News  A constitutional crisis

Canada’s political chaos tops world headlines

Last year’s turbulent political circus was topped off with a constitutional crisis in Ottawa, a failed proposal for Liberal-NDP coalition, and the Governor General – a representative of the Queen – proroguing parliament by request of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. For those of you who were holed up preparing for your exams, the Daily gives you its no-nonsense guide last month’s crisis, as Parliament gets ready to reconvene.

October 14: Canada elects a minority Conservative Government under Harper. Liberals lose 18 seats.

October 20: Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion says he will resign once the Liberals choose a replacement.

November 22: At an economic forum in Peru, Harper says that deficits are essential, after both he and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said during the election campaign that deficits are undesirable and damaging.

November 27: Flaherty releases a fiscal update which opposition parties criticize for lacking an economic stimulus package, removing the right for public servants to strike until 2011, and trimming essential public financing for opposition parties. All three opposition parties vow to vote against the update.

November 28: The Tories remove the party public financing cuts from the upcoming vote on the fiscal update. The opposition parties respond that they will bring down the government regardless, and the Liberals say they will use their December 1 opposition day to motion to bring down the Tories and propose a coalition government between the Liberals, NDP, and the Bloc Québécois, with Dion as Prime Minister. The Conservatives shift the opposition day to December 8.

November 29: The Tories back down from the anti-strike provision, but the coalition possibility remains on the table. Partisans on all sides express outrage, and pundits openly admit they have no idea what will happen next.

November 30: Word leaks from several “anonymous Liberal sources” that Dion’s most likely successor, Michael Ignatieff, is uneasy with the coalition, while the other leading Liberal candidate, Bob Rae, supports it. A Tory MP hands the media a taped conference call with all NDP MPs where NDP Leader Jack Layton says that “This whole thing would not have happened if the moves hadn’t have been made with the Bloc to lock them in early.”

December 1: The three opposition leaders sign an accord for a Dion-led Liberal-NDP coalition government until June 2011, with the Bloc promising support in confidence matters until June 2010. The Liberals would get 18 of the 24 cabinet minister posts, while the remaining six to the NDP – their first time in Cabinet.

December 2: Governor General Michaëlle Jean cuts short an official visit to Central Europe, announcing she will return to Ottawa the next morning. Rumours circulate that Harper might “prorogue” (i.e. suspend) Parliament to let heads cool, bringing it back in January or later. A full-blown constitutional crisis erupts around whether Jean would be forced to follow Harper’s request to suspend or dissolve Parliament, whether she could ask for a demonstration of confidence in the Government from the House of Commons, and whether she could ignore him and allow the coalition to govern.

December 3: Canadians rally for and against the proposed coalition, with people demonstrating in the cold, calling radio stations, and organizing on Facebook and blogs to denounce the coalition or explain its necessity. Harper addresses the country on TV at 7 p.m., while Dion’s reply comes nearly half an hour late with the production values of a webcam, putting a dent in the coalition’s credibility.

December 4: After a two-hour conversation, the Governor General agrees to prorogue Parliament at Harper’s request, stopping the opposition from bringing down the government and making this 16-day Parliamentary session the sixth-shortest in Canadian history, with the only shorter sessions being held during the two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the Pacific Scandal of 1873.

December 8: Dion resigns for the second time in two months and Liberal executive decides it can’t wait until April to select a new leader. Later that evening the polls close in the ongoing provincial election, in which Quebec Premier Jean Charest barely grabs a majority after a late surge for the Parti Québécois, many believe an exemplification of soft nationalist voters’ anger over separatist Bloc MPs being called illegitimate by the Tories and much of English Canada.

December 9: Bob Rae is the final Liberal leadership candidate to drop out, leaving Michael Ignatieff as the winner by acclamation. Although the opposition leaders keep their mouths tight, most agree that the coalition has lost its opportunity to gain power.

To Come

Parliament will be reconvened on January 26, with the budget to be presented the following day. Stay tuned for all the action.

– compiled by Nicholas Smith