Two for the road

Coalition BQ-NPD-PLC

The many scenarios playing out in Ottawa – the ascent of an opposition coalition, the proroguing of the House of Commons, the launch of yet another election – amount to a continued power struggle between Stephen Harper and Stéphane Dion. Given what Canadians have seen of both men, the prospect of either one in the office of prime minister is not appealing.
The fear-mongering that preceded the Conservatives' taking power in 2006 proved unfounded. They are not rigidly ideological, nor do they disproportionately favour one region over others. For turning an uneasy marriage of Reformers and Progressive Conservatives into a pragmatic national party, Mr. Harper deserves no small credit. But he has also held that party back. His personality, shown in everything from accusing Paul Martin of supporting child pornography to claiming that some MPs sympathize with the Taliban, is an albatross around the Conservatives' neck. With his disastrous economic update – no mere mistake from which Mr. Harper can retreat, but a characteristic preference for partisanship over all else – he has overstepped so badly that he can no longer lead a functional minority government.
Mr. Dion's prospect of achieving that feat is no better. In two years as Liberal Leader, he has been unable to unite his own party behind him. Now, having been resoundingly rejected by voters, he is seeking to lead a government whose response to recession must balance the interests of three parties with highly divergent ideas. There is nothing on the résumé of Mr. Dion, a poor communicator who does not work well with others, to suggest that he can prevent this coalition from descending into chaos.
The best potential resolutions of the political meltdown are ones that neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals seem to be considering. Were the Conservatives to replace Mr. Harper with a less divisive figure, they might regain Parliament's – and Canadians' – trust. By accelerating their replacement of Mr. Dion, the Liberals could put in place someone with the moral authority to steer a coalition. Particularly if Mr. Harper succeeds in proroguing Parliament until January, the country would be best served if one or both parties used the time to revisit their leadership.

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