Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Opposition Takes Charge

Parliament has once again shut down, for the second day in a row, thanks to Stephen Harper and Gilles Duceppe.

If there was ever proof that the Liberals are no longer at the wheel of this minority government, this is it.

The vote tally was 152 to 144. It caught the Liberals napping; seven of their members didn't get to the House on time. It also caught the independents by surprise; none of them made it in either.

And the danger is that Harper and Duceppe can do it again, four more times. One for each day before the Liberals' scheduled budget vote next Thursday. And they can call for adjournment any time the House is sitting, morning or afternoon.

And Parliamentary committee business ground to a halt, too, since the Tories and Bloquists chose not to attend committee meetings. Four of those committees are chaired by the Tories; it's a rule of parliamentary procedure (which means those committees don't meet). And without the opposition there's not enough attendance to guarantee a quorum.

What all this adds up to (besides wrecking Angry in TO's enjoyment of CPAC) is simple: the Liberals are no longer in charge of the House of Commons. They cannot move legislation forward, either in the House or on second reading in committee. They cannot debate the budget as much as is needed before the scheduled vote. They might get some movement on Bill C-38 (the same-sex marriage bill), but not enough to guarantee its return to the House for third reading.

And if they try to reschedule the budget vote (with the excuse that it really wasn't debated enough), it plays into the Opposition refrain of the "Libranos" using any delaying tactic to stay in power.

And it's all legal. It's not a boycott that the Speaker can take action against; it's a proper vote.

Certainly this tactic could backfire. Because it now appears that Harper and Duceppe are calling the shots, the Liberals can point fingers when assigning blame for parliamentary paralysis, and you can bet those Liberal-voters in the mainstream media will be encouraged to see things that way. But both parties can point to the government's interpretation of last Tuesday's vote and say, "You brought this on yourselves."

And the longer this goes on, the stronger the opinion grows that Paul Martin is an incompetent prime minister. Certainly a strong Prime Minister would never have let things get this bad.

The final blow's a week away, and closing ...