Thursday, May 19, 2005

What’s Up In Canada?

Who says the only good political dramas take place in Washington, D.C.? The Canadian government faces a test tonight when the Liberals bring the federal budget to a vote in Parliament, and the run-up to the vote has all the elements of an episode of The West Wing: political in-fighting, accusations of bribery and graft, and even a broken heart — both literal and figurative — play out in the story.

The fate of Canada’s 38th Parliament hangs in the balance heading into what is sure to be a razor-thin confidence vote tonight that could launch a federal election after several wild weeks of dramatic political tactics and backroom deals.

The chances the Liberals will survive tonight appeared to increase yesterday when one of two key undecided independents, Chuck Cadman, said a new poll shows only 23 per cent of his constituents in his British Columbia riding of Surrey North want an election right away. Even so, he said he would not make up his mind until today.

The second undecided independent, David Kilgour, also said yesterday he will decide at the last minute.

Tonight’s vote comes as a poll of 1,500 Canadians conducted by The Strategic Counsel for The Globe and Mail and CTV found that Canadians do not support Conservatives joining forces with the Bloc Québécois to defeat the government.

The political drama intensified on several fronts yesterday.

Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal said he had been in discussions with Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh and Tim Murphy, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, about propping up the government in exchange for political appointments.

Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis was carried out of the House on a stretcher after suffering chest pain.

Former Tory Belinda Stronach was introduced to her new Liberal caucus mates after her surprise defection on Tuesday increased the Liberals’ chances of survival in the budget vote. [This also led to the break-up of a romance. See this sidebar. MB]

Mr. Cadman, a former Canadian Alliance MP, said the BCTV survey of his constituents will influence his decision, which will not be final until he steps into the House of Commons.

In interviews yesterday, Mr. Cadman said his “gut feeling” was that his constituents want to wait for an election, but the MP told The Globe and Mail he is balancing that against whether the current Parliament can continue to function and whether the Liberals have the “moral authority” to govern.

“I am truly undecided,” Mr. Cadman said. “I’ll have a final decision when I go in to vote.”

Mr. Cadman confirmed that Prime Minister Paul Martin and Mr. Dosanjh came to his Ottawa apartment for a 45-minute chat over coffee this week to outline reasons he should support the government, but he said no special deals were offered.

Assuming all MPs are in their seats, a vote in favour of the budget by either Mr. Cadman or Mr. Kilgour will ensure the government’s survival until at least its next confidence test.

I’ve often wondered what it would be like if we had a Canadian form of government here. For one thing, Denny Hastert would be the Prime Minister, Bill Frist and all the senators would be largely powerless, we’d have a lot more fringe political parties, congressional districts would be called “ridings,” and we could have an election season that lasts only six weeks. Not sure it’s worth it, but it would be fun to have a “no confidence” vote against the Republicans.