Dictator!

Listening to Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez (Honoré-Mercier) talk, you’d think Stephen Harper is stomping around Ottawa, jackbooted and uniformed, riding crop in hand, barking orders at his minstrels. “He’s acting like a dictator,” Rodriguez said during an Oct.

Listening to Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez (Honoré-Mercier) talk, you’d think Stephen Harper is stomping around Ottawa, jackbooted and uniformed, riding crop in hand, barking orders at his minstrels. “He’s acting like a dictator,” Rodriguez said during an Oct. 4th interview on Radio-Canada. “He’s acting as if he was in a majority situation.” Now, exaggerations aside, the former president of the Quebec wing of the Liberal party might have a point.
Indeed, one of the distinguishing features of a dictatorship is a lack of cohesive political opposition. This is nearly the case in Ottawa. And Rodriguez has his party to blame for that.
With any possibility of being elected to office having been quietly brushed aside for Stéphane Dion, the careful quick-trigger balance of minority government in Ottawa is proving meaningless. Sure, Harper needs at least one opposition party’s votes to stay in power; but who cares? Who can replace him? It’s win-win for him: strong-arm the opposition into approving his Throne speech, and he stays in power with at least a parliamentary session’s worth of life left – and gets to run the country as he sees fit. Lose the Throne speech vote, and he gets to sit back and watch the Liberals get electorally slaughtered and the Bloc weaken in Quebec. Who wouldn’t act like a majority PM in those circumstances?
In fact, a good bet is that Harper would feel a tinge of disappointment if he ever won the Throne speech vote. Such a golden opportunity to strike when his opponent is in disarray seldom knocks twice.
But a quick look at parliamentary math might comfort Conservative hearts. All three opposition parties have vowed to bring down the government if Harper’s Throne speech does not reaffirm that Canada will cease combat operations in Kandahar in 2009.
On Oct. 3, during his first conference at the National Press Theater since taking power, Harper said that he will not do that.
The NDP – bolstered by its first victory in Quebec in almost twenty years on September 17- has no interest in approving the speech, and will likely vote against it; and although the Bloc lost some weight in Quebec in the September by-elections, it can’t afford to look weaker than it already is after its leader’s laughable ballet-hop into the provincial sphere this summer – it will also block the speech.
All that’s left between Harper’s bellicose majority-style government and the population is Dion’s divided troops. Can Dion lead his party through an election in any conceivably credible way within the next few months?
Or will he dare order all but a handful of his MP’s to abstain from voting in order to let the speech go through? In any case, the Liberals would come out sore losers.
And so, the Liberals complain that Harper is acting like a dictator – but why not stop him? The opposition’s role – rather, responsibility – is to do just that. And in a minority situation, the opposition is supposed to hold the cards.
But the only pan-national party with the broad electoral base and deep resource wells needed to seek government is somewhere else, lost in its own increasingly public infighting, content to yell “dictator!” and then do nothing about it.
It’s like the hunter crying wolf, then going calmly back to bed, to dream of more peaceful times.

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