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Coalition Not Ready for Prime Time

NDP, Liberals will pay big for what looks like a failed gamble.

By Bill Tieleman 5 Dec 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. Tieleman can be heard Mondays at 10 a.m. on the Bill Good Show on CKNW AM 980 or at www.cknw.com. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog at http://billtieleman.blogspot.com.

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Cartoon by Ingrid Rice.

The proposed coalition government is not ready for prime time -- or for the Canadian people.

The best laid plans of the federal Liberals and New Democrats for a coalition government supported by the Bloc Quebecois now lie dashed almost completely.

Earlier this week in a Tyee article, I argued that: "All political parties appear to have lost their collective minds."

But in fact, four separate national polls show that a majority of Canadians believe only the opposition went nuts -- and they want to punish them for it.

The polls all draw the same conclusion -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives would destroy the opposition and win a "massive" majority government if an election were held.

The polls also show Canadians absolutely do not want to be governed by lame duck Liberal leader Stephane Dion -- our putative YouTube Prime Minister whose amateur hour, late, hand-held Super 8 video to the nation on Thursday made it clear why he badly lost the recent election.

Now some Liberal MPs are publicly abandoning the coalition plan, and with Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean's decision to grant Harper's request for a seven-week proroguing of Parliament until Jan. 26, the likelihood of a confidence vote installing Dion as PM is remote.

Backlash against NDP, Grits?

But what isn't far off is a day of reckoning for the Liberals and NDP, who seriously misjudged public opinion as they hatched the coalition plan.

The polls by Ipsos-Reid, the Strategic Counsel, Ekos and Compas are quite consistent. The Conservatives have national support in the range of 44 to 51 per cent, the Liberals are at between 20 and 24 per cent and the NDP at 10 to 14.5 per cent.

Even worse for the opposition, the Ipsos-Reid and Strategic Counsel polls both had 60 per cent of Canadians opposed to replacing the Conservative government with a Liberal-NDP coalition backed by the BQ.

Compas found that 66 per cent of those polled oppose the Bloc Quebecois having any say in who forms a national government.

Ipsos-Reid found that 62 per cent were "angry" with the coalition's attempt to remove the Conservative government just weeks after a federal election.

Only 34 to 37 per cent of those polled supported the coalition idea, and 56 per cent in Ipsos-Reid survey said they would prefer to have an election than be governed by the opposition -- a result which would of course lead to a Conservative majority.

Bad news rolls in

To top matters off, today it was announced that Canada lost 71,000 jobs in November -- the biggest one-month job loss since the 1982 recession 26 years ago. StatsCan also reported that the national unemployment rate has jumped to 6.3 per cent, with Ontario losing a stunning 42,000 factory jobs last month.

And today, three Canadian soldiers lost their lives in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan, marking 100 military deaths there.

These two tragic stories of workers losing their work and soldiers losing their lives will likely further convince Canadians that their members of Parliament from all parties have their priorities completely wrong -- and make them even less likely to tolerate any efforts of the opposition to push Harper out of office.

The Conservatives were judged to be the best managers of the economy in troubling times by 60 per cent of those polled by Ipsos-Reid.

And Ipsos-Reid also found that getting rid of public funding of political parties -- the lightning rod for the opposition strike against the Conservatives, who proposed exactly that -- is actually supported by 61 per cent of Canadians -- they don't want taxpayer dollars going to the parties.

Canadians blame Harper, too

Is there any good news for the Liberals or NDP?

Just a little. When asked who is responsible for this captivating political car crash, 49 per cent blamed the Conservatives and 45 per cent the opposition, says Ipsos-Reid.

And 45 per cent of respondents say the root of the crisis was indeed the battle over public funding for political parties, while 44 per cent saw it as a fight over economic stimulus -- or lack thereof.

What happens next? The Conservatives will use their superior private fundraising ability to continue running a heavy dose of negative advertising to further seal the coalition coffin right through until they present a budget on Jan. 27.

That budget, one suspects, will look nothing like their do-nothing for the economy but smash our enemies statement that began the battle -- and will be very hard for any of the opposition parties to reject.

Meanwhile, Liberal MPs who had a good look at impending disaster when they tuned in to Stephane Dion's amateur home video are now realizing there is no way putting their outgoing leader into office for at most three and a half months will do anything but further sewer the party.

Outspoken Scarborough-Agincourt Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis said what others are clearly thinking, saying of the coalition that: "I cannot see it holding together" and that he wants Mr. Dion to leave "sooner than later."

"Unfortunately, Mr. Dion didn't do so good in the last election. We bombed. And he didn't do so good last night. And we bombed again," Karygiannis said of Dion's "YouTube" appearance on national television.

Strategic retreat?

The Liberals are likely to realize Dion must go and soon if they are to have any chance to defeat the Conservatives in Parliament and replace them without an election -- if that's even remotely possible.

More likely the new Liberal leader -- with Michael Ignatieff the odds-on favourite over Bob Rae and Dominic LeBlanc -- will decide that it is best for Harper to wear the oncoming recession for a year or more and will pick a better time to defeat the Conservatives and force an election they can win.

The New Democrats and leader Jack Layton will have a bitter Christmas, getting a lump of coal instead of the tantalizingly close chance of six cabinet spots in the coalition government.

But even worse, the NDP now faces the challenge of explaining to supporters why they were willing to jettison key 2008 election positions -- like wanting Canadian troops out of Afghanistan and opposing $50 billion in corporate tax cuts that both the Conservatives and Liberals supported -- to install Stephane Dion as Liberal prime minister.

The Liberal Party knows what it can and must do in the next election, whenever that happens -- eviscerate the NDP once again as an irrelevant third party with no hope of holding power and every chance of splitting votes to let the Conservatives win again.

It's standard Liberal strategy and like a great joke, it never gets old.

But it will be even more deadly for the NDP.

Who won? The Bloc

Does anyone win big? Likely the Bloc Quebecois, which could still benefit in the unlikely event the coalition is re-born in the new year and which otherwise has seen Stephen Harper rashly denounce them repeatedly in order to trash the coalition partners.

Gilles Duceppe has cemented his position as the only truly great strategist in the House of Commons, ensuring the Bloc will be a force to be reckoned with in yet another divisive federal election.

Further, Duceppe has ensured that once again Quebec will be the recipient of maximum federal largesse -- either from a repentant Harper trying to hold the few Quebec seats he has or the coalition paying off its part of the bargain.

And so the holiday season begins with very little good cheer in Ottawa or across the country politically -- except for ordinary Canadians who will now focus on rum, egg nog, Christmas trees, Boxing Day sales -- anything but politics as unusual.

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