Rats don’t desert a ship that hasn’t sunk yet

[Updated] This story begins a while ago, and there are enough threads to it, that I’ve been trying to figure out how to put it together.

On 2 April, the Captain’s Quarters blog breached a Canadian court’s publications ban by publishing inflammatory testimony on a Canadian political scandal. The U.S. blog explained that “[a] political scandal involving the Public Works Ministry, a government effort called the Sponsorship Program, and allegations of corruption in the ruling Liberal Party has Canada abuzz with rumors of payoffs, Mob ties, and snap elections. For the last two years, Canadian politics has been gripped by the so-called ‘sponsorship scandal’ – tens of millions of dollars in government contracts which were funneled into advertizing firms closely connected with the Liberal government for little or no work, but with shadowy rumours that much of the money found its way back into Liberal coffers.” The testimony is indeed ugly and largely confirms the rumors. The scandal is also being referred to as “AdScam.”

Once again, Canada’s fragile unity is supposedly threatened. The sponsorship program was “an important part of the battle against Quebec sovereigntists in the wake of the 1995 referendum.” But “Quebec sovereignty is now a virtual certainty thanks to Gomery commission revelations and general Liberal ineptitude, says former public works minister Alfonso Gagliano.” Calgary Sun columnist Licia Corbella wrote on 1 May, “Support for sovereignty in Quebec broke through the 50% barrier to its highest level since 1998 last week amid growing controversy over the sponsorship scandal, according to a Leger Marketing survey,” but goes on to explain that the question was worded poorly, allowing respondents to think that Quebec sovereignty “would simply mean Quebec would negotiate a better deal within Confederation — that they would continue to use Canadian passports, receive Canadian pensions and send MPs to Ottawa. In effect, 30% of the yes vote was clearly delusional.”

Fuzzy questions haven’t stopped Tory MPs from seeking to exploit the situation. “Bob Mills, Tory MP for Red Deer and the party’s environment critic, said some of his constituents are contemplating separatism and may have no other choice should the federal Liberals win the next election.” Many others are unimpressed. “‘It’s kind of like blackmail — vote for us or we’ll leave,’ said David Taras, political analyst at the University of Calgary.” The Saskatoon StarPhoenix reports that “A majority of Canadian voters believe Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are motivated by a sheer thirst for power — not a sincere desire to dump a corrupt government — when they argue it’s time for an early election.”

Not that the Libreals aren’t also motivated by “a sheer thirst for power.” According to the Montreal Gazette, “The government will face a vote today [10 May] in the House of Commons calling on it to resign, but it is unlikely to do so whatever the outcome.”

“This is a procedural motion and as such it is empirically not a matter of confidence,” said Scott Reid, senior adviser to the prime minister. He accused the opposition parties of dishonouring Canada’s war veterans by trying to force a vote while the leaders were in Holland for the 60th anniversary of VE Day.

Jerry Yanover, a procedural adviser to Liberal House leader Tony Valeri, said the motion, which would change the wording of a public accounts committee report, must first be amended by the committee itself before it can be considered for a confidence vote.

“That’s our view,” Yanover said, adding that two respected scholars agree with the government’s interpretation. “There’s no real precedent on this.”

The Liberals and New Democrats have the majority on the Commons public accounts committee and can successfully kill the proposed amendment.

According to a CBC story:

“Constitutional experts, procedural experts are saying this is nothing more than a procedural motion,” Liberal House leader Tony Valeri told Newsworld on Tuesday.

The Liberals have already dismissed a similar motion – involving the finance committee and scheduled to be voted on next week – as a procedural matter and not a matter of confidence.

If the opposition really wants to bring down the government, Valeri said, it will have a number of chances this month as the House debates the budget bill and an amendment adding changes the Liberals negotiated with the New Democrats in return for that party’s support of the budget.

Bill C-38, the bill establishing same-sex marriage standards across the country, will also be debated in the coming days.

“The Conservatives and their new separatist friends could decide to defeat that legislation, and if they do, there will be an election because those are issues of confidence,” said Valeri.

So what might be happening is that Conservatives might be exploiting the arrogance of the Liberals, who are clearly clinging to power only on procedural grounds. If the poll respondents are right, Conservatives will surely do what Valeri has effectively challenged them to do. Having made such a fuss, they may have put themselves in a corner where they will have no choice but to do what Valeri has challenged them to do.

All this might seem reassuring to those who worry for the future of Canada’s unity. After all, one might argue, if Canada were truly falling apart, would people argue so over power in a disintegrating nation? Alas, the answer is yes. In fact, the odds are that as the situation becomes more desperate, we’ll see much more squabbling over ever smaller gains.

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