Harper or Armageddon? Let’s be serious

TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Tue Apr 26 201.   By Carol Goar, Editorial Board

We are not a fearful people. We don’t shrink from adversity or cower in the face of challenges.

When the recession hit 2 1/2 years ago, we tightened our belts, reduced our debts and got on with life. It was the steadiness of consumer spending and the stability of the banking system that set Canada on the road to recovery sooner than other nations.

When hijacked jets slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon 10 years ago, Newfoundlanders swung into action, accommodating 6,700 travellers stranded by the sudden closure of North American air space. In the midst of global panic, they did what they always do: welcomed strangers in a storm.

These upheavals don’t compare to the hardships past generations faced. But measured by the tests of our time, we have proved level-headed and resilient.

Stephen Harper has a different reading of our character. He has spent the entire campaign warning that we’ll be plunged into debilitating uncertainty unless we elect a strong Conservative majority on May 2.

The proposition would be laughable, except that many intellectuals, pundits and voters are taking it seriously.

So let’s examine the dangers Harper cites to see how daunting they are:

If the Conservatives fail to win a majority for the third time in five years, the opposition parties will gang up to defeat the newly elected government, form a “reckless coalition of losers” and go on an irresponsible spending spree.

Both Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and Parti Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe have ruled out a coalition categorically. New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton has said he would be willing work with anyone — including the Tories — to solve national problems.

None of the opposition leaders is making wildly expensive spending commitments. Their cost projections are implausible, but so are Harper’s.

Canada’s 41st Parliament will collapse within days if we deny the Conservatives the 155 seats they need to enact their agenda.

That might happen. But it isn’t inevitable. Harper could forestall a vote of non-confidence by putting put forward a legislative program that takes into account the views of other parties and the needs of all Canadians.

So far, he has refused to do this, insisting he’ll reintroduce the same budget that precipitated this election.

Canada will flounder without the strong economic leadership that a Conservative majority alone can provide.

History suggests otherwise. Canada has weathered seven recessions since the Great Depression. Two took place under minority governments. Three came on the watch of prime ministers with weak economic credentials. The sky didn’t fall. Canada’s sturdy social safety nets, its automatic stabilizers (employment insurance and progressive income taxes) and the pragmatism of its people stood the nation in good stead until economic conditions improved.

Canada will be engulfed in constitutional turmoil without a strong, stable Conservative majority government.

It is hard to envision such a scenario. No one, including Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois, is proposing another referendum on Quebec independence anytime soon. Layton, whose fortunes are rising in Quebec, has said an NDP government might be prepared to reopen the Constitution if “winning conditions for Quebec in Canada” could be created. But first he’d have to become prime minister. Then he’d have to win over soft nationalists. Then he’d have to convince Parliament and the premiers to go along with the plan.

Harper is right on three counts. There are economic storm clouds on the horizon. The opposition parties would seek to govern collaboratively if the Conservatives lost the confidence of Parliament. And we may have to endure a few more minority governments before a stalemate-breaking leader emerges. We have coped with far bigger problems than these.

The only “black hole” that exists is in Harper’s imagination. There is no reason to vote in fear.

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