Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday October 22, 2020
Canadians don’t need election melodrama
If not for Jagmeet Singh and the NDP and the three members of the Green caucus, Canada would be heading into a federal election today. We are not, and we should be thankful for that.
An election campaign, with the federal Parliament adjourned for campaigning, is the last thing the country wants, or needs. The second wave of this pandemic is sweeping across the nation. We need all hands on deck to manage the crisis, and no one needs to be distracted by an election campaign and everything that goes along with that.
But how did we get here? How did we end up on the brink of an election no one wants?
There’s blame to be apportioned across the board, but the majority of it falls on the governing Liberals and Opposition Conservatives. They joined in a high stakes game of chicken that was not driven by anything other than partisan advantage.
First, the Conservatives. They launched a motion on Opposition Day that called for establishing a new super-committee to investigate corruption, specifically the WE scandal. It would have had unprecedented power to call not only members of the government and civil service, but people such as friends and relatives. It could have compelled the release of private citizens’ financial records over a 12-year period. That is probably not even legal.
It was a massive overreach, especially considering Parliament already has multiple committees that can do that work. And given that this is a minority government, those committees are often dominated by opposition MPs, so the government doesn’t always get its way.
Further, there is a central hypocrisy in what the Conservatives are saying. They want a committee specifically focused on government corruption, and they publicly declare they do not have confidence in the government. But they also say they don’t want an election. You cannot square that circle.
But the Liberals delivered a surprise — they chose a nuclear response to the Conservatives overreach, saying the motion amounted to a loss of confidence in the government, and therefore would trigger an election. They drew a line in the sand, and they dared opposition parties to cross.
There’s no doubt, from a political strategy perspective, that the government outplayed its opponents. But beyond that strategic victory, this brinksmanship isn’t a good look for anyone involved. The government is acting like it has a majority when it doesn’t. The Conservatives wanted to weaponize the committee process for partisan gain. Both were willing to force Canadians to endure an election campaign in a very dangerous time. For that, they should be ashamed.
Thankfully, Singh’s NDP sought middle ground. They proposed a committee that would oversee and investigate all spending and management during the pandemic, including in the WE affair. That is a reasonable mandate for a new committee. We don’t know what the Liberals agreed to in exchange for the NDP’s support against the Conservatives, but don’t be surprised if the end result of this drama fest is something like what the NDP proposed.
So for now, this melodrama is over. Don’t be surprised when the next game of chicken breaks out, as happened frequently when Stephen Harper’s minority government was challenged repeatedly and dared opposition parties to trigger an election.
That said, there was ample cynical political gamesmanship on display here. It’s wasn’t pretty. The Liberals and Conservatives should take a long look in the mirror and try to remember what Canadians are dealing with. That’s what matters, not an unnecessary election campaign. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)