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Constitutional Chicken

Paul Wells writes the following about Stephen Harper's threats against the Throne Speech:

Part of me wants the Liberals to fall, not out of particular animus against the current regime (cross my heart!) but because the spectacle of even a tacit Harper-Duceppe alliance would render the Conservatives radioactive in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, at the very least, for a generation, and for the life of me I can't understand why Stephen Harper, who used to be an intelligent man, can't figure that out.

On the other hand, Kevin Brennan wrote this about Jack Layton, who is resisting the amendments proposed by Harper and Duceppe:

Ironically, the amendments are completely compatible with the NDP platform. Layton is falling into the old trap that has frequently doomed the NDP to irrelevance in the past. He's sacrificing strategic advantages for his party in an attempt to keep the Conservatives away from power. He should be letting the Liberals worry about that.

If the Liberals are always preferable to the Conservatives, then what exactly is the NDP for? Either you try to get your hands on the levers of government or you focus on getting issues into the national spotlight, with the expectation that other parties will actually act on them. By shooting down these amendments, Jack is working against both these objectives, and pushing his party back towards irrelevance.

Which leaves me feeling that Harper and Duceppe and playing a better tactical game than Layton is. If all opposition leaders behaved the way Jack Layton seems to be this week, there would be no difference between a Martin minority and a Martin majority.

As far as I see it, Harper's push to make amendments to the throne speech is a smart play. As he pushes the point that this is a minority government, his notion that the other parties should be consulted becomes reasonable. In fact, I think that if the government falls tonight at 6:30, Harper would have a chance of forming a government without the stigma of close BQ collaboration. His stance would be, "Paul Martin has proven himself too arrogant to lead a government that reflects the wishes of other parties in this split Parliament. I can and will do that job."

And, contrary to Martin's extra-constitutional assertions otherwise, we would not need to have another election immediately if the Liberals blow it tonight.



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