There is important news from Quebec this week. Gilles Duceppe, the leader of the Bloc Québécois, says that reports of the death of the coalition are greatly exaggerated.
He denies that it has been weakened by the surprising emergence of Michael Ignatieff as interim Liberal leader. And he has been unfazed by a poll that shows more Canadians would prefer an election than a coalition government.
So he thinks the coalition is solid, sensible and viable. No one should ever say that Duceppe doesn’t have a sense of humour.
The coalition? Do you remember the coalition?
It was created by the Bloc, the New Democrats and the Liberals before Christmas. It was a smart response to the government’s ineptitude — from its paralysis on the economy (no stimulus, no deficit) to ending public subsidies for political parties (bankrupting the opposition).
It had a short, happy life, the coalition did, and it served its purpose brilliantly. It unified and mobilized the opposition against an arrogant government and forced its retreat. It humbled Stephen Harper, if that is possible.
It forced the intervention of the Governor General, who allowed the prime minister to prorogue Parliament and avoid a vote of non-confidence that he would have lost. And it forced the Liberals immediately to oust Stéphane Dion, cancel their long leadership race and crown Ignatieff. Not bad.
But that’s history now. Today, six weeks on, if Harper were to seek an election from the Governor General — rather than have her request that the opposition parties form a government — he would get an election that he would probably win.
But Harper also knows the risks of an early election. He has hurt himself in Quebec, leaving an opening for a reinvigorated Liberal party. That’s why he has reversed himself so dramatically on the economy, preparing a strong stimulus package with a swelling deficit.
This won’t be enough for Duceppe, or for the New Democrats, who have the luxury of opposing it. But it will be more than enough for Ignatieff, the hawks in his camp notwithstanding.
The Liberals will support the Conservatives, the budget will pass, and the government will govern. The Liberals will begin to renew themselves, which will take time.
The coalition was always more a tactic than a strategy, a spicy Christmas confection, but it’s now as dead as Jacob Marley.