence in the government and could trigger another election. Dion explained: “As there is nothing new in this throne speech, it would be irresponsible to bring the government down on this” and “It would be completely irresponsible to have an election now”.

NDP leader Jack Layton said that his party would not support the throne speech because it lacks the “bold action” that, he said, Canadians want. Just as he had been saying before losing the election a few weeks ago, he said that steady as she goes is not the approach needed right now.

The government had an “economic update” scheduled for 4:00 PM Thursday, November 27, 2008. By Wednesday, November 26, 2008, rumours had started to spread that the economic update would announce that the federal government would – as one of many government belt-tightening measures – end the $1.75-per-vote annual political party allowance that was introduced by the Liberal government of Jean Chretien in 2003 (the allowance is indexed for inflation, and now sits at about $1.95 per vote). The cut would hurt all parties. However, because Canadians voluntarily give more financial contributions to some parties than to others, parties with less voluntary support would be hurt most by the cut.

The annual cut to each party would be as follows:

  • Conservatives $10 million (37% of total party revenues)
  • NDP $4.9M (57% of total party revenues)
  • Liberals $7.7M (63% of total party revenues)
  • Green Party $1.8 million (65% of total party revenues)
  • Bloc Quebecois $2.6M (86% of total party revenues)

By Wednesday, November 26, the Liberal and NDP parties were extremely upset about the prospect of losing their allowance. Their early responses were, clearly, ones focussed primarily on the proposed elimination of the political party allowance. Here’s a sample:

Liberal Party president Douglas Ferguson: “That’s the majority of our funding and it just shouts to me that there may be a motivation there of more than just attempts to cut expenses for the government”.

NDP president Anne McGrath: “The whole point of the public financing of political parties was to put an end to corporate and union donations and to make the playing field a little bit more level and to make politics more transparent and accountable and fair”.

Liberal Finance critic Scott Brison: “During an economic crisis, Stephen Harper is more focused on putting the boots to his political adversaries than he is in helping vulnerable Canadians protect their jobs and their savings.”

Liberal party leadership contestant Bob Rae: the Conservatives are “…deliberately creating a political crisis in order to avoid dealing with an economic crisis”. There is “no public policy benefit at all” in scrapping the political party allowance. “It’s just absolute bloody-minded meanness that’s motivating them and it can’t be allowed to stand.”

NDP leader Jack Layton: “Instead of an immediate stimulus package to attack the recession, this government is apparently going to attack democracy.”

Before the economic update was even released, the opposition parties were discussing the possibility of ejecting the Conservative government and replacing it with a Liberal-NDP government having the support of the Bloc Quebecois. Yet, on November 27, immediately after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty delivered his economic update, the Speech from the Throne passed with Liberal Party support: Dion had, after all, said that he would support the throne speech because even though it contained no economic stimulus, because voting against it would bring down the government, and bringing down the government could trigger an election that nobody wants.

By the afternoon of Friday, November 28, 2008, the Liberals had prepared a motion of no confidence in response to the economic update (remember how Single, believing Prospect to be rich, agreed to marry Prospect?). However, the opposition parties had all begun denying that their objection to the economic update was its proposal to eliminate the political party allowance (remember how Single told him/herself, and others, that he/she wasn’t marrying for the money?). They knew that Canadians would never forgive them for bringing down the government and putting Canadians through another election if the reason for the no confidence motion was a self-serving attempt to keep their political parties on life support. So they started to exclaim that the political party allowance was not what motivated them: it was the lack of a fiscal stimulus plan that was forcing them to bring a non-confidence motion.

Now, keep the following in mind, because it is KEY: November 28th was one day after the Liberals voted in favour of a Throne Speech that lacked an economic stimulus. The Liberals want us to believe that it would be “irresponsible” to bring down the government over a throne speech that lacks economic stimulus, but that it is absolutely imperative to bring down the government over an economic update that lacks economic stimulus (even though the economic update was released minutes before the throne speech passed).

Sensitive to the fact that the public would doubt the nature of their motive in bringing the no confidence motion, the Liberals put out a media release on Saturday, November 29, 2008 in which Finance critic Ralph Goodale is quoted as saying:

The political financing changes were never the issue. The economy has always been the issue…Instead of coming up with a plan to help our economy through this recession, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is trying to engineer a constitutional crisis to distract Canadians from his government’s reckless economic policies that have put the country into deficit…At a time when every other Western industrialized nation is moving forward with packages to stimulate their economies, all the prime minister has brought to the table is ideological cuts and attacks on the rights of Canadians — nothing to help our economy.

Meanwhile, the Liberal-NDP coalition talks continued behind closed doors.

Then, in a move strangely reported by virtually every newspaper to be a “climb-down” or a “u-turn” from a “miscalculation“, the Conservatives called the Liberals’ bluff. Conservative Transportation Minister John Baird announced that the political party allowance cut would be removed from the update: parties would continue to get their money (remember how Single discovered that Prospect was not rich after all?).

There was no turning back for the opposition parties. If they decided not to go ahead with their motion, they could no longer get away with the ridiculous claim that their motion had not been motivated by a the proposed cut to party funding (remember how, if Single changed his/her mind and didn’t marry Prospect, Single would be exposed as a person willing to marry for money?). So, now, we are all faced with a motion of no confidence that the opposition claims is needed because the economic update does not contain huge bail-outs and corporate welfare. And, it will be noted, the motion is being promoted by one party that – only a few weeks ago – campaigned on increasing corporate taxes (the NDP) and by another that planned to increase the GST and impose huge new carbon taxes (the Liberals).

It is yet to be seen whether the public wants this motion to be successful. It is not even clear that the Liberal leadership front-runner Michael Ignatieff – who already has the support of the majority of sitting Liberal MPs – wants the motion at all. Only yesterday (November 30), Ignatieff was on CTV laying all responsibility for the motion on current Liberal leader Stéfane Dion. Ignatieff essentially claimed he would be doing whatever he was told, by Dion, to do.

Late last night, it was being reported that Ignatieff does not want the motion to go ahead because – if a Liberal-led coalition were the ultimate result – it could leave him the Prime Minister of a broken coalition government overseeing a severely sick economy. CTV reported that Ignatieff met with other Liberal leadership contestants on Sunday (November 30) in a meeting intended to get them all singing the same tune. This morning (December 1, 2008), the National Post is reporting that Ignatieff is now supporting the motion in exchange for an agreement that he will get to be interim party leader.

Meanwhile, Jack Layton sees it all quite differently. The Conservatives yesterday released a tape of a conference call – to which one of their members had been invited, for some reason – in which Jack Layton essentially says or implies that he and the Bloc Quebecois had a pre-arranged agreement to boot the Conservatives from power and replace them with a Bloc-sponsored NDP-Liberal coalition government as soon as an opportunity presented itself. For Jack, it arguably really was about the absence of an economic stimulus: the political party funding cut – which he could not have liked, mind you – was primarily just the excuse he was looking for for carrying his plan into execution. Jack, in essence, wants the Governor General to give him the government that Canadian voters denied him.

On November 28, 2008, the government delayed the Liberal motion to December 8, 2008. This gives everyone the time needed for voters to catch-up and learn what is happening and why. It also gives the Liberals some time to think of a way to back out of the marriage – er, um the no confidence motion – while somehow saving face and not confirming that it really always was about self-serving party funding all along.

If the Conservatives are awake at the switch, they will know that most Canadians will not take the time to understand everything that has happened over the last few days, and why. What they will know is simply this: the opposition parties have brought a motion to defeat the government over a lack of economic stimulus. The right response for the Conservatives is:

The Liberals said it would be irresponsible to bring down the government over its decision not to engage in a massive borrow-and-spend plan. One day later, they brought a motion to do what they said would be irresponsible. Why? Because they learned that they had something to gain if they did the irresponsible thing. They learned that Jack Layton had a back-room deal with the Bloc that would allow the Liberals and NDP to over-ride the election results and seize power by means of a constitutional technicality – a “Liberal loophole”. The Liberals and NDP have decided that because you did not elect them into power, they will go over your head and seize power by having the Governor General give them the government.

The right response for the Liberals is:

By threatening to bring down this government on a vote of no confidence, we have forced the Conservative government to deliver its budget two months sooner than it otherwise would have. We have gotten them to back down on self-serving, anti-democratic plans to make politics a game in which the monied interests call the shots. We have gotten them to back down on an attack on the public sector worker. The will of the people is the Liberal party’s highest concern. The people do not want the risk of another election and, by supporting the throne speech, the Liberals have already taken steps to avoid an unwanted election. Given the success our motion has already had, we see no need actually to bring it to a vote. We remain concerned about this government’s lack of timely response to the current crisis, but we feel it would be most prudent to assess the coming budget before the fate of the Conservative government is decided.

Put another way: “I regret I must withdraw my agreement to marry you because, since agreeing, you’ve changed”.


2 Responses to “Of Marrying for Money and the Liberal Loop-hole”

  1. Doug H. on December 1st, 2008 6:02 pm

    I would emigrate from Canada if this power-grab passes, but where else would I go? Maybe Thailand would prove to have more stable political climate.

  2. Brent on December 4th, 2008 8:33 am

    I’m surprised Bob Rae doesn’t see how this ends his leadership bid. No Liberal will feel comfortable voting him leader while in a coalition with the NDP. Besides, that would be two leaders from Toronto running the country. If any liberal should break this coalition it should be him. Wouldn’t be hard for him to do, just paint Dion as an ego out of control, say something about the concessions he has heard will be given to the Bloc and NDP and he can’t support that.

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