A coalition in a time of economic tumult? No thank you

Coalition BQ-NPD-PLC


The Conservatives' economic update completely missed the mark - it was a narrow, partisan document that failed to give Canadians the true fiscal facts and a long-term game plan to address the economic crisis. But is a Liberal-NDP coalition, supported by the Bloc Québécois, really in our best interests at this time?
I have been in government during an economic crisis, as Saskatchewan's finance minister in the 1990s. And I have worked in an NDP-Liberal government: In 1999, our government signed a coalition agreement with the Liberals.
Governing during an economic downturn involves tough, contentious and often divisive decisions. Keeping even one party united, focused and disciplined was a huge challenge for our government, even though we had an excellent and very experienced premier. At one point, our caucus was so divided over a decision that premier Roy Romanow had to threaten an election to keep us all on the same page.
How, then, will a coalition of two different parties - relying on the support of another party that's committed to breaking up the country, no less - be able to provide the focused, disciplined leadership that will be required to steer us through the choppy economic waters of the next 18 months?
I can tell you that making a coalition work also requires significant time, patience and compromise. Only after sitting behind closed doors and wrestling with major issues do two parties come to understand how different they are, and how wide the chasm between them is on certain issues.
Bridging the chasm between the economic policies of the NDP and Liberals will not be easy. In the last election, for example, a major plank of the NDP's economic platform was to effectively raise corporate taxes by $50-billion, a policy that was denounced by the Liberals. How can the two parties bridge this policy divide? Would it be in our best interests to raise corporate taxes and put our companies at a competitive disadvantage during an economic crisis?
Finally, as a Western Canadian, I fear the reaction of most in this region should they awake one morning to find the Conservative Party, which won 72 of 92 seats in the West just weeks ago, replaced by a coalition with a prime minister from the Liberal Party, the party that came third in every province in Western Canada. This would be especially dismaying since the election results weren't even close: The Conservatives won 37 per cent of the vote and 66 more seats than their nearest rivals. For many, dismay would turn to anger as they realized the new coalition government would have to rely on the separatist Bloc to survive. This after the Conservatives made major concessions to Quebec, only to have the Bloc win the majority of seats in the province in the last election. There would be no support for the idea of making even more concessions to Quebec and allowing the separatists to take credit for them.
The Liberals are the Official Opposition and they need to provide leadership at this critical time. An economic crisis is not the time for a risky and potentially unstable political experiment like a coalition between two parties as different as the Liberals and the NDP. And it is not in the best interests of the country to have a government that's beholden to separatists for its existence.
The Conservatives have already retreated from some of the most objectionable aspects of their economic update and they have committed to bringing down an early budget. Rather than moving quickly and "throwing together" a stimulus package, there is merit in taking the time to consult the provinces, seeing how the policies of the new U.S. government will affect continental industries and making sure the budget is an effective, long-term plan to stimulate the economy and strengthen the social safety net. The Liberals should demand this kind of budget - and a significant role for the opposition parties in constructing it.
It is in the country's best interests for the Liberals to focus on renewing their party. They have to choose a new leader and develop new policies that better reflect current realities and appeal to Canadians from all regions, including the West. The Liberals have important work to do in rebuilding a national party that is a true government-in-waiting.
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JANICE MacKINNON, Professor of public policy at the University of Saskatchewan and former NDP finance minister

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Janice MacKinnon1 article

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Professor of public policy at the University of Saskatchewan and former NDP finance minister





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