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State of the Nation, February 2009
Friday, 27 February 2009

The coalition failed, but the deadlock remains

The federal scene has changed dramatically since we wrote our post-election newsletter in November.

The opposition coalition which blindsided and nearly defeated the Harper government in December has come and gone, taking with it the last deluded ambitions of Stephane Dion.

The turmoil left all sides scarred. Parliament remains frozen in the regional stalemate that has paralyzed it since the collapse of the Mulroney Conservatives 16 years ago.

Polls show that the Bloc continues to hold Quebec, the Conservatives the West. The Atlantic provinces remain divided, unsure which party better guarantees the entitlements on which they depend. Meanwhile, Ontario, growing ever larger and ever poorer, moves slowly and uncertainly from Liberals toward the Conservatives.

Nobody gained ground from the opposition uprising.

Driven into a deficit budget and making Senate appointments, Harper has shaken the confidence of his own rank and file.

Among the Liberals there’s a wait-and-see lack of enthusiasm for Dion’s appointed successor, Michael Ignatieff.

Jack Layton, who got most of the credit for initiating the coalition, will probably now reap the penalty for its failure.

Gilles Duceppe will pay too. His kingmaker role in the coalition promised Quebeckers the unholy grail of power without responsibility, and then it was yanked away, reminding everyone of Quebec’s growing irrelevance. By voting for the Bloc they are losing leverage. For the first time in four decades nobody from Quebec can become Prime Minister.

Overall, nobody in Parliament now trusts anyone.

In this respect, Parliament reflects the country. Political disillusionment and regional resentment pervade all provinces and all parties.

There is a solution – not by any means a magical one but a good one. It lies in the Senate.

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