Friday, November 28, 2008

Worst Case Scenario

We live in interesting times.

The last few days have been unprecedented in Canadian history. A minority government talks about conciliation and pragmatism, then fails to win the confidence of the house with its fiscal update and its bully tactics. A seeming lame-duck opposition leader suddenly cobbles together a coalition and strives to become Prime Minister and form the government, even after he has announced his resignation as the leader of his party. The coalition is supported by a regional separatist party.

As of now, there is a non-Confidence motion before the house, delayed until December 8th, that would replace the recently re-elected Conservative minority with a Liberal-NDP coalition government, supported by the Bloc. All perfectly legal under out parliamentary system.

As others have noted (like Paul Wells), delaying the vote for a week will give the Conservative 7 days in which to pull out all the stops to paint this as some kind of "coup d'etat", as an undemocratic take over and a partisan move to ensure the Liberals have $7 million in taxpayer funds. They will pull out all the stops, spare no smear in order to stay in power. Indeed, have a read of any of the Blogging Tories for a taste.

On the other side, supporters of the Liberals and NDP, as well as other progressives, will be salivating at the certain defeat of the Harper government. They will be fighting back tooth and nail, excited to finally get power back from the Conservatives.

All of this is to be expected after the last 5 years of highly polarized, partisan politics this country has been indulging in (mostly at the instigation of the Conservative machine).

So I need to temper my progressive friends excitement and anticipation - we are in very dangerous territory. Imagine this:


The Conservative machine whips its base into a frenzy calling the Opposition a "junta" call their actions a "coup d'etat", claiming their actions are a power grab for nefarious reasons. After one solid week of question period and press scrums, accusations and debates, the country is even more polarized. A few provincial leaders have entered the fray, either pledging to work with the impending coalition or flat out stating they will refuse to recognize it.

During this week, the market plunges, the Canadian dollar sinks and investment in general dries up due to instability. The economic crisis deepens even more quickly.

On December 8th, as expected, the motion passes. Liberal Leader Stephane Dion announces his cabinet, and calls on the Governor General to allow him to form a government with the confidence of the house. Prime Minister Stephen Harper refuses to resign and implores the GG to ignore the result. The Conservative Party goes to the Federal Court of Canada asking for an injunction to prevent the Coalition from taking office and a ruling on the legality of the vote.

The Federal Court refuses to rule.

On December 12th, the GG grants Dion's request and asks the coalition to form a government.

Many Conservatives, including Harper, refuse to leave their offices and refuse to recognize the new government as legitimate. Alberta and Saskatchewan refuse to recognize the coalition and refuse to cooperate in any way. Newfoundland, Ontario and Quebec pledge any support the new government needs.

There are demonstrations in Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatoon in support of the Conservatives hold up in Parliament Hill. The Coalition government has the former Conservative government physically removed from the hill, sparking more protests across the country, mostly in the West. There are counter protest in support in Toronto and on the lawn of the Hill.

On December 16th, Linda Duncan, the lone NDP MP in Alberta, is shot outside her constituency office in Edmonton. The next morning, the offices of Pierre Poilievre, John Baird and Gordon O'Connor are fire bombed. One office worker is killed and two others seriously burned. Baird is beaten unconscious by unknown assailants a few hours later.

That afternoon, a protest on Parliament Hill turns into a full blown riot. The RCMP refuses to intervene when ordered to by the Justice Minster and the Ottawa Police step in. The RCMP Commissioner is fired.

On December 19th, Harper announces that the Conservative government is the legitimate government and will operate from Calgary. Police across the country report a surge in politically motivated violence and vandalism.

The Bush Administration refuses to recognize the new Coalition government and deals with Harper in Calgary. Obama refuses to support either, stating it is the internal affair of Canada and he is not yet President. Britain and the EU recognize the Coalition.

On December 23, portions of the RCR from Petawawa, acting on orders from the Harper government, launch and attack on Parliament Hill to capture and arrest Dion and the coalition cabinet. The Governor General Foot Guard, a few Mounties, and hundreds of civilians line up to defend the Coalition and fight back. Spontaneous skirmishes flare up in Toronto and Halifax as Coalition supporters storm local armouries to get weapons and ensure the local militias are not loyal to Harper.

From that point we have civil war...


Outrageous, right? Far-fetched?

Perhaps, but given how polarized we are now, and how far the Conservatives will go in the coming weeks to stop the vote, it is possible. If you look at each of the steps I outlined, they aren't so far fetched nor unprecedented in Canadian history. We are in a situation once seen by people in Yugoslavia or in Spain.

This scenario - the worst case scenario - is still possible. Or something similar. Or perhaps only some of this. The seeds of this kind of thing - the partisanship, the polarization and the demonization of ones political enemies - have been planted and are growing in our political culture.

This scenario is more likely than I think people want to admit.

Are we prepared for this? Have you picked a side?

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At 11:31 PM, Blogger kristin said...

Considering we can barely get over 50% of people to get interested enough in politics to get out to the polls to vote, I think it's unlikely that people will start taking to the streets. Anyway, I think if a coalition government does happen the Conservatives will, just as you say, pile on the rhetoric about it being an undemocratic power grab and then sit back and wait for the coalition government to eventually fall apart. Then we'll have another election sooner than people will want and the Conservatives might very well get a majority. Just like how this same type of scenario played out in 1926. In any case, I'd love to see a little shake up and I think watching what they do and don't get done will get people a little more interested in politics again for a change.

At 11:39 PM, Blogger Mike said...


You may be right. I'm presenting a purposefully pessimistic vision. That being said, I think things like this can certainly stir passions that simply don't get stirred by unwanted elections for a government with no platform.

Not a lot of people turned out in the election in Spain prior to the 1936 civil war either.

I am merely pointing out that it is possible and far more likely right now than people on either side are willing to admit.

At 11:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If anything Canadian's have wakened to the wolves at the door -- and it's not only recession, but the the Harper government trying to win all future elections by eliminating opposition funding.

Who needs the PM's games while the economy's under attack. Can't see any demonstrations, even in redneck Alberta. It's hockey season.

At 11:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe a bit far fetched but definitely worth keeping in mind.

The analogy of Spain doesn't work though -- that conflict was a revolutionary class struggle at heart.

The momentum is with the opposition now but they will have to keep up the pressure on all levels...start the TV ads and joint press conferences on Monday.

At 12:22 AM, Blogger That guy said...

I really doubt that this sort of thing will happen. I can see Harper being reluctant to leave office, but he really won't have a choice. And I can see protests in Calgary, but not the sort of violence you're talking about.

At 1:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 1:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Plumetting dollar? Puh-leaze. Our dollar is what it is cause of what we sell. No one outside cares about our government, let alone paying any attention.

At 10:33 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Chet et al,

I doubt it would happen as well, but I also think it is far more plausible than anyone, left or right, is willing to consider. Especially if the rhetoric from the Conservatives and their supporters gets out of hand (combined with the less intense rhetoric of those progressives who are cheering this on). I can see Harper and the PMO losing control rather easily.

Have a look at the Natty Po, SDA and many on the BT - they are already using terms like "coup d'etat" and "junta". This is being fed to doctrinaire Conservatives and fellow-traveling ideologues who already consider the Liberal Party a "criminal organization" and liberalism a mental disorder.

The end state is far fetched, but each incremental step is not really that far fetched. What is scary is, given the viciousness of the partisanship on both sides, one can see this happening.

Of course, it may be my wanna be writer's imagination.

I still think its something that everyone on both sides needs to keep in the back of their mind when they go down this road.

At 9:12 PM, Blogger James Bow said...

I do think that, if it got to the point that we were teetering on civil war, we'd have an intervention from the United States. There's no way they'd accept that level of instability next door.

At 9:15 PM, Blogger Stephen K said...

I considerably less extreme yet still undesirable result would be if the GG, instead of giving the coalition the opportunity to govern, calls an election. An election now would I think be something that any opponent of the Harper government would want to stay away from. I love the idea of a progressive coalition, but it's too risky in my opinion.

At 9:35 PM, Blogger Mike said...


That would have been the next line had I kept writing. Nonetheless, the possibility of getting to that point is very real.

Stephen K,

Most constitutional experts say she would probably grant the opposition the chance, since it it so soon after an election and the non-confidence motion specifically states that the coalition would have the confidence of the current house.

But I see your point.

At 9:51 PM, Blogger JG said...

We're not having another election this fall.

You're on to something here, Mike, though I'd respectfully submit Chile c. 1970 as the most pertinent example of excess partisanship where no single party holds a legislative (or popular) majority. While I don't think it will come to that (not least because our military isn't anywhere near as politicized internally as Chile's was), Canadians are far too sanguine about this sort of thing. Had the 1995 referendum gone slightly in the other direction, the results would almost certainly have not been orderly or peaceful. We have allowed partisanship to get dangerously out of hand in this country and while I cannot exempt the Liberals or NDP from this, most of this has occurred in Conservative ranks.

That's not to say such radical partisanship has spread to the general population to the extent that it did in Chile, for example, but it might be a lot closer than any of us are prepared to admit.

Well, in any case, your scenario would make a good novel - or movie!

At 2:01 AM, Blogger Stephen K said...

I hope you're right, Mike. Nevertheless, it'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

At 9:43 AM, Blogger Rev.Paperboy said...

Lets not start stockpiling canned goods and ammunition just yet. While I grant that your chain of events is possible, I think it is highly unlikely the RCMP would refuse to intervene in a riot or that the Armed Forces would obey orders from anyone in such a situation, except when it comes to stopping people from raiding armouries.
I think most Canadians will either be turning their backs on the whole thing and declaring all politicians a bunch of useless dirtbags or curling up in front of the Parliamentary channel with beer and popcorn and waiting for the fistfights to start.

At 11:19 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Well, the title of the post IS "Worst Case Scenario" Rev.

I just think that with the support the Conservatives have in the upper echelons of both the RCMP AND the CF, it is more plausible this happening in a confusion as to the legitimate chain of command.

I think most Canadians will either be turning their backs on the whole thing and declaring all politicians a bunch of useless dirtbags or curling up in front of the Parliamentary channel with beer and popcorn and waiting for the fistfights to start.

That is actually my best case scenario, my dream. But I'm a Market Anarchist and libertarian. Anything that gets people to ignore the government and the state is fine by me.

Seriously, I think the best thing that will come out of this crisis is a clear need to change our outdated electoral system and Parliamentary system.

Perhaps even a Constitutional Convention to draw up a whole new one.

At 1:05 PM, Blogger JG said...

I think proportional representation combined with requirements for constructive votes of non-confidence and a clearer definition of the role of PM would do it. And if that sounds like I'm just copying the German system, my only response is that a federal parliamentary system designed to promote compromise and consensus and to prevent the dominance of overreaching minority parties would be entirely appropriate for Canada.

At 11:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Conservatives out protesting in Canada? Acting like "dirty hippies". That is decades away.

At 11:15 PM, Blogger Ian said...

In Edmonton we have rivalling protests on Thursday. Daveberta was a bit more optimistic about the showdown.

Your scenario does scare me as a progressive in Alberta, and I've heard some heated rhetoric from some friends.

You also forgot that a failing economy would drive more unemployment and raw anger (not improving the situation).

Also, the CPC would collapse as the old PCs would desert in favour of civility. The Reformers are fed from the most extreme of the Right-Wing churches that spawned Bush and Palin. They have the "Truth and Reality" (TM). Scary stuff.

At 2:59 PM, Blogger John Alan Jack said...

Even if this does not come to pass, it's a great scenario for people here in Canada to take seriously. As you have already stated, it's a fact of life in other nation-states.

It'd also make a great movie/comic for political junkies like myself, but probably only for myself...

Excellent piece, I'm going to send it to friends all over.

At 4:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we go to war the real question on everyone's mind is who's bringing the timmies?

(sorry, I just couldn't resist)



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