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The Breakdown

by Archives February 3, 2009

After a month of suspense, the parliamentary crisis is now behind us. Now that the Liberals have decided to support the Conservative budget the coalition is officially dead, a fact of life Jack Layton is none too happy with.
By parcelling out deficit money in as many places as possible, Prime Minister Stephen Harper substituted his trickle-down philosophy for a trickle-all-around approach to the economy. We’ll see how the approach works out in the coming years, but an economy that’s laughing isn’t necessary one that’s happy or working.
Even though the Conservatives kept their government alive, the passing of the budget was anything but a victory for them. Budget 2009 was not Conservative; in fact it was probably more of a Liberal budget than what even Michael Ignatieff could have gotten away with. Moreover, spending-wise the budget is a blank slate. The money’s there and the acronyms are in place, but there’s no grand initiative or direction. If the opposition wants, they can decide where to spend the money and then take the credit afterwards.
After giving up on the financial dispute, the area where the Conservatives were supposed to be top dogs, the Conservatives don’t have much of an agenda left. Their justice (mandatory prison sentences for juvenile offenders), civil rights (record of opposition to gay marriage and abortion), culture (they’re still in trouble for disparaging remarks they made about the arts during the last election), and environmental (their plan has been described as backward and ignorant) portfolios aren’t that politically soluble in Canada and certainly won’t make it very far in the current House of Commons.
Last year the Conservatives pushed their agenda through the house by making everything a matter of confidence, forcing the Liberals to abstain rather than fight an election. While Ignatieff has the threat of the coalition in his back pocket (and he does), Harper won’t have that option this time around.
Even though Harper got his budget passed, he’s far from having the House’s confidence, in that respect the coalition is alive and well. If money matters are the only ones subject to confidence, the Conservatives can say goodbye to anything else they wanted to accomplish.
Layton was distraught on Wednesday after missing his shot at governing, but he threw in the towel too soon. If he writes some good common sense legislation, he’ll have a much better chance of getting Ignatieff to work with him than Harper will. After talking about respect and co-operation for so long, Layton was too quick to lambaste Ignatieff for letting the budget pass.
With the Tories effectively marginalized, this is Layton’s time to shine. So don’t step back Jack, reach for that olive branch and hold it out there; Ignatieff has just as much to gain from co-operating as you do.

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