Peter Julian on the coalition, and what it means for New West

Hubris has led to a great fall for Stephen Harper. Having won a mandate for another minority government, Harper acted as though he had won a majority and gave the three opposition parties the common enemy they needed for an attempt to wrest control from the Conservatives and propose an alternative coalition government. And CanadiansRead More

Hubris has led to a great fall for Stephen Harper. Having won a mandate for another minority government, Harper acted as though he had won a majority and gave the three opposition parties the common enemy they needed for an attempt to wrest control from the Conservatives and propose an alternative coalition government.

And Canadians said … WTF?!

As news of these developments percolated through the Twittersphere, blogosphere and news media, many of us discovered that we understood less than we realized about how our political system works (myself included). I am not alone in spending some time catching up on the nuances of parliamentary democracy lately.

It’s not a coup, as some have called it. It’s a rarely used but legitimate political option exercised when the Prime Minister really screws up. The last time something like this happened in Canada was over conscription in the First World War.

As you know if you’ve ever voted (or remember the fundamentals of your high school history), we don’t vote directly for our country’s leader. We vote for a local representative. The leader is the person who can rally the most support in the House of Commons. This is almost always the leader of the party who won the most seats. This time, the leader of the party with the most seats is also (arguably) the most reviled political leader in Canada. While he did squeak past with a win in the last election, he did not enjoy the support of a majority of Canadians, and he has now lost the confidence of a majority of our Parliament.

I spoke with Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian today to get his take on the situation, and what it means for New Westminster.

Julian said all this began when Harper failed to deliver on his promise to move quickly after the election to implement a plan to address the economic crisis. While he had pledged to take a moderate approach and work with all parties in the House of Commons, the budget update instead included a number of controversial plans that impacted social programs, public election financing and other issues.
“He basically lobbed a grenade onto the floor of the House of Commons. He took a hard right shift attacking basic principles like collective bargaining and pay equity for women,” said Julian. “He used the economic crisis to put forward a very hard right shift, which is not at all what he committed to in the election campaign. He committed to being moderate.”

The NDP, Liberals and Bloc response was not what the Conservatives expected. The economic crisis and the threat of another election wasn’t enough to bully them into passing the budget. Instead, leaders of the three parties began planning to oust Harper. Our local MPs, Julian and New Westminster-Coquitlam’s Dawn Black played key roles in clinching the plan. Black was the NDP caucus representative who helped negotiate the coalition agreement, while Julian worked the phones responding to media queries.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the government will be defeated in the House,” Julian declared. “The debate right now is which day.”

The Conservatives have a limited menu of what Julian called “procedural games” that they can use to try and forestall or delay losing power to this coalition. The Globe & Mail has a great analysis of Harper’s options. None sound terribly appealing. I feel a little sorry for the guy. Another story in the Globe suggests Harper’s plan is to prorogue Parliament, which basically means shutting down Parliament and cowering through Christmas with the hope of a fresh start in the New Year.

I asked Julian about his response to the some of the big questions I’m hearing about the coalition. As far as he’s concerned, over 60% of those who voted did not choose the Conservatives, and the coalition has the support of all other parties (Green included) and independents. Said Julian, “Everybody has come together except the Conservatives in Stephen Harper’s government.”

Critics of the coalition are pointing out the irony of depending on the support of a separatist party for the survival of the government, but Julian pointed out that the Bloc is not a part of the coalition itself. The Bloc has agreed not to initiate a motion of non-confidence for at least 18 months. The Conservative government has also depended on the support of the Bloc to pass budget updates, so Julian contends this is a non-issue. According to Julian, while the Conservatives have been accusing the NDP and Liberals of selling out to the Bloc in English Canada, in French it’s the Bloc who they accuse of selling out.

“It’s fair to say the Conservatives have been masters of manipulation,” Julian said.

The economic stimulus plan that will be released soon by the coalition targets improvements for housing, infrastructure, industry and changes to employment insurance programs (removing the two-week waiting period before receiving benefits to spare people’s savings, supporting more retraining programs). The strategy seems to be to allocate funds to projects that will improve our communities while creating jobs for both workers on the projects and those who will benefit from those people’s spending. Julian mentioned that three mills recently closed in New Westminster, and he estimates the impact is about 2.5 jobs were indirectly affected for each job lost.

The infrastructure investment could be of real use to New Westminster. Like many communities in Canada, we sorely need to do some significant upgrades. Julian estimates the ‘infrastructure deficit’ across Canada to be worth approximately $100 billion. The proposed stimulus package is only about $30 billion, so we can imagine there could be some squabbling over that pie. Assuming the coalition gets the go-ahead from the Governor General, Julian would sit down with New Westminster mayor and council to discuss infrastructure priorities and then take our ask back to Ottawa. The coalition’s plan was not yet online when I spoke with Julian, but when I get the link I will share it so you can read – and decide – for yourself.

Briana Tomkinson

Briana Tomkinson is a Montreal-based writer and original founder of Tenth to the Fraser. She really likes to write letters by hand.

Briana Tomkinson is a really valued member of the Tenth to the Fraser community. Interested in joining our pool of writers? Please see these submission guidelines.


  1. I can only imagine why you feel nervous but I know a few reasons why I feel nervous. Our government would be depending upon a party whose sole purpose for existence is to rip apart the Canada I know and love. I wonder what the Bloc has been promised in order to not bring down the coalition. Hmmm. I'm sure they're not doing it for the betterment of Canada. Canada is doing better economically than most of the G8 nations and I think it might be premature to be throwing billions of dollars at projects. I know that if my personal finances aren't doing well I don't have the option of getting more money from the bank. That's okay. Spend, spend, spend. Our kids will pay it off later, right?If the NDP and Liberals wanted a coalition they should have formed one two months ago or at least been honest when asked, as they were, if they would be interested in forming one. Who cares if the coalition's plan is not yet online if I don't actually get to vote on their plan.

  2. Anthony Damonse has some interesting context on the Bloc support on his blog. Seems in 2004, Harper himself had begun to lay the groundwork to lead a coalition government with the (and supported by the Bloc) against the Liberals. Appears depending on "socialists and separatists" for support was OK five years ago … has copied the text of that 2004 letter to the Governor General on his blog. It reads in part: "As leaders of the opposition parties, we are well aware that, given theLiberal minority government, you could be asked by the Prime Ministerto dissolve the 38th Parliament at any time should the House of Commonsfail to support some part of the government’s program."We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who togetherconstitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. Webelieve that, should a request for dissolution arise this should giveyou cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult theopposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercisingyour constitutional authority."

  3. We all voted and the numbers that are in he house are the result of that vote. If the Harper Conservatives are too incompetent to form a decent government despite having more seats, then it is incumbent on the other parties and the governor general to form an alternative government to avoid another general election. We will have a coalition government because that is what we voted for. @dem-mock-racy, this is not the USA. We dont vote for the PM. Parliamentary democracy allows for this coalition at no cost to our democratic principles. It is a foundation of multiparty democracies around the world.

  4. Will, thanks for lecturing me on the difference between the Canadian and US democracies. I'm quite well versed in the differences though. ;-)I agree we don't vote for the PM but we sure know which leader we do and don't want leading the country and many people vote for their MP with that in mind. I disagree that we voted for a coalition government. I didn't. What I did vote in was a minority government. That type of government can be very productive when all parties work together and compromise. Let's try that. The coalition government of Thailand has worked well, hasn't it?!?

  5. It is even more entertaining to have this conversation from New Orleans, a city that can not help but feel unrepresented. Some did vote with a minority conservative government in mind "That type of government can be very productive when all parties work together and compromise" but the three opposition parties are compromising to form this stable, coalition government. In addition, they have shown the ability to compromise with Mr. Harper, when he is in the mood. Realize though, that Mr. Harper proposed a confidence vote on a budget update that was anathema to the other duly elected represented members of the house. With his unwillingess or inability to form a government (ie, one willing to govern) we are left with a choice: go to the polls or accept an alternative government. While it has been uncommon in our parliament over the last years, this dynamic is common in the Northern and Western European countries and Israel. The goal after the election is "who can form a government" not "who got the most MPs." Imagine an election where the PC party, the Alliance and the Sub-Alliance (whatever it was called) all came together to form a government even while the Liberals held the most seats. This is the same thing, just with a better chance for good government.

  6. and so I repeat, let's go to the polls and give Canadians the chance to give their opinion. Maybe this will get more people voting. I have heard that with the present coalition idea people are saying, "Why did I bother voting 7 weeks ago?"

  7. Let's examine what we're getting in place of Harper should the unthinkable happen:1. A prime minister in DION who can't even lead his own party to a decent election showing (read: rejected by the majority of the voting public)and whose forced reirement has already been planned by his own party as a consequence of the same.2. NDP's Jack Layton who's ready to sell his own mother or his soul to the devil to achieve big boy status in Ottawa but is destined to always be a bit player for his party's failed socialist platform.3. A unabashed separatist and a cunning extortionist who's sole purpose is to break-up and re-draw Canada. In all countries other than Canada, he'd have been tried for treason!Ummmh.. Not exactly the trade up I had in mind. Not a coup by strict definition perhaps, but a fine example of "cutting off our nose to spite our face"We're weathering the finacial crisis quite better than most countries not because of divine intervention but because we had the collective foresight not to give anyone of the above three the driver seat in the first place. And now, we're thinking of throwing away our good fortune? The three stooges are just p___ed-off because they and those they serve have been denied keys to the larder.So far, I can only identify three yahoos in this drama but that number is sure to increase by thirty odd million if the so-called coalition of the doomed get to drive this canadian boat under these stormy conditions.

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