Saturday, August 8, 2009

An Important History Lesson Before Parliament Opens

Stephen Harper is in panic mode these days, back pedalling like hell trying to avoid an election, so he is once again pulling out his fall back 'coalition' threat, hoping to scare us over to his side.

Well it's not going to work this time, or at least it shouldn't. We may have been caught off guard during the Parliamentary crisis, and many Canadians believed that somehow the proposed coalition was undemocratic, but now in the light of day, we see just how hypocritical the Conservative campaign against it really was.

News of a similar plan in the works by one Stephen Harper in 2004, who wasn't ready to accept the results of the recent election, sheds a new light on the events. In an interview at the time with CBC's Evan Solomon, Harper skirts around the issue, but Mr. Solomon knew, as many did, that there was a coalition in the works. Though Harper repeatedly denies it, both Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton have confirmed that they had teamed up with Harper to take down Paul Martin at the throne speech.

What else could Stephen Harper have meant? A military takeover?

It's important to bring this issue up now for three reasons.

1. So that we do not allow the Conservatives to gain sympathy or unwarranted support by having us believe that they are being threatened by a 'coup', backed by separatists, because his coalition included Gilles Duceppe.

2. That we are more accepting of a coalition government should the Governor General decide to take that route if the Conservatives are defeated in a non-confidence vote in the fall.

3. That we recognize just how hypocritical this government can be, because most of their campaign against the proposed coalition was flat out lies.


Evan Solomon: Parliament opens on Monday, and in a sense you're the most powerful Opposition Leader in a generation and people want to know how you're going to use your power. So the fundamental question is: under what circumstances would you call a vote of non-confidence?

Stephen Harper: First of all, I can't forget my first responsibility - which is to be the Leader of the Opposition and that's to provide an alternative government. We've always said we'll support the government when they do things that we can accept, which you know the health accord. I supported the health accord, I called for the government to end the pay increase, they're going to do that, I'll support that, but in general my obligation is to provide an Opposition. It's the government's obligation to look really to the third parties to get the support to govern.

Solomon: But providing an Opposition in this case is very different from what Canadians have understood because your opposition could bring the government down. Are there trigger points that would bring the government down?

Harper: Well there are lots of things that could bring the government down, but my opposition can not bring the government down. The government can only be brought down because it alienates several parties in the House. And the first obligation in this Parliament, if the government wants to govern, it has to come to Parliament and it has to show that it can get the support of the majority of members, through the Throne Speech, through legislation, and through budget and supply, and the government to this point has made no effort to do that, but that's its first obligation.

Solomon: But you are a key player at that, let's not make any mistake - courting Stephen Harper is very important if it wants to stay in power, no?

Harper: We'll support the government on issues if it's essential to the country but our primary responsibility is not to prop up the government, our responsibility is to provide an opposition and an alternative government for Parliament and for Canadians. What the government has to do, if it wants to govern for any length of time, is it must appeal primarily to the third parties in the House of Commons to get them to support it.

Solomon: Alright, Tuesday is the Speech from the Throne. You've gone on record saying you will oppose it, or at least make amendments to it. Now tradition is that the Leader of the Opposition often does that.

Harper: Always...

Solomon: Right.

Harper: We can't find an instance of the Leader of the Opposition either almost always moving an amendment, but in any case opposing the Speech from the Throne, with or without an amendment.

Solomon: But it's always been a formality because of a majority...

Harper: Same thing's true in minority parliaments. The Leader of the Opposition's constitutional obligation - the obligation to Parliament - it's the reason we did the merger! - is to make sure Canadians have an alternative for government.

Solomon: But when does an amendment, if you pass an amendment, when does it function as a de facto confidence vote?

Harper: Well that's a matter of some debate - but I think the short answer is when the government won't accept it. And what I've been trying to do in the last.. over the summertime, is talk to the other parties and think about what would be agreeable to a lot of people. I don't think - we're just not going to go in and say ‘take our amendment or leave it,’ because we know such a thing would be rejected anyway.

Solomon: So what amendments do you have?

Harper: We're doing what governments should do, which is examine the Throne Speech - if I were Prime Minister, what I would have done is I would have talked to all three other parties extensively to find out what would pass in the Throne Speech, and what might not pass, and what they would like to see. The government has not done such an exercise, at least not to my knowledge.

Solomon: So do you know what's in the Throne…

Harper: I don't know what's in the Throne Speech. I only know in the vaguest terms - we were told on, a couple of days ago after the Throne Speech had been printed, we were told generally what was in it. The general description was that it was the Liberal Party platform from the election.

Solomon: So what amendments... are you proposing?

Harper: Well, I'll look at the specifics. You can be sure whatever amendments we propose will be consistent with what we believe and are not in the Throne Speech.

Solomon: But I'm just trying because this is important a detail - are some amendments deal breakers? In other words, if you propose an amendment and the Liberals reject it - does that mean we could have a confidence vote on the Throne Speech?

Harper: If the Liberals can't pass their Throne Speech, then they aren't able to form an effective government. But I think the Liberals have every opportunity to do that - what they've got to do is consult with people and make sure they tailor their program so that the majority of MPs in the House of Commons will actually vote for it.

Solomon: But you're saying they haven't consulted with you.

Harper: Well, they haven't consulted me, and I wouldn't expect them to extensively consult me, because I think they understand that it's not going to be the Official Opposition that props up the government, but my impression is they haven't done a lot of consultation with anybody. I've consulted pretty regularly with Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Layton to get a sense of what they're looking for - it's up to the government to do the same thing. If you want to be a government in a minority Parliament, you have to work with other people. (He forgot his own advice)

Solomon: Would you describe this government's position because of its lack of consultation as precarious?

Harper: I'd describe it more as arrogant. And I think the real problem that we're facing already is that the government doesn't accept that it got a minority. The Liberals think the natural state of affairs is a Liberal majority - they're not happy about this, they don't accept it and quite frankly, they're going to look for any opportunity to call an election. I can tell you that our party and I'm sure Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Layton from our conversations want Parliament to work - it's in the interests of the Opposition for this Parliament to go on for a while and be effective. It is only the government that wants to end this state of affairs and go to have another election.

Solomon: Are you suggesting that the Liberals are baiting you to call a confidence vote because they want another election and you don't want another election?

Harper: I think the government's strategy will be to have an election as soon as possible. Maybe not this fall, but I think the government wants an election.

Solomon: And you don't!

Harper: They can't stand having a minority. We accept that it's a minority - for all the other parties we've been in a kind of relatively powerless position for a long time. I think we're looking forward to the opportunity of having some influence for the next few years. And I'm happy to do that and continue to take the time to build and organize my party which, as you know, is relatively new. I think it's only the government that just can't stand this situation and wants out of it.

Solomon: Alright, where will we see the Conservatives’ stamp on the Liberal agenda - if you have this power, and if you have the power to influence, show me where we're going to see your fingertips - on what pieces of legislation?

Harper: You can see a couple of fingerprints already. The health accord that the prime minister ended up signing looked a lot more like my platform than his platform.

Solomon: But it's a huge victory for him - you have to concede, he's waving the flag saying we delivered.

Harper: Well, we'll see. Look, I'm happy with the health accord. The prime minister said he had a fix for a generation he was going to tell the provinces how to run health care, the truth is all he did was transfer money. There's some in his party who don't think it's a victory but I think it's the only way we could realistically go. On the payer...

Solomon: Let's just talk about that for one second... you know the old saying that success has a lot of fathers and failure's an orphan. Is it a success that you say he did it because of us and he says we did it because we're delivering on our promise - who gets credit for the victory then?

Harper: He did it let's be clear he did it because he has no, he went to a First Ministers Conference but had no plan for health care - that's why he did it. He did a deal that the provinces can live with, a deal that we can live with - the ball's now in the provinces' court, but if Mr. Martin now tries to go into the next election saying I've fixed health care for a generation - people are going to laugh. Because everyone knows that's not what it is, it's a transfer of money that allow the provinces to try to improve the system but there's no easy fix there.

Solomon: He says that it's a victory - he claims that he's delivering a major platform. A lot of people are surprised that you played ball so much on that. You sort of cooperated.

Harper: But the agreement, I say we're not gonna switch our position on the public. We ran on a platform. The agreement he signed looked an awful lot, not a 100% but an awful lot like what we had said was realistic. It didn't look anything like what the prime minister said he was going to do and I think that's something he's going to have to explain.

Solomon: Special status for Quebec. Charest is saying we got special status on this deal - people say Stephen Harper has been a champion of provincial rights and OPPOSED to special status. Why did you agree with that kind of configuration?

Harper: Mr. Charest called me before the deal was signed a couple of times and I said would this deal be something where every province can have its own rights respected and its own deal, is it equal for everybody. Mr. Charest said yes, and that's what's in the deal. It says that every province has a right to exercise its own jurisdictions to ask for its own side deal. Only Quebec chose to do that. I can't blame Quebec for doing that.

Solomon: So you're saying that it's not a special status deal that anyone could have had that special status.

Harper: Remember also that this is provincial jurisdiction. The nature of our constitution is that everyone is supposed to be able to do their own thing in their own area of jurisdiction. I don't consider that special status - but obviously Quebec got a side deal.

Solomon: But does it hurt you in Alberta? And say hey Quebec got its... what's the difference between asymmetrical federalism and special status and the old distinct society?

Harper: I think the only question in Alberta people have is why the Alberta government didn't ask for its own deal. Because it could have done so.

Solomon: Interesting.

Harper: And I can't blame Quebec for that.

Solomon: What other pieces of legislation will we see the Conservative fingerprints on.

Harper: Well we've already seen one right away which is the Liberals were trying to get this pay increase through the back door of a judges salary and of course we called for that to be nixed and the government's now promised to bring in legislation on that - beyond that I don't know

Solomon: Marijuana legislation?

Harper: The government hasn't told us very much about what it's legislative agenda is, I know almost nothing in specifics about what it's legislative agenda is so I'm waiting to see...

Solomon: A lot of legislation died on the floor when the Parliament was prorogued, and I'm thinking specifically about decriminalizing marijuana - if that gets re-brought in will you kill that? try to?

Harper: We had some debate in our caucus about our position in caucus about that - I think it's unlikely that we would support that bill.

Solomon: Unlikely.

Harper: Yeah...

Solomon: Wednesday the Supreme Court will debate same-sex legislation again. It's a hot-button issue in your party. What happens, what do you do now?

Harper: Well really it is in the hands of the courts now - my strong view is that this should be decided by the personal opinions of the 308 elected people, not the personal opinions of 9 appointed people, but this is the route the government's going it seems to me now just as a practical matter, now that the hearing will start, it's very difficult now for Parliament to intervene. I don't think frankly we're under much of an illusion about what the courts are going to rule, their views on this are pretty well-known but I think then we'll just have to see and then the government will have to take a decision on whether it's going to table legislation on this or not. It has legislation, it's just refused to send it to the House of Commons.

Solomon: If you'd like to see elected officials determine that - you're an elected official, how would you vote on that?

Harper: I've always been clear, I support the traditional definition of marriage. I have no difficulty with the recognition of civil unions for non-traditional relationships but I believe in law we should protect the traditional definition of marriage. That's my personal view I would say most in my caucus agree with that but there are some who don't and I've always said that on these kinds of moral issues, people have the right to their own opinions.

Solomon: If you were prime minister and the Supreme Court ruled in a way that you didn't agree with what would your response be?

Harper: It depends on the issue. I think generally speaking we take court rulings pretty seriously but I've said there are issues where, I've pointed to the child pornography decision, Supreme Court rulings that have made pornography easier to obtain in this country - we would probably take pretty strong legislative matters against some of those rulings.

Solomon: We're starting back in Parliament, we followed you for the election, if we had one day to do over again in the election, what day would it be?

Harper: I don't get into that second guessing of myself publicly. I think that we had a lot better campaign than people thought we were going to. There were very few people who thought we'd be in contention to win that election, and very few people even six months ago who thought the Liberals would be facing a minority - in fact we had polls telling us Paul Martin would be winning a record number of seats...

Solomon: But then there was polling and you said you could win a majority...!

Harper: Well now, no, I didn't say we could I said that was my objective. I didn't say we could, I think we were never more than 2 points ahead in any poll.

Solomon: But you were preparing for a majority..

Harper: I always will. I'm preparing now. It's the obligation of the Official Opposition to be prepared to form a government. We've still got a lot of work to do on that. I think we had on balance when the dust settles on balance we did a lot better than people'd expect. And I think everybody thinks we're going to do better next time - I haven't read a single columnist who suggests that we will probably do worse in the next election so I think that we are on the way up, the Liberals are on their way down and time will tell.

Solomon: Last bit of business here - Parliament gets back in session, you're the Leader of the Opposition - is there any trigger issue in the first week that we could see the Conservatives bring a confidence vote to this government?

Harper: Well we're going to put an amendment to the Throne Speech that's almost inevitable because as I say the chances of the government producing a Throne Speech that's exactly the speech we want are pretty low and it's the obligation of the Opposition to show its alternative.
Solomon: Could that be a confidence vote?

Harper: Yeah sure it could, absolutely...

Solomon: It could...

Harper:... But it will ultimately depend how the other parties vote including how the Liberals vote. The Liberals always have the option of endorsing something that we put forward.

Solomon: You met with the Governor General -

Harper: Yes I did

Solomon: You haven't commented much about that meeting...

Harper: By law I'm not allowed to, I'm a privy councilor, all my discussions with the Crown are supposed to be of the highest confidence until the day I die - I can't even tell my wife!

Solomon: Okay well let's skirt around the issue a little bit - are you preparing, do you have a plan in the event the government falls to form a government instead of calling an election? (yes this has been confirmed)

Harper: No such plan. Our plan is always to be ready to be an alternative government. But my assumption is the Liberals will make the compromises necessary to be a government in this Parliament.

Solomon: Now I've known you for a while, chance favors the prepared mind, no one would accuse you of not being a prepared mind. You're telling me you don't have a plan B in the event this government falls to a confidence vote - you haven't talked to other parties - Layton, Duceppe, anybody - about forming a government? (he did and his letter and the videotape prove that he was lying here. Remember when he said I wouldn't want the Prime Minister to think he can call an election everytime he loses the confidence of the House. Lies, lies, lies.)

Harper: I'm telling you that I've always my responsibility is to be prepared to form a government so we're always working at that.

Solomon: With who?

Harper: Well I've said I would not form a coalition under any circumstances (He already had) - I said that in the election campaign, nothing changes. I expect we're going to put forward our program for the country, how we would make the House of Commons work. I know that Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Layton don't want an election, I think the Liberals may have a different view. We'll just see. We'll do whatever's necessary but I think we're going to be the official Opposition in this Parliament, I think that's how things will work.

Solomon: I just want to clarify something - you won't work with other parties

Harper: No I said we will work with other parties..

Solomon: You will, but you won't form a coalition -

Harper: No. (Both Gilles Duceppe and Jack layton confirm that it was a coalition to take down Paul Martin. What else could he mean with the letter and tape?)

Solomon: You won't form a coalition, therefore in the event this government falls we cannot expect you to turn to another party and try to form a government, in other words it will be an election?

Harper: Well you're getting into a lot of hypotheticals...

Solomon: That's what this is all about!

Harper: I've said we wouldn't, we're not looking to form a coalition, the Bloc Quebecois has been very consistent that they're not going to form a coalition with anybody, so we wouldn't look to form a coalition - but the present government isn't in a coalition either.

Solomon: So why did you write that letter to the Governor-General with Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton saying in the event of a confidence vote situation do not call a snap election - are we to assume that therefore you're working to form a coalition? (Mr. Solomon knew exactly what was going on)

Harper: (Changes the subject) There seems to be an attitude in the Liberal government - that they can go in, be deliberately defeated and call an election - that's not how our constitutional system works. The government has a minority - it has an obligation to demonstrate to Canadians that it can govern. That it can form a majority in the House of Commons. If it can't form a majority, we look at other options, we don't just concede to the government's request to make it dysfunctional. I know for a fact that Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Layton and the people who work for them want this Parliament to work and I know if is in all of our interests to work. The government has got to face the fact it has a minority, it has to work with other people.

Solomon: Other options meaning that you would have to govern though - don't you have to be in a coalition de facto - isn't that the implication?

Harper: The current government believes it doesn't have to be in a coalition and I share that view. There's a lot of options in the House of Commons - what I expect the Liberals to do is try to seek different allies for different pieces of legislation.

Solomon: This is a fascinating...

Harper: That's what I think they'll do but they're going to have to make some compromises to do that...

Solomon: This is fascinating because usually we think of the Leader of the Opposition in a minority government as trying to bring the government down - you're saying they want to bring themselves down and they want to continue the status quo! Which is a kind of ...

Harper: Canadians want the Parliament to work - but look we're not going to roll over to agree with the government just so they can stay in office. But as I say we've been away from minority government's for so long we've forgotten how they work. The government is still the government. The official Opposition is still the Official Opposition. And these two parties are still going to battle for govenrment in the next election. And that's how the system works. There's going to be other parties, the third parties and that's usually where the government's going to have to seek its mandate to try to get a majority in the House of Commons and it's - that's really their primary responsibility. They've got to get these other parties supporting them regularly or they can't command the confidence of the House. And the same would be true for me if I had the most seats, I would have to find a way of governing.

Solomon: Is there a similarity between this government and the Joe Clark government?
Harper: We'll see. We'll see - time will tell - but there does seem to be an attitude that they can govern as if they have a majority. And as I've told you I think Joe Clark taught us I think that's the wrong attitude to have in a minority Parliament.

Solomon: They didn't consult...

Harper: It didn't work either.

I don't think a coalition between these three men would have lasted long. Gilles Duceppe is too smart, Jack Layton too caring, and Stephen Harper is ... well ... Stephen Harper.

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