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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

O Canada!

Even as Americans generally express satisfaction with Barack Obama’s handling of the transition to a new administration, up north across the border, the typically calm and civil Canadians are undergoing a political crisis of an unprecedented intensity.
In case you haven’t heard, three opposition parties (the centrist Liberals, the social-democratic New Democratic Party, and the quasi-separatist Bloc Quebecois) have formed an extremely rare coalition (the first since World War I) that will probably topple a Tory minority government which won a plurality of votes in the October 14 national elections.
The precipitating event was the announcement last month of an economic package by Stephen Harper’s government that did not include significant steps to stimulate the struggling economy, but did include a couple of stick-in-the-eye measures aimed at reducing the financial and political base of the opposition (a reduction in subsidies for political parties–essential to opposition parties–and a temporary ban on public sector strikes).
The opposition coalition, which would give the Liberals the prime minister’s post and the NDP significant cabinet representation, has a spare majority in the House of Commons, and intends to force a no-confidence vote as early as next week (a step the government could delay, but only until January, by adjourning Parliament). At that point, the Governor General of Canada, a Liberal appointee, would probably invite the coalition to form a government, though she could call for new elections (unlikely given the proximity of the October 14 vote). Complicating the situation is the fact that the new PM would be lame-duck Liberal leader Stephane Dion. Liberals have scheduled a leadership selection convention for May, and the winner would duly replace Dion as PM.
Though most Tories appear to concede that Harper has bungled his way into this situation, their rhetoric about these developments is extraordinary by Canadian standards. Aside from predictable talk about “antidemocratic coups” and “banana republic tactics,” there’s lots of shrieking about the perfidy of Liberals forming a coalition with the “socialist” NDP and the “treasonous” BQ.
Over the years I’ve heard a lot of anxious talk from progressives in Canada about the gradual migration of hyper-polarized Rovian political rhetoric from conservatives in the U.S. to their counterparts Up North. I’d say it’s arrived.

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