Reform democracy or rid the country of Stephen Harper?

The movement for democratic reform is undoubtedly one of the most heartening developments in Canadian politics in a very long time. Not just because it was great to see some 25,000 people out in the streets protesting the Harper dictatorship, but perhaps even more importantly giving a wake-up call to the social and labour movements who have become dormant largely on the excuse that Canadians have become more conservative. This is simply not the case.

This outpouring of anger at something declared by the pundits as beyond the pale for most Canadians, will hopefully inspire those same organizations to get on the bus. Or shame them into it – it hardly matters which. These politically opportune moments do not arrive very often and it is incumbent upon existing organizations to rise to the occasion, support the nascent movement and begin gearing up their own machinery to take the fight to Stephen Harper and his government.

But one question does arise in observing this exciting development. What is our goal?  Do we want to finally rid the country of this execrable politician once and for all, or do we want democratic reform for the sake of democratic reform?

While the concentration of power in the PMO is hardly a new phenomenon (it started in earnest with Pierre Trudeau in 1968) Harper has taken it to genuinely dangerous levels. Given the momentum now for reform – and the likely pillorying of any leader who dares try to use Harper’s tricks as a precedent – it may be time to think about the possibility of an election in the spring.

The now humbled pundits seem to agree, backed by the polls, that the anti-prorogation movement is sticking. Harper is, in the latest (and largest-sample) poll by Ekos, mired at around 30%, in a dead heat with the Liberals. The massive – if questionable – government response to Haiti has not helped him at all. This may be a long-term 10% drop-off in support. As one party flak said the other day, Harper’s core support is about 30% while there are 10% of Canadians who might or might not support him, depending on the circumstances. The anger is such that this entire soft potential support has disappeared.

If the numbers stay where they are the Liberals might be tempted to defeat the government on the up-coming March 3rd budget.  An Angus Reid poll suggests Canadian are no longer so opposed to the idea of an election – with a “throw the bums out” sentiment growing according to Ekos’s Frank Graves.

The numbers show a continuing free-fall for the Conservatives in the two key provinces: with the Liberals at 39.2 per cent in Ontario compared to 31.6 per cent for the Conservatives, and with  29.1 per cent in Quebec compared to 16.2 per cent for the Conservatives.

According to the G&M story:

“Plugging his new poll numbers into his seat projection model, Mr. Graves has the Liberals winning 119 compared to 110 for the Tories if an election were held today. The NDP would win 30 seats, the Bloc could garner 46 and Elizabeth May’s Green Party would win one seat – in Ontario – with two more going to “other” parties or independents, according to Mr. Graves’ projection.

Last week, he had the Tories with 117 seats compared to 114 for the Liberals. The Tories now have 145 seats to 77 for the Liberals in the 308 seat House of Commons.”

Those are very interesting numbers and would give the country a minority Liberal government with critical support from the NDP and Bloc putting pressure from the left on their policies.

It is important to remember what most Canadians want – getting rid of Harper. The democratic reforms are clearly important but it is Harper who is the principal villain in this regard. No prime minister in Canada has shown such contempt for democracy or such a tendency to dictatorial rule.

There is something else. There are many more reasons we want to get rid of this vicious government than its violations of democracy. Harper’s goals are crystal clear for anyone who has the intestinal fortitude to contemplate them – he aims to dismantle the country as we know it. We need to keep getting rid of this man and his government as soon as is feasibly possible, front and centre.

The movement for democracy can only claim victory if it first dispatches Stephen Harper from the PMO – simply because he is the immediate threat to democracy and will continue to be as long he is in office. Then the movement can work on achieving the reforms to the system so no one ever gets the chance to run roughshod over democracy again.

Of course, an election decision is not in the hands of the movement or anyone else other than, practically speaking, the Liberals or the Conservatives. But as we work our way through February and watch how the situation unfolds, we will have the opportunity – and the choice to make – on whether to call for an election, and to throw the bums out.

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