End the games

  • December 4, 2008
{mosimage}How soon they forget. Remember back, way back, to Oct. 14? We had this thing called a federal election. A certain Conservative politician was re-elected as prime minister of Canada. And in his acceptance speech, he promised to work in a spirit of compromise with the opposition parties on behalf of all Canadians in the face of an almost unprecedented economic crisis.

And a certain Liberal leader also promised he, too, would co-operate with the competition to make Parliament work. In fact, so did the leaders of the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democrats.
What happened? Is there something in the water this fall flowing out of the taps on Parliament Hill? Do they think no one is watching?

The trouble began in late November with the much-anticipated economic statement from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. With the global economy in upheaval — and Canada far from immune — anxious Canadians looked forward to a careful and compassionate statement about what could be done by the government to deal with the situation. Earlier comments by both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Flaherty had reinforced the expectation that they would take a non-partisan approach.

Those hopes were dashed by Flaherty’s plan. Real action was put off until a future budget. And, while a case can be made for prudence and the need to gather more information before acting, Flaherty undercut his credibility by including two elements that were both unnecessary and exceedingly partisan. Considering the fact that the federal public service has been fairly docile in recent years, there was no need to include a ban on strikes for public servants. Similarly, though there are problems with the current funding system for political parties, this was no time to introduce changes.

When the three failings — lack of real stimulus to the economy, a needless ban on strikes and the changes to party funding — were combined, they presented a credible case for the machinations by the opposition parties to topple the government and put in place a Liberal-NDP coalition supported by the BQ.

The government quickly backed down on its more egregious provocations, but the political turmoil continues. So instead of just facing an economic crisis, we now have a political crisis and a potential constitutional crisis to boot. Not a bad day’s work for our elected representatives, eh?

Unfortunately, this does not in any way serve the common good in Canada. All the political leaders in Ottawa need to put aside their own ambitions. Now is not the time to score points on the opposition or boost personal careers. Now is the time to agree that Canadians are most concerned — and rightly so — not about the composition of the House of Commons but about whether there will be jobs and solvent bank accounts for them next month.

The stakes for the country, particularly for those most voiceless in public policy — the unemployed, the poor, the young — are too high to be subject to political games.
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