Three and a half years ago, I grumbled about Stephen Harper’s dismissive and insulting attitude towards members of other parties. Not much has changed since then. Harper has repeatedly, and ever increasingly, shown himself to be belligerently divisive and utterly disrespectful towards any elected Member of Parliament not from his party, as well as to the Canadians who did not vote for his party. In a minority Parliament, this has proven damaging to the country and possibly fatal to his government.
In his mental construction of our constitutional framework, Harper was elected the President of Canada on the 14th of October. His opponents had been defeated: the soon-to-be leaderless Liberals greatly reduced in their seat count, the NDP making only modest gains, and the Bloc – as separatists – dismissed out of hand as always. To his binary world view, all that mattered in the end was that he had defeated them. A land in turmoil cried out for a hero. He was Harper, a mighty warrior economist forged in the heat of the Commons.
So when Harper’s attempts to ram the most extreme and partisan elements of his policy through the new Parliament met with genuine resistance, it is quite natural for him to claim (as he truly believes) that the opposition are overriding the results of the election. They lost. He won.
Except he didn’t.
At least, not in the way he thinks he did. Now, our system certainly has its faults, its lack of proportional representation high among them. But it is not so dysfunctional as to reward the Conservatives, with 38% public support, with a majority of seats in the House. Interpreting an uninspiring vote share and a mere plurality of the seats in the House as a “strengthened mandate” is fine as a bit of election night hubris. But governing on that basis is reckless and irresponsible. The election results may at best be interpreted as a rather modest approval of Harper as Prime Minister, but they did not in any way entitle him to the office. That power and privilege comes from only one source: commanding the support of a majority of the elected representatives of Canadians.
And how hard would that have been? The Liberals are not only broke financially, but they are also fresh out of political capital. They are taking a huge risk by forming government now. Getting them to agree to the government’s plan – any plan – for the next year would have been like convincing a starving man to accept a 12 ounce steak. Unless you go out of your way to poison the dish, it is not a hard sell. But that is, incredibly, what Harper chose to do: to come up with propositions so hostile, so utterly partisan and unacceptable, that the Liberals have been essentially forced into a desperate – and almost certainly damaging – coalition government as the only possible recourse. Bravo.
Harper has failed spectacularly in the relatively easy task of winning the support of any other party: “Socialists, separatists… Liberals!” When faced with the undeniable yet incomprehensible reality that Canadians did not, in reality, give him a majority mandate, Harper chose insult over dialogue and bullying over compromise.
That his main option for survival is to insulate himself from the review of the people’s elected representatives by proroguing Parliament speaks to which side has the superior claim to democratic principles. Continuing to govern based on his gravely mistaken belief that he was given that unqualified mandate would be so egregious as to undeniably require that the opposition took him down at the first opportunity, and go a long way to legitimizing the coalition in the public eye.
Given that he genuinely believes that the majority of MPs representing a majority of Canadians do not have the right to form a government responsible to them, I think prorogation is likely. If and when a coalition does form, Harper must expect that electorate will punish the parties involved. Having rejected the values of compromise, cooperation, and consensus-building, Harper thinks that Canadians will reject them as well. It will be difficult, but not impossible, for the new government to prove him wrong.