Saturday, October 04, 2008

On free passes

Impolitical seems eager to pretend that anybody who criticizes the Libs for propping up the Cons must somehow be approving of Harper's parliamentary tactics. But let's set the record straight as to just what it is that Dion and his party did to keep the Cons and power - and why it's perfectly reasonable to hold the Libs responsible without endorsing Harper's abuses of power in any way.

The first obvious point is that regardless of the exact number of confidence votes, it's clear that some were bound to take place over the past year, particularly on the throne speech and budget bills. And while the number 43 certainly looks even worse for the Libs, it would hardly be to their credit if they'd kept Harper in power to exactly the same extent by merely rolling over and playing dead 10-20 times. Which means that even at best, impolitical's argument is based on attacking form rather than substance.

But then, there's the question of why Harper was able to get away his abuses of parliamentary procedure. And the answer there is obvious, as it's Dion who signalled regularly that he wouldn't vote down the government, meaning that the Cons could pass anything by declaring it a confidence measure.

Of course, it takes a cynical and manipulative PM to take advantage of that situation. And Harper deserves nothing but blame for doing so. But when Dion went out of his way publicly to say that he planned to fold on every hand, it can hardly come as much surprise that Harper became more and more blatant in bluffing his way around the proper use of confidence votes.

Finally, it's worth noting that the confidence votes themselves are far from the only area where the Libs wound up helping out Harper. The NDP's partial list of areas where the Libs supported or facilitated Harper's position includes examples ranging from Afghanistan to anti-scab legislation to electoral reform where the Libs voted on Harper's side even in the absence of any declaration of a confidence vote.

All of which is to say that the "43 confidence votes" line is itself only a useful shorthand for the ways in which the Libs have helped Harper to stay in power and advance his agenda. And if the best the Libs can say to defend themselves is that they don't think Harper should have taken advantage of their weakness, that's hardly a meaningful justification for their work to keep Harper in power.

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