Stephen Harper has said that the budget deal negotiated yesterday with the governing party and the 4th party in Parliament is actually "a deal with the devil", a bare-faced Liberal bid to buy votes and time, and "the most disgraceful thing I've seen in all my years on Parliament Hill."
Unfortunately, none of that makes any sense at all.
In fact what happened yesterday is standard operating procedure for a minority government. The only difference is the AdScam stink in the air. But as far as minority government budgets go, this is exactly how it is supposed to be done... the governing party is supposed to make compromises for the opposition parties in order to create a budget document that is capable of winning enough votes to pass.
When the original budget was introduced, Stephen Harper said he was going to support it because "If you look at the major initiatives in this budget ... they're really tax reduction and increases in national defence, which are pretty close to the things we were advocating in the last election."
It has since become clear that the Conservatives wouldn't be supporting that budget because they want to bring the government down and have an election. That is certainly their right and I can't criticize them for it. I may even agree. But if the Conservatives aren't going to vote for the budget, Martin has no choice but to negotiate with other parties to win their support. And the easiest way to do that is to drop some of the polices that were aimed at winning CPC votes in Parliament and trade them off for new policies aimed at winning other votes in Parliament. That's exactly what happened.
So, no this deal is not the "most disgraceful thing" that's happened since Stephen Harper has been on Parliament Hill. It's not disgraceful at all... it's how minority governments are supposed to work. And besides, I bet any Conservative supporter could make a very long list of more disgraceful things.
Last night I wrote that Layton scored in landing this deal. Harper better watch out or he could turn Martin into a winner on this one too.
The smartest tactic Martin could adopt right now is get out there and start selling this budget to the public. Not just this new adjustment, but the complete budget. It would not be impossible for him to sell the idea that this is a good budget and deserves to be passed. It also plays into the strengths of his pre-PM reputation. If the debate over the next month is over whether or not this is a good budget that should be passed, Martin can (temporarily) turn the tables on Harper because this is a winnable argument.
I still think it makes more sense for Harper to bring the Liberals down in a non-confidence motion that is based on AdScam and general ability to govern, rather than this budget. If I were him I might even go so far as to let this budget slip through a close vote if they can't get their own non-confidence motion on the floor first. I don't think he wants the election to start with Paul Martin saying, "The government has fallen because Stephen Harper and the separatists have voted down my budget. Dear voter, don't you think it was a good budget?"