Alberta Politics
New Brunswick Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

N.B.’s Blaine Higgs showed the proper path to power after a close vote, but don’t expect Albertans to believe it

Posted on October 21, 2019, 1:29 am
6 mins

If the Conservatives led by Andrew Scheer should win the most seats in the House of Commons tonight but Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refuses to hand over power on the perfectly reasonable Parliamentary grounds he thinks he can command the confidence of the House, much of Alberta will go over the edge.

The almighty howl of fury Canadians would surely hear in such circumstances is what we get, I suppose, for not requiring students to attend high school civics classes to learn how our system of Parliamentary government works.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer (Photo: Flickr/Andrew Scheer).

It was deeply cynical and possibly quite dangerous for Mr. Scheer — who, as a former Speaker of the House certainly knows better — to claim that some kind of brand new Parliamentary convention requires the party that wins the most seats in a multi-party Parliament automatically to form the government.

Not only is there no such convention — that is, one of the unwritten rules our Parliamentary system inherited from the United Kingdom — there is one that says the opposite.

To wit: If the Prime Minister thinks after an election he can command the confidence of the House, the real parliamentary convention says he gets to try.

Former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Such a first minister’s effort may fail on an early vote of confidence, of course, as former Liberal New Brunswick premier Brian Gallant’s did last year. But it was only after that happened that Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs got to lead a government.

Mr. Higgs remains the premier, so I suppose New Brunswick Conservatives must feel the system works as intended.

But as Mr. Scheer well knows, that’s not the way things are likely to play out in Ottawa this time if a pizza Parliament with party representation thinly sliced is what we get tonight. This, presumably, is why the former insurance broker, or whatever he used to be, pulled this nonsense about a new parliamentary convention from his obviously fertile imagination and keeps repeating it as if repetition will make it true.

Nevertheless, you can also count on it that in such circumstances plenty of die-hard Conservatives here in Alberta would take Mr. Scheer at his word, or at least repeat his talking point, and say and do God knows what as a result.

The leader of the NDP in 2008, the late Jack Layton (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Of course, if the shoe is on the other foot, and Mr. Scheer manages to cobble together a deal with the separatist Bloc Québécois to form a government, all you’ll hear out here is the crickets. Or, actually, not even them, seeing as it’s getting too cold at night now for chirping.

But that’s just the way we roll out here in Wild Rose Country.

If you doubt me, recall that once upon a time, in a Canada not so different from the one we may be living in tonight, the Liberals and the NDP signed an agreement to form a coalition government, with a side deal with the Bloc Québécois not to pull the whole thing apart at the first opportunity.

The outrage in Conservative circles in Alberta reached near hysteria. But that was then and a Conservative government was threatened, not threatening.

Former Governor General Michaëlle Jean (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The year was 2008, and I suspect those Conservatives knew that if the deal had come to fruition, Liberal Party leader Stéphane Dion might still be prime minister of Canada today.

As for Mr. Dion and Jack Layton, the NDP leader at the time, agreeing to sign a side deal with the Bloc, that was frequently described around here as treason.

Well, thanks to then prime minister Stephen Harper’s unconstitutional but never challenged agreement with governor general Michaëlle Jean to prorogue Parliament in defiance of convention, the Canadian people’s assembly was prevented from fulfilling its democratic role, to the great relief of Alberta’s Conservatives.

What happened since is well known and brings us to where we are today.

Indeed, if we face such circumstances tonight and we create a Venn diagram of Alberta Conservatives who viewed working with the Bloc in 2008 as outright treason and cutting a deal with them 11 years later a perfectly reasonable Parliamentary tactic, we will only need to draw one circle.

Only one prediction can be made with confidence about today’s election: Whatever happens, Alberta is unlikely to be happy about it.

7 Comments to: N.B.’s Blaine Higgs showed the proper path to power after a close vote, but don’t expect Albertans to believe it

  1. Bob Raynard

    October 21st, 2019

    Hi David,

    Typo alert

    I think you meant 2008, not 2018.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      October 21st, 2019

      Indeed I did, Bob. It’s been corrected. As always, many thanks to you and to others who spot my typos and bring them to my attention. DJC

      Reply
  2. Albertan

    October 21st, 2019

    Then there’s 2004 when Harper wanted to do a coalition with the NDP and the Bloc against the Paul Martin Liberals if the Liberals lost the confidence of the House.
    “Harper wanted 2004 coalition: Duceppe. Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe holds up a copy of a 2004 letter he said Stephen Harper signed to replace Paul Martin’s minority government with a Conservative-led coalition.”
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/harper-wanted-2004-coalition-duceppe-1.1118390
    Sort of speaks classical “Conservative’ hypocritical skulldug volumes eh?

    Reply
  3. Scotty on Denman

    October 21st, 2019

    Why does Scheer repeat such easily refutable twaddle? Because he apparently needs to make sure his voting base hears it. Why is he so worried that they might not? Because there aren’t enough voters in that base to win a majority—and to lose even a minority would be nothing short of catastrophic, not only for Scheer, but for the whole, sorry excuse for a conservative party.

    Yeah, he worried.

    The self-righteous ScheerCons regularly accuse their rivals of hypocrisy; it’s yet another tRumpoid tactic adopted by the similarly flagging neo-right usurper and destroyer of a real Tory party: accuse your accusers of the same thing they accuse you of, no matter how blatantly obvious the ruse. It’s a sort of a dog-whistley virtue-signalling between the initiated—and they don’t care what noninitiates think about it: noninitiates are simply wrong and cannot possibly be right, much less righteous. Initiates in the circled wagon laager are, in a word, chauvinists.

    I can’t wait for the caterwauling if the real parliamentary tradition has to be exercised. Conservatives will call it unethical, illegal, unconstitutional —but they’ve cried wolf so many times, so loudly, the nerve no longer transmits pain.

    No doubt the real constitutional crisis Harper inflicted on Canada and parliamentary precedent will be immediately weaponized. Naturally neo-rightists will do it, too, no matter how hypocritical (see above).

    But the big difference is: Scheer is not the Governor’s first minister from whom the Sovereign’s representative is duty bound to take advice. The Governor would only summon him if the Liberal government lost a confidence vote in the House first: and then Scheer’s minority would have to win the confidence vote on his very first bill. If he didn’t, the GG wouldn’t ask MPs if there’s another group of them who’ll commit to passing legislation—it’d be obvious by that point there is not, and she’d immediately call another election. Ouch. How would the ScheerCons weaponize that?

    So, if Scheer wants to compound his boneheaded, self-serving rule-rewriting and kick the stilts out from under Harper’s hitherto forgotten episode (improper prorogation) of shameful misadventure, I hope he finds it comfortable under all that—like the Wicked Witch of the West’s sister whose feet curl up under the prairie farmhouse in which Dorothy crashed to earth.

    Perhaps not an entirely appropriate analogy since Scheer, again, does not wear the Ruby Slippers. I always loved the part when the Witch—played by Margaret Hamilton in “The Wizard of Oz”—gets her fingers electrocuted when she covetously tries to remove the slippers from her dead sister’s feet without a smidgen of remorse for her sibling—that screech is indelibly etched in my cultural mind. I’m hoping to hear it again—real soon!

    Thumbs up from a lucky voter whose first voting choice is also the best tactical choice to beat the Conservative candidate—and also proven a very good MP. NDP.

    (BTW, I’m wondering if every ScheerCon candidate was instructed to roll an accusative ‘hand-grenade’ into the mix at the very last minute—like Scheer tried with his idiotic ‘Liberal-NDP coalition conspiracy’: our ScheerCon candidate out here—who hasn’t appeared at any town halls or all-candidates’ debates since the writ was dropped—made his debut public utterance on the last day of campaigning, accusing somebody of breaking election advertising rules. Anybody have a similar experience? Good luck, my Albertan friends!)

    Reply
  4. pogo

    October 21st, 2019

    So even you, might be moved? Danielle Smith gets ink money for the most inexcusable malfeasance of literacy, by taking a paid dump on Canada as a state, and you might hang ’em up? I’m a mad Pogo now boss! I’m sorry! But if you expect to get my best sleeping bag out here when you come calling? Scorch them better! But if you gotta sleep like the rest of us? I’ll play this for you! https://youtu.be/yKjICNdWamk

    Reply
  5. Dave

    October 21st, 2019

    I would say that the Conservative commentators and politicians that dominate political discussion in Alberta, are not likely to be happy with the election outcome. They are the ones who shout the loudest in this province and assume they speak for everyone. They have tried to whip up an anti Trudeau, anti Liberal frenzy, both here in Alberta with some success and elsewhere with more mixed results, so if they fall short of winning they will be even more bitter than they are now.

    Our first past the post system that the Conservatives so staunchly defended when we had a brief discussion about alternatives a few years ago is exactly that and tonight it may come back to bite them. Yes, it makes it easier for a party to win a majority government with a lower level of support (particularly if the Conservatives can nudge vote splitting between other parties to work in their favor as Harper did in 2011). However, there are more parties that are competitive now than in 2011, including a new one on the right. The Conservatives tepid campaign probably caused a lot of voters to look at the other alternatives to the Liberals and so they were never really able to reach that low threshold.

    It will be interesting to see who wins the most seats, but even if the Conservatives do nudge out the Liberals by a little or even by a wider margin, they have little support among the other parties. It is possible a large BQ contingent might prop up the Conservatives from time to time, like they did for Harper in his minority government years. However, they have already said they are not supporting the Conservative repeal of the carbon tax and have zero interest in a national energy corridor proposed by the Conservatives and would not support weakening existing environmental initiatives. Therefore, I think a Conservative minority government would be essentially unable to move forward with any of their initiatives on energy.

    With the rest of the world and the rest of Canada increasingly concerned about the environment, the Alberta energy industry is finding itself increasingly isolated. I think Alberta has lost a great deal of leverage federally by putting most of its eggs in one political basket and if it continues this strategy will lose even more. Perhaps the only happy politicians will be Conservative backbenchers here who don’t have to work very hard to get re-elected – very good job security for them and the provincial politicians here who find fighting against Ottawa helps distract the local voters from more troublesome things for them, like cuts to services and RCMP investigations of their own electoral shenanigans.

    Reply
  6. Bill Malcolm

    October 22nd, 2019

    Well, as I watch the results, CBC has both Nenshi and some guy who represents Postmedia in Alberta going on about Alberta not being understood by the rest of the country. (You might as well throw in Saskatchewan and Manitoba too) They claim Alberta was the engine of growth in Canada.

    I sincerely wonder if it has been, because the overwhelming preponderance of the Canadian population concentrated in Ontario and Quebec have probably put more absolute dollars into our growth than Alberta’s small population has. The growth may have been less in percentage terms no doubt, but multiplied by more than five times as many citizens in the two most populous provinces, the absolute increase has not been mainly due to Alberta. Nor has it cost $60 billion a year in petroil subsidies mainly to one province to achieve that growth, the vast majority of which money seems to disappear down the rathole into foreign pockets and is implausibly denied to have existed in the first place. Now we’ll get the business types and PostMedia, itself US-owned, bleating about future foreign investment declines in Canada, blindly ignoring how the rest of the country voted. We’ll all be dismissed as irrelevant by the Kenney and Prairie contingent, with Ford clapping along like a poodle behind while he remains in power and loses ever more popularity provincially.

    It is this total misunderstanding of the dynamics of population in Canada that Albertans seem to resolutely miss, every single time for the last four decades. It is a desperate spot of navel-gazing that living in a bubble and believing your own nonsense brings to a province that just cannot do basic arithmetic. And to compound the unreality, only one seat in Alberta has gone anything but Conservative this time, despite the fact that 30% of the voters supported other parties. By voting so one-sidedly, Albertans have no doubt made the Conservative percentage of the popular vote greater than the Liberals by concentrating their support where they were going to win anyway. No doubt the Cons will try to make hay of that, just to be as difficult and divisive as usual.

    The BQ with 32 seats virtually matches Alberta’s 34 Conservative seats. That’s population similarity, but I’d bet there are few people in Alberta who even consider that the BQ vote counts, while they feel far more important. In a so-called democracy, you cannot decide you’re more important than anyone else. That’s the rub, like it or not.

    So, DJC, your feelings about official Alberta leaping up and down in frustration are bound to come true. In my opinion not for reasonable reasons, but with feelings so hurt, no amount of soothing balm will alleviate it for years to come.

    Crazy times ahead indeed. And now as I finish, the Alberta PostMedia twerp gives May the gears as a failure being the climate change denier he is paid to be. At least the First Nations rep they have pointed out the obvious environmental problems in our North following that corporate nonsense. May Conrad Black, possible non-Canadian citizen but decidedly a pompous ass have a bad night’s sleep.

    Reply

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