For the first time in years, I have found myself interested in my own country's politics. The shenanigans in Canada these past two weeks have prompted my American friends to ask, "Is something going on up there?"
Yep. Parliament has been discontinued. The technical term is "prorogation" - and in Canada, them's fightin' words! The political drama is a cautionary tale about multiparty systems and the wages - or futility - of abandoning one's principles.
It started with an election in October, Canada's third in four years. The winners were the Conservative Party under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, though they won only enough seats in the House of Commons to form a minority government - Canada's third in four years.
Minority governments don't last long and whoever is in charge has to navigate carefully. Mr. Harper has done this by not being conservative. Conservative ideologues have been critical of him, noting that after his first two years in power, Canada still has a big-spending government that finances, among other things, single- payer healthcare and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a network with a political bias akin to Michael Moore's.
Further, Harper - previously principled on foreign policy - announced during the campaign that Canada would not commit troops to Afghanistan past 2011. This was seen as an attempt to win votes in Quebec, where the war has the least support. I found this decision to be enormously disappointing. Foreign policy was one area to which I could always point when conservatives bemoaned Harper's tepid attempts at making Canada grow up.
Then, late last month, the Harper government released an economic statement that included an entirely sensible proposal to ax the subsidies Canadian political parties currently enjoy. Even though most Canadians support the move, all heck broke loose. And in spite of Harper's backpedaling on the matter within days, the three opposition parties announced they would topple the Conservatives and form a governing coalition.
This is perfectly legal within the Westminster system (a parliamentary model derived from Britain). It is also perfectly problematic, as it would involve a weakened Liberal Party …