Minority governments are difficult to navigate at the best of times and many a good ship government has been scuttled on the shoals of a skittish budget. Ask Joe Clark how it felt to lose his nascent minority by a couple of lousy votes back in 1980.
Here is a little secret: the Conservatives could have given $10,000 to every man, woman and child in Canada and the Liberals and NDP still would not have voted for this week’s budget.
They could have banned all fossil fuels, or opened daycares on every street corner, or funded a Starbucks in every Canadian basement and the opposition would still have not supported the budget.
There is something for everyone to disagree with in the $200 billion in program spending.
There usually is.
However, the Conservatives had to balance on the edge of a keen political reality. Knowing that Stephane Dion and Jack Layton were unlikely to vote for a Conservative budget left Harper and his team little choice but to reach out to the Bloc Quebecois.
If they hadn’t been able to muster support for a budget, we would be pounding election lawn signs into our grass by month’s end.
By crafting a budget that was seen as a boost for Quebec, Harper has assured passage of the positive items in the document. These include income splitting for families, additional child tax credits, debt repayment, more money for low income seniors, funding for alternative energy and incentives to purchase fuel efficient vehicles.
The other provinces are beside themselves, as they see yet another budget built around subsidizing Quebec.
All this kerfuffle could have been avoided if the Liberal and NDP had shown some guts and worked with the government during this minority parliament. But because playing politics was more important to the opposition than running the country, the Conservatives have no choice but to work with the separatists in Quebec.
Layton’s and Dion’s inability to set their puffy egos aside means that Canadians, yet again, have a budget that provides a heavy dollop of sucking up to Quebec.
This time the finger of blame goes right to the opposition. There is no doubt in Conservative minds that Dion is desperate for an election. His flailing around on the opposition benches highlights his ineffectiveness as a parliamentarian. His people hope that the election circuit, built on meaningless sound bits and cheesy photo ops, will be a more effective platform for their guy, who just can’t seem to connect with the beer and popcorn crowd.
In the meantime, Dion and Layton seem quite willing to abdicate their responsibilities to a strong federation in the hopes that playing politics will yield them a magical election result.