Friday, February 09, 2007

Coup d'etat

A couple points, as a followup to The Galloping Beaver post on the looming constitutional crisis over Kyoto. If you ignore the bluster from the Tories, it would appear the constitutional experts agree that the Conservatives are boxed into a corner. Does anyone believe the Tories would allow themselves to face lawsuits over this matter? This kind of rhetoric is disaster:
"It's almost launching a coup d'etat — to say: 'I don't care what the Commons says; I don't care what the Senate says; I don't care what all of Parliament says; I'll do what I want. I'm the new king of Canada.'

"You can't do that."

When this vote passes, and eventually makes its way through the Senate, the clock starts ticking. There is no way the Tories will allow themselves to go through this quagmire, and for that reason, the chances of orchestrated fall on the budget just became more likely. The primary election focus Kyoto, or taxcuts and a myriad of other goodies, methinks the Tories choose the latter option. The last thing in the world Stephen Harper wants is an election with Kyoto the cause. The opposition, by contrast, would like nothing more than a battle on this ground.

If this issue plays out as speculated, then I see no political will to spruce up the Clean Air Act. If the Tories wish to go down this path, only an idiot would throw them a lifeline. As a matter of fact, with each successive day, there would be less incentive to help Harper "neutralize". Harper could force the issue, if he had legislation to argue during an election, but with nothing he's naked in the Kyoto wind. You can argue the semantics of Kyoto forever, but the word has become more than the initiative, it stands for something, which keeps the government on the defensive. I don't think Canadians really understand the nuances, they just know it means reducing emissions, rejecting Kyoto is equated to not accepting this premise. Fighting an election campaign, arguing the flaws of Kyoto is a political loser.

Let's see how this plays out, but if the scenario moves the way Dana suggests, the government might have no choice but to force their failure on the budget. The only caveat, the opposition could unite and pass the budget, no matter the tenets, with the full knowledge that complete embarrassment lies on the horizon.


Anonymous said...

Hi.Frankly, I think you're wrong and that we could be into an election in early March, before the budget. Though the Speaker ruled that Rodriguez' bill could proceed, since it did not broach upon the prerogatives of the executive by proposing specific spending measures,it so clearly commits the government to enormous and long term spending (on the order of 25-30 billion dollars, provided there are actually that many international carbon credits TO purchase) and it so clearly contravenes the stated position of Her Majesty's government that Harper is likely to dissolve Parliament if it receives Senate approval (and what are the odds that they won't be 200+ days deliberating on this, as they were on C-2 or Senate reform bills?).

I also disagree that the Tories would shy away from Kyoto as the election issue. First, all the other parties are carving up the vote on the other side of the issue. Second, how many times will the Canadian electorate need to be told--and I'm sourcing those crazy Conservatives at the Globe and Mail here--that we could shut down every coal-fired power generator in Ontario (24 megatonnes) and the entirety of the Alberta tar sands development (30 megatonnes) and still not have made up one-fifth of our current Kyoto gap (270 megatonnes, courtesy the Liberal Party of Canada, and more particularly the Right Honourable Jean Chretien's desire to outdo American Al Gore). How much will they have to consider that we could destroy both pillars of the booming Canadian economy and prompt the breakup of the country before they think 1) maybe this isn't the most brilliant of ideas, and 2) if the LPC were anywhere approaching good faith on this issue they might actually have tried to do something on this file BEFORE 2005?

Call me crazy, but this is a tempting wedge issue for Harper, one that lets him highlight Dion'spersonal failures, his party's failure and disingenuousness, and to play the Prime Ministerial role--so often the advantage of Liberal leaders--of taking the reasonable, responsible and practical tack of achievable goals on GHG that will not prompt Canada's economic collapse.

FWIW. I genuinely hope you consider and clear this comment.

Steve V said...

Considered :) I will say, from a strategic point of view I would lick my chops at the prospects of Kyoto at centerstage, especially if the Tories have nothing. The problem, everything is framed negatively, you attack Kyoto, maybe legitimate, but you have no real alternative. Now, if the Tories had some decent legislation, you counter-balance the Kyoto attacks. Canadians have already said they are prepared to "make sacrifices", so the fear mongering about depressions and economic ruin won't work, especially when the other parties offer the new economy arguments. If the Tories want to fight an election on this "wedge issue" let him, I think it's doom, especially when compared with the other scenarios that would play better for them.

Anonymous said...

Steve--thanks for the posting and the feedback. As regards your response, fair enough. I disagree, but I think that we'll know who's right within two months (sadly, as I'll be called upon to campaign and, "climate change"or no, it's apt to be still bitchin' cold where I am (-30 not counting wind chill as of now...:)).

Steve V said...

"I'll be called upon to campaign and, "climate change"or no, it's apt to be still bitchin' cold where I am (-30 not counting wind chill as of now...:))."

That might be a relevant point. I can't remember where I read this theory, but it was speculated that Harper wanted an election before the heat of summer, because it would highlight climate change. Maybe the optics are better when the snow is still flying.

Olaf said...


If this issue plays out as speculated, then I see no political will to spruce up the Clean Air Act. If the Tories wish to go down this path, only an idiot would throw them a lifeline.

An idiot eh? Does any party leader fitting that description to a T come to mind (hint: not Duceppe or Dion)?

The thing is, depending on how much the Conservatives are willing to give, it could very well be in the afore mentioned idiot's best interest to throw them a lifeline.

If the Liberals are going to campaign on a horrible record and an adherence to targets that are widely seen as unreachable, and the idiot's party is going to campaign on cutting through the political BS and forcing Harper into passing "most robust environmental legislation in Canadian history" (which wouldn't be hard to achieve), I'd say the idiot is in position to bleed votes from Dion.

Also, this whole move on Dion's part is very confusing to me, for the simple reason that if it does pass, and if Dion fails to get into government immediately, he will be forced (by his own admission that unless he gets into office by 2008, he won't be able to meet the targets either) to repeal the legislation or explicitly violate it. Do you see my point?

Anyways, I explain it better in my most recent post, so I'd appreciate your strategic mind if you get a second. Perhaps you can shine some light on where Dion's going with this.

Steve V said...


Do you really think the idiot's supporters would accept the landscape of Harper ticking away and the idiot still throwing the lifeline. There is no political cover in that scenario. I think this reality makes the dance far, far too dangerous to entertain any longer.

Olaf said...


The idiot works in mysterious ways.

Do you really think the idiot's supporters would accept the landscape of Harper ticking away and the idiot still throwing the lifeline.

Again, if it was deemed worth it to pass "the most robust environmental legislation in Canadian history", I think they could swallow it, especially since there is no conceivable benefit with the alternative (where Dion would come out as Kyoto's saviour).

Remember how poorly the "blame the NDP for Harper" campaign worked last time around? People don't buy the idea that the idiot's first goal should be to get Harper out of office (in other words, to put Dion in office) and to implement his platform second.

If he can get Harper to bite on the environmental legislation, and if the idiot can play it as his, I think that's sufficient political cover.

Monkey Loves to Fight said...

I suspect also Harper will try and bring down the budget before it passes the senate therefore killing it. Since it isn't a money bill yet costs money, this could also cause problems too. I would think this might be a case where we should amend the budget for this and then when the Tories vote against it, the government will fall and we can use this on them.

Legally, the Tories must follow this if it passes. Now if they God forbid won a majority, they could always repeal the law.

That being said the problem here is I haven't read the bill, but does it set a whole series of targets or just says we must meet our Kyoto targets. Since there is a good chance the Liberals will get back into power before 2012, if it just says we must meet our Kyoto targets, Harper might decide to nothing in the hopes of putting us in a position where when we return to government will have no choice but to repeal the bill. In my conversation with Dion, he said if the Liberals don't return to power by this spring, Kyoto targets cannot be met. Otherwise we can meet them if we start now, but are window of opportunity is quite small.

Mike said...

Considering you need to bleed "the idiot's" supporter to your party in order to win the next election, blaming us for the last election, pretending we are "propping up the Cons" and, in fact, calling our leader and idiot seems a funny way to ingratiate us to your cause. Actually it reminds us all why we DON'T vote for your professor (or your shipping magnate or your "little guy" before him).

From our side of things, both of your guys are the idiots for fighting over who was worse on that highly buffed up political turd called the environment, consider the lack of progress both have made on it. Right now we are simply squeezing the idiot who happens to live at 24 Sussex in order to make him finally do something right. If you remember, our party has a fair amount of recent experience in squeezing idiots residing at 24 Sussex into doing the right thing.

Anonymous said...

OK--Just one more post before bedtime. Miles (or, for that matter, Steve): I'm just wondering (and forgive so bald and naive a question), but do you guys really think that the 2008 (yeah, that's right 2008, after 7) -2012 targets can actually BE met? This is a bona fide genuine query on my part. Do you really believe this? Do you believe the Honourable S. Dion so believes? Or that David McGuinty, or Pablo Rodriguez believes this? And if you DO, could you share with me precisely HOW you believe we might meet these targets? Honestly... I read today the mouthpieces of various environmental groups saying, hey, no problem... you can cut 60 megatonnnes (of 270!) if you just shut down coalfired power nationwide. Swell, says I, and replace it with what, precisely? I would feel less disheartened by this whole discourse if someone on the other side could give me some sign of ACTUALLY believing the Kyoto targets can now (not as of 1996 or even 2002) be met--and I'll even bracket consideration of whether otherwise it's a sensible treaty...

What distresses me most about all this is the fact that wedge politics and disingenuousness are going to lead to a real missed opportunity. M. Dion is, I still believe, a man of intelligence and integrity, a man whose work on the national unity file I admired and (I can't help but recall) dovetailed rather with Mr Harper's own. We could have had an honest election next time out, a contest between TWO intelligent and decent guys (I know it's a bit declasse to refer to Harper thus in such a milieu, but what the hey) who actually have, in good faith, two different visions of the nation (one more centralist, focussed on the unifying power of Ottawa and the federal spending power, and one more decentralist,desiring rather to reinstate the division of powers of the BNA Act,ie of our Constitution, whether 1867 or 1982). These are both arguable,defensible and honourable positions, and in M. Dion and PM Harper, they'd find articulate advocates. But instead partisanship--on both sides--will rule the day, and we'll have M.Dion's Liberals bring down the government on a claim I honestly cannot but believe he himself knows is dubious AT BEST. Maybe I'm wrong,but 2008 is less tha 11 months away and so I'm wondering exactly (and Dalton McGuinty and Basil Hargrove and, for that matter, David McGuinty and P. Rodriguez, proffer no answers in this regard) just how we're to turn things around by 35% in the next four years... Honestly--how exactly IS this doable.If this is the issue I'd like some sense of how you believe it to be one that you can now--as distinct from 1995 or 2002 or 2005--can deliver on. It depresses me to think that the next election will be fought at such a pitch of insincerity.

Anonymous said...

The Kyoto scheme would bankrupt Canada - and even if we did throw thousands of people out of work while raising taxes as the Liberals promise to do - the impact on the earth's climate would be so small it's unlikely it could even be measured. Not even government workers would be spared under the Kyoto scheme, politicians yes, but it would be bye-bye savings for the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Kyoto is no longer of any concern in the present regard. The specific issue a government chooses over which to ignore Parliament is of less importance than the defiance of Parliament. Kyoto is now effectively another debate.

What matters now is whether the Conservative Party of Canada has any respect for Parliament.

I've made it fairly clear over the past months or years that I have never thought that they do.

Although they haven't openly defied the will of the House yet they're doing a good job of indicating that that's what they want to do and that they may yet do so.

Who would they be doing that for? Me? You?

Nope. Their base. They know we would find it anethema but they also know their base wouldn't.

A good proprtion of their base have little regard for Parliamentary procedure and tradition or for the court system or for Constitutionality or The Charter. If you doubt it go read along at the Globe and Mail comments or at SDA.

Many of them would be comforted and reassured if Harper simply terminated Parliament and ruled as a monarch. Again, go read.

Jeffrey Simpson in one of those Q&A deals was asked last week if he didn't agree that the opposition was committing treason by questioning Harper so forcefully during Question Period.

No kidding.

That's what our democratic tradition is up against in 2007.

Olaf and his faux David Brooks persona notwithstanding.

Steve V said...


When I used the term "idiot", I wasn't referencing Layton, the rest was just some fun- my apologies :)

For the record, I don't think we can meet our Kyoto targets now, too much time has passed. However, I don't think this means we abandon the process entirely. In Nairobi, many countries were sympathetic to our dilemna, the problem seems to be no effort whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

OK--Dana and Steve: So what I'm hearing here is that you don't believe that the Canadian government could possibly comply with Mr Rodriguez' but that it would still be responsible for it to--what? Pretend that it could? At what cost, exactly? And you relish the prospect of the LPC fighting an election on an issue that you yourselves feel it cannot deliver on. It's because even reasonable partisans like yourselves cannot buy the Kyoto line the opposition parties are selling that I think Harper will be happy to treat this private member's bill as an expression of nonconfidence, being himself confident that he can convince the Canadian people of the bad faith of said opposition. IMHO...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, the issue of whether a government of the day has the power to simply ignore an act of Parliament goes beyond whether Canada can or can't meet Kyoto commitments.

Maybe we can't, maybe we can, maybe it'll cost a lot or only a little. I don't think that in amongst all the partisan spinning anyone really knows.

However, the way this is developing it is no longer simply about Kyoto.

It's evolving into another matter regarding the constitutional supremacy of Parliament.

Try and put aside the issue of whether you or I support Kyoto.

Do you support the supremacy of Parliament? Or do you think a Prime Minister (any Prime Minister) and a government of the day (of whatever persuasion) have the right to ignore or dismiss properly passed Acts of Parliament?

We're not talking about something that may or may not be a motion of confidence in the House here. We're talking about an actual Act of Parliament which once passed by the Senate and signed by the GG would have the force of law.

Does a sitting government have the right and power to ignore the law?

Why would they even intimate that they might?

Anonymous said...


Well, if we want to talk about parliamentary traditions, OK: it's the prerogative of Her Majesty's Government (to wit, the Cabinet) to decide upon the Crown's spending (or more strictly speaking to "advise" the Crown on how to exercise its spending authority)--which decisions then need ratification by the legislative branch--i.e. the House of Commons and Senate before receiving Royal Assent from the Crown's representative, the Governor-General. Since this spending power cuts to the heart of the executive's role and legitimacy in a Westminster system such as ours, all spending bills are matters of confidence AND the legislature itself is unable to originate bills that mandate government spending--i.e., Private Members' Bills are barred from entailing fiscal commitments on the part of Her Majesty's Government.

Now, the Speaker has ruled that Mr Rodriguez's bill does not, strictly speaking, carry any line-item spending measures and for this reason may proceed. What I am saying is that this Bill clearly does encumber the government in fiscal terms--in a most profound and long-term way--and that the Government is within its rights to deem it a matter of confidence on which the present government should stand or fall (and that it SHOULD so deem it). There is nothing at odds with parliamentary tradition in any of this.

Now, if you're saying the government cannot legitimately choose to disregard this disingenuous and mischievous bill, I would agree with you. I am, however, prepared to provide the numerous occasions on which the government of the Right Honourable Paul Martin disregarded the supreme will of Parliament when it was inconvenient for it. :)

Anonymous said...

Anon, you can't provide even *one* instance of a government ignoring an Act of Parliament that passed in the Senate and signed by the GG. Not one. I don't think there has been a government in all our history to do that. Bear in mind an Act of Parliament is not the same as a motion before the House. It's impolite and maybe unethical to ignore motions but it's not illegal and we're talking about legality here.

I can't even recall another government in our history even publicly ruminating about the possibility of doing so.

Your and my opinion as to the spending requirements didn't appear to matter to the Speaker, whose credibility on the matter significantly outstrips ours.

Should the Act pass, be ratififed and signed the government has 3 choices.

Abide by it somehow.

Defy it and the constitution be damned.

Or immediately resign and trigger an election.

The problem however remains in place. There would now be a law on the books requiring the government of Canada to live up to it's Kyoto commitment to the best of it's ability. This would remain in force until repealed.

A formal repeal of a signed international agreement would make for a very unattractive display of our international credibility don't you think?

Anonymous said...


There would now be a law on the books requiring the government of Canada to live up to it's Kyoto commitment to the best of it's ability.

No, i beg to differ. There would be a law on the books that REQUIRES the government to keep the Kyoto committments, be damned of it's ability.

Get that straight. Legally required to meet Kyoto targets by 2013.

How, pray tell, do you suggest meeting those aforementioned requirements? With concrete ideas and documented emmissions reductions.

Anonymous said...

That makes it OK for the government of the day to ignore Parliament then?

lance said...

dana, The gov't doesn't have to ignore this bill. In fact, I'll bet the Tories love having it on the table.

The only thing that bill "requires" of the gov't is climate change reports.

Everything else is off-loaded to the provinces and there is a specific clause that allows the provinces to:

"6(2) Despite paragraph (1)(a.1), and for greater certainty, each province may take any measure that it considers appropriate to limit greenhouse gas emissions."

It's a badly designed _political_ bill. All the Provinces have to do is enact legislation saying x,y,z industry should "work" on scrubbing GHG's to meet Kyoto in 2050 or some such blather.