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Canada: Harper's Apocalypse?

Wed 10 Dec 2008 In: Comment View at Wayback View at NDHA

Under fire: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative federal government are suddenly on the brink of political oblivion, with his minority government probably doomed. How are Canadian LGBTs reacting to their nation's political crisis? It all began when Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tried to slash federal funding to Opposition political parties, which galvanised the Liberals, Bloc Quebecois and New Democrat Party into coalition talks. They're waiting to launch a motion of no confidence, which the Conservatives can only lose. As columnist Andrew Steele noted recently in Toronto's Globe and Mail, Harper has several options left. To avoid domestic repetition of the sacking of Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (1975) by Governor General Michaelle Jean, he could sack her beforehand. The Tories could use procedural delays to prevent the inevitable, which seems to be the preferred strategy. There could be a caretaker Prime Minister. Harper could delay the inaugural session of the new Parliament, which appears to be his current strategy. He could fire Flaherty, and try reconciliation and consensus with the Opposition parties, but matters seem to have gone too far for that now. He could call an election, but would the Governor General neccessarily accept that option, given that the Opposition parties are capable of forming their own alternative government. He could try to subvert the Bloc Quebecois or New Democrats. Or he could resign. The Canadian LGBT community seem enthralled at this fortuitous turn of events. Even given that Harper ruled out any further attacks on federal same-sex marriage legislation when a repeal effort failed, there's still strong dislike for Harper and his regime, over issues like instability of AIDS prevention programme funding, federal arts funding cuts, and slashed funding to the Court Challenges Programme, which helped fund equality litigation related to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada's written constitution. At the same time, there are serious questions about the legitimacy of Canada's current minority government. The Tories may be the largest parliamentary party, but they have foregone consensus, attacking public funding of parliamentary parties, attacked public sector union strike rights, and neglecting paramount issues of importance, like a unified domestic response to the current global economic turmoil. In Canada's Xtra national newspaper chain, the reaction appears to be one of overwhelming endorsement. They advocate that Canadian LGBT community members join the anti-Harper/ pro-coalition rallies which have been convened by the Canadian Labour Congress, Canadian Union of Public Employees and Public Service Association of Canada, but which also include peace, green, feminist and other elements of progressive civil society. These rallies have led to a new pro-coalition campaign, Make Parliament Work. As for EGALE, Canada's national LGBT lobby organisation, its response seems muted, or delayed, perhaps holding back until it can assess which side will be victorious. On the far right, the Canadian Christian Right appear to be doing likewise. There has only been one direct response to the constitutional crisis. Predictably, Campaign Life Coalition leader Jim Hughes supports Harper, even if he's sniffy about Harper's pro-choice stance on abortion, and refusal to revisit the same-sex marriage issue after the failure of a repeal bill. Like Canada's national antifeminist organisation, REAL Women, he defends Harper on the basis that even given the above, Harper and the Tories also oppose decriminalisation of sex work and voluntary euthanasia, as well as obstructing subsidised federal childcare programmes and nationwide needle exchange programmes. He is worried that an alternative centre-left government would boost Court Challenges Programme funding, and move to decriminalise sex work and death with dignity. However, other Christian Right groups remain silent about the status of the Harper administration, resentful over its repudiation of the Christian Right over abortion and same-sex marriage. It has been lleft to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a New Right pressure group, to organise pro-Harper "Rallies for Canada." Update: At present, Harper and Opposition Leader Stephane Dion have appeared on Canadian television to present their sides of the story. The Governor General has approved prorogation of Parliament until the Harper administration can present their budget in mid-January. Some media commentators are critical of this move, arguing that it merely prolongs the duration of this crisis, exacerbates political polarisation and given its minority status, the Harper administration is doomed to fall whenever Parliament reconvenes. At best, they state, it has only brought him some time. Recommended: Toronto Globe and Mail: Xtra Canada: Gareth Kirkby: “I Support Coalition Government” Xtra: 02.12.08: Dale Smith: “Queers uniting around Liberal-NDP coalition” Xtra: 02.12.08: Egale Canada: Make Parliament Work: Not Recommended: REAL Women of Canada (antifeminist): Lifesite: Craig Young - 10th December 2008    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Wednesday, 10th December 2008 - 10:24am

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