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NDP cancels deal with devils

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"IT'S going to be one great big game of political chicken," chortled deputy Conservative leader Peter MacKay. "Who's going to blink?"

The Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois are threatening to use their combined 153 seats to present the minority Liberal government with an unpleasant choice: accept their amendments to the Speech from the throne or see Conservative leader Stephen Harper installed as prime minister or face an election.

The two decentralist parties' insistence that they only want to use their joint clout to prove a minority Parliament can work is refuted by Mr. Harper's previous published positions and NDP Leader Jack Layton.

In 1997, Mr. Harper and his current senior adviser and Conservative campaign manager, University of Calgary political scientist Tom Flanagan, co-authored an article urging a coalition between Alberta conservatives and the Bloc. They argued the Bloc's rural voters "would not be out of place in Red Deer. They are nationalist for much the same reason that Albertans are populist -- they care about their local identity and they see the federal government as a threat to their way of life."

The NDP Leader blew the whistle on the Conservative-Bloc pact to make Mr. Harper prime minister on Wednesday, saying it was why he had pulled out of the opposition talks last week. Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe had told him "we can have another party leader as prime minister" should the throne speech fail to pass.

Mr. Layton, a political scientist, says a Liberal defeat this early in the life of the Parliament would oblige the Governor General to call on the Conservatives to form a government. "This is a big political game here," the NDP leader continued.

The Bloc and Conservatives heatedly deny Mr. Layton's charges.

But at the very least, the two parties appear determined to set a precedent for de facto opposition rule that will lead to a fundamental weakening of the central government's role in the nation's affairs.

They also want to do an end run around the will of the Canadian people, not to mention their own voters. Alberta Conservatives didn't think they were voting for a Quebec separatist party. Equally, Bloc voters didn't think they were voting for an entity that is at profound odds with Quebec's language, culture and values.

The inspiration for these deconstructionist machinations comes from a group of academic ideologues based in the University of Calgary's political science department. They are exposed by award-winning journalist Marci McDonald in the latest issue of Canada's cutting-edge political magazine, The Walrus.

Dubbed "The Calgary School," they include Mr. Flanagan and professors and political commentators Barry Cooper and David Bercuson.

According to Ms McDonald, former senior editor for Maclean's Magazine and U.S. News and World Report, the Calgary School seeks to make Alberta "a test case in their push to untie the Big Government bonds that knit Confederation."

In his Sept. 26 article in this newspaper and others across Canada, Mr. Cooper, Alberta director of the Fraser Institute, proved her point. He argued Alberta should use its oil windfall to cripple the federal government. Among other things, he proposed Alberta provide grants to other provinces conditional on them scrapping the Canada Health Act and ending "dependency-inducing policies" like equalization.

Continues Ms McDonald: "For the Calgary School, intellectual inspiration has always run north-south, not east-west. Not surprisingly, most of the group's policy prescriptions -- from an elected Senate to parliamentary approval of judges -- would have one effect: they would wipe out the quirky bilateral differences that are stumbling blocks to seamless integration with the United States."

The school's "torrent of academic treatises and no-holds-barred commentaries" has given intellectual heft to a "Rocky Mountain brand of libertarianism" that includes lower taxes and "free markets unfettered by social programs such as medicare that keep citizens from being forced to pull up their own socks," she writes.

Another "pet peeve" of the Calgary School, she says, is the Charter of Rights because of its supposed championing of feminism, abortion and same-sex marriage.

But above everything else, the school champions less federal government.

Mr. Harper is an unofficial member of the Calgary School. His famous 2000 "firewall" letter, co-authored with Mr. Flanagan and other members of the school, urged Alberta Premier Ralph Klein to use Alberta's oil wealth to quasi-secede from Canada.

Denials aside, a Conservative-Bloc pact obviously was sealed this week in Ottawa. If it achieves its most modest objective and forces changes to the throne speech, its next targets will be the budget, other major government legislation and the work of committees.

Initially, the goal of this unholy deconstructionist alliance is to render the federal Parliament incoherent and unaccountable. Ultimately, it is to make the one government all Canadians elect into a creature of the provinces.

FrancesRussell@mts.net

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 8, 2004 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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