In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

The coalition case

Posted 1/13/2009 by Grant Mitchell


A reader recently wrote to say that I have been too focused on criticizing the Conservatives (they are a target rich environment) and not enough on Liberal policy. He is right and I will make an effort to adjust.

With that in mind I thought I would give you some thoughts on the coalition which is clearly a policy  development of great magnitude.

There are a number of reasons why the federal Liberals have participated in the development of a coalition.

1. The overwhelming reason for the coalition is the lack of any stimulus in the Fiscal Update.

Canadians are losing jobs, and retirees’ incomes are evaporating. Canada is the only member of the OECD that has not provided a stimulus package.

The government in its defense has said that they brought in tax cuts two and three years ago as stimulus initiatives. Clearly, they have not worked or we would not be in the economic crisis that we are experiencing now.

2. The fiscal update also announced that the prohibition of public sector strikes and the capping of public sector pay. These were proposed in spite of the collective agreement signed just days before with private unions.

3. The fiscal update also called for prohibiting the Human Rights Commission from hearing pay equity cases before the Human Rights Commission. They made the point that those with a grievance of this sort could use the collective bargaining process despite having just overruled the public sector agreement that was the product of the collective bargaining process.

The coalition grew out of frustration with this. It had a very specific policy effect in clearly causing the Conservatives to draw back from these initiatives and state they will bring out a much more reasonable stimulus package.

Michael Ignatieff has offered several policy suggestions for stimulus including aggressive infrastructure funding and tax cuts. I would add the proviso that the infrastructure funding should be geared to green infrastructure. He also makes the point that the government's role is to make policy suggestion and the opposition's is to evaluate those.

“The coalition if necessary; not necessarily the coalition.”

Since Mr. Harper has now abandoned the bulk of his fiscal update apparently in favor of developing a new budget, the ground has shifted somewhat. Mr. Ignatieff and the Liberal caucus are still absolutely prepared to defeat the government in a January confidence vote. However, when Liberals made the decision to vote the government down in early December, they had based this decision upon the lacking and provocative fiscal update.  Liberals will now be looking at a new and different budget in January.  It is only responsible to wait until we see that budget before a final decision can be made about whether to defeat the government on it.

Opposition in a parliamentary democracy has some ways to make their impact on policy initiatives. They may not be as direct as the government's. But they can be effective in changing policy. This coalition action was a policy in itself and the aftermath has altered the likelihood that the Conservatives will present a fiscal policy package much closer to Liberal preference.

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