Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/12/2008 (4583 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are dangling offers of cabinet and Senate appointments in a desperate attempt to stave off defeat of their minority government, Liberals say.
But Liberals maintain the ploy is not working. Indeed, they say they’ve received signals that Conservative MPs are more likely to break ranks out of frustration with the prime minister’s bombastic and partisan handling of the crisis.
Nevertheless, some Liberal strategists privately fear their caucus solidarity will start to unravel if Harper is able to buy himself a two-month reprieve before his government faces a confidence test.
Harper is scheduled to meet Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean early Thursday morning. He is widely expected to ask Jean to prorogue or suspend Parliament until late January.
Hoping to force a confidence vote on Monday while the three opposition parties remain united in their determination to replace the government, Liberal Leader Stephane Dion wrote Jean on Wednesday urging her to reject any request for prorogation.
"You cannot accept this violation of our Constitution and this affront to our parliamentary democracy," Dion wrote.
"The prime minister, your chief counsellor, has already de facto lost his legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of members of the House of Commons. He has lost his legitimacy to give you counsel."
Dion argued that proroguing would only delay the inevitable defeat of Harper’s government, prolonging the parliamentary crisis and exacerbating economic uncertainty.
"A month without a government that commands the confidence of the House is too long during these times of economic turmoil."
Harper would need nine opposition MPs to vote with the Tories or 17 to abstain on confidence votes to survive an opposition bid to replace the government with a Liberal-NDP coalition, propped up by the Bloc Quebecois.
To that end, Liberals said Wednesday that the Tories are pulling out all the stops to shatter the solidarity of the three opposition parties.
"There’s talk now of cabinet posts, Senate seats for members to break ranks," said Liberal MP Bryon Wilfert.
Kory Teneycke, a spokesman for Harper, said the charge is "completely false."
But during a closed-door Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday, Newfoundland MP Scott Simms revealed that he’d been approached about crossing the floor to the Tories with the promise of a plum appointment.
According to insiders, Simms said he was approached about defecting by one of the Tory "young bucks" from Alberta. Simms wouldn’t say what he was offered in return but told caucus he had four conversations with the Alberta MP before the Tory apparently gave up.
Simms did not return calls Wednesday.
Liberals also suggested that Toronto-area MP Dan McTeague was similarly courted. But McTeague said in an interview that no Conservative has approached him about defecting.
The Conservatives are also mounting a massive campaign to turn public opinion against the idea of a coalition, accusing Liberals and New Democrats of staging an illegitimate, undemocratic putsch with the aid of separatists devoted to destroying the country.
One Tory MP, Bob Dechert, went so far Wednesday as to suggest opposition MPs are traitors.
"That is as close to treason and sedition as I can imagine," Dechert said.
The Tories appear to hope that public outrage will shake the solidarity of opposition MPs — particularly in the Liberal caucus, which is perceived as the coalition’s weakest link.
But Liberals said Harper’s strategy is backfiring. His "reckless" and "dangerous" bid to turn the issue into a national unity crisis is only galvanizing them in their belief that he must be defeated.
"He does not have the right to destroy my country in order to save his own skin," said McTeague.
Toronto MP Judy Sgro said she’s talked to some Conservatives who want to mobilize an all-party coalition of MPs willing to fix the faltering economy and dispense with partisan games.
"(They’re) saying, you know, maybe we should all get serious about putting together a coalition of MPs who’ll put Canada first, kind of thing," Sgro said in an interview.
"There’s a lot of frustration on the Conservative side with what’s happened."
Sgro herself had hoped for a negotiated resolution to the crisis but she said Harper appears to have nixed that possibility by his over-the-top attack on Liberals’ patriotism.
"I have to say to you that the MPs on the Liberal side are very determined to go forward with this and the more that he does that, the more determined everybody gets."
Victoria Liberal MP Keith Martin said he’s urged some Conservative MPs to put pressure on Harper to reach out to opposition parties and find a joint approach to the economy. But he said Harper has "really burnt a lot of bridges" with his inflammatory response to the coalition.
Toronto Liberal MP John McKay put it more bluntly: "There’s no backing down. The die is cast."