Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Political intrigue in Canada

In the United States we tend to look at Canada as our very polite, terminally boring northern neighbor, but a full-blown political fistfight is brewing in the Great White North, namely Canada's three opposition parties have cooked up a plan to oust Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party from power.

Harper just won reelection last month (and a note to American politicians, the entire campaign and election season in Canada lasted just SIX WEEKS!), building the Conservative Party's number of seats in Parliament and handing the Liberal Party one of its worst defeats ever. But Harper and the Conservatives didn't win enough seats for an outright majority in Parliament, so they were forced to set up a minority government.

If you're not quite sure how parliaments work, a brief recap. Ideally, one party will have a majority of the seats in a parliament, giving them the right to run the executive branch of the government - the prime minister's post, the cabinet, heads of different ministries, etc. A lot of times though one party doesn't get a majority, so it makes a deal with a smaller party to form a coalition to reach a majority and form a government. Then there is the situation that Harper has in Canada, where the Conservatives don't have a majority but instead of forming a coalition they have decided to rule as a minority government. This means that they have to get other parties to support them on important issues; if they lose a vote in parliament it can be taken as a vote of "no confidence" in the government, meaning they have to step down.

This is what's going on now in Canada. The three other parties in the Canadian Parliament - the Liberals, the New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois - have announced that next week they will hold a no confidence vote in Harper's government, bringing it down. They will then form a coalition to run the country in its place with Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion already picked as the new Prime Minister. Their reason for the vote is anger over how Harper is dealing with the economic crisis that is gripping Canada like most other places in the world.

Of course the Conservatives are up in arms over this plan, calling it "undemocratic" and suggesting it's something akin to a coup. They point out that the voters overwhelmingly rejected the Liberals just last month. To make matters worse Dion, in the wake of his party's big loss, already announced he'd step down from his post next May, a plan he intends to stick with even if he now becomes Prime Minister. Since the opposition parties are upset at Harper's plans (or lack of plans) to deal with the economic crisis, you have to wonder then if having three Prime Ministers in six months is really the best course of action.

I guess politics in Canada can be interesting after all.
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