No time for haste in Ottawa

Coalition BQ-NPD-PLC - Canadians may not want another election -- but it's sure hard to imagine they're happy with the job the 308 recently elected MPs are doing.
Together --- as pundits, academics and talk-radio windbags recite like a catechism from a poli-sci textbook -- these people constitute a sovereign deliberative body of people's representatives. But is that what we have seen, in a week seemingly dominated in the media by the decrees, deals and egos of individual leaders? The starkly different impression is of individuals and groups huddling and peeking nervously out from behind petticoats, serving as the Supremes to their respective parties' Diana Ross.
If good is going to come for the country from the current mess in Ottawa -- and perhaps even for the ideas and goals that lured these 300-odd folks to public life -- the reality must be very different. They must be given time to do the creative deliberating the unique and perilous circumstances demand.
It is true that Stephen Harper will appear to be fleeing from the clear will of a parliamentary majority if he seeks and is granted a prorogation of Parliament from the governor general. Given that submissive retreat is not a trait normally associated with this political alpha male, Harper's enemies would understandably suspect he is avoiding confrontation because polling shows public opinion is turning against him.
But formally ending the current session of Parliament is the only way of giving individual MPs time to exercise their responsibility -- to consider alternatives, to hear from constituents, to talk among themselves and across party lines, to be sure what has been decided in the sudden heat of unexpected political crisis is the best they can do.
Do the parties -- even the Conservatives -- have their best possible leaders? (And by that, we mean, the best for bringing the country back together behind a multi-year national agenda, as well as the best for winning a majority.) No matter how much they may privately applaud Harper's style of leadership, Conservative MPs (and the great many ordinary citizens who wish them well in this province) must ask themselves whether the man who led them out of the wilderness is best suited for a campaign that might suddenly feature Michael Ignatieff as candidate for Grit prime minister.
And Liberals -- well, what can you say, especially after Stephane Dion's failure to sound more unifying than Harper, in his old-school press-conference slagging of his Quebec nemesis-turned-buddy Gilles Duceppe? Does the party of balanced budgets and Martin-Manley-Chretien centrism truly want to hang its hat on a budget-busting plan for massive spending whose fruits, if any, will primarily be political in a global economy that can't be much influenced by Canada's few billions of dollars?
In fairness to our MPs, their role behind the scenes has already been more influential than it may seem on the surface. In a majority government, leaders and especially prime ministers may have the whip hand, but in weeks like this, backbench support is crucial. Liberal MPs could easily have told Dion they were going to continue knuckling under to Harper's bullying until the new leader is chosen next May. NDP MPs could have refused to take Jack Layton's great gamble that their party won't gradually lose its separate identity in a big-tent centre-left coalition. And Bloc MPs could have rejected the immense risk they are running -- that by making the coalition work, they will prove to Quebeckers that Canada does work, and that they are better served by electing MPs who are part of government.
But it's still difficult to see how the opposition MPs' current plan, under the current leadership, can steer our country clear of another round of the inflamed regional antagonisms that are invariably exacerbated by an electoral system that makes regions look like monoliths always at loggerheads.
Coalition MPs may be able to chase Harper from 24 Sussex, but they can't force Conservatives to change leaders. And they can't force Albertans and many other Westerners to see the move as anything other than a raw regional grab for power.
Indeed, they can no more do these things than the Conservatives can win hearts and minds outside the hinterland with their "shock-and-awe" approach to politics. An election would be a cop-out, and an admission of failure and impotence on behalf of our representatives. A sudden change of power could have unintended consequences we would rue for a long time. MPs on all sides must take more time to find better alternatives to the dice roll their various leaders have made.
If they do, they'll find those leaders will have no choice but to grit their teeth and listen up.

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