Say what you want about the Westminster System, it does make for some interesting politics when it gets going.
When the Conservatives moved late last week to cut off the per-vote public funding that Chretien brought in as part of his donation cap system, it very quickly pushed the Liberals and NDP to a new level of desperation.
Harper, for his part, seems to have completely lost touch with the idea of his government being responsible to the House, instead governing from some imaginary majority mandate. To be fair, the Liberals under Dion have been so absurdly agreeable that it was a fairly good bet they would have agreed to almost anything; anything, that is, except for their own demise.
A collaborative coalition that actually works to build majority support, rather than just ramming things through by playing chicken with the Liberals on every vote, seems like a more positive way of doing things. A Liberal-NDP coalition would represent a significantly greater share of the popular vote than the current government, so it’s hard to buy Harper’s arguments that it constitutes a coup. Though the hypocrisy of Harper’s response — “That would be undemocratic! I hereby cancel Monday’s Opposition Day!” — was good for a laugh.
Will it happen? Now that Harper has dropped the party finance cuts, the main impetus is gone (unless you believe it really was about the lack of a stimulus package), and by moving the schedule back a week, he’s giving them time to cool down. Though it was born in desperation, the Liberals and NDP may have actually convinced themselves a coalition would work, and the prospect of moving into government next week may have given them a taste of blood that will spur them to move forward. I hope they do, even though it would be a risky venture. Our Parliamentary tradition is imperfect, but is at its most democratic when deals like this are made. If I were betting on it, though, I would put my money on an agreement between the Liberals and Conservatives to build a stimulus plan for the next budget, and the “Harper-Jean Affair” will not be one for the history books.