Thursday, January 29, 2009

Parliament returns

Yesterday, Parliament returned from its unusual 7-week suspension.  Americans may not be up-to-date on what happened up here in December (and they've had other things - i.e., inaugurating a new president - on their minds since then), but here is a typical news article outlining what happened. The Conservatives won a minority government, and that is always vulnerable - to stay in power, they have to cater to the other side, at least far enough to persuade some opposition members to keep voting with them in order win votes in Parliament. Once that stops happening, once the opposition deserts the government, the combined votes of all the opposition members outweighs those of the government, and the government falls. In a majority situation (where the ruling party has straight-out won enough votes to pass its legislation by itself, without opposition help) this only happens in really extreme cases, where actual ruling party members themselves refuse to vote for their own leaders - you'd have to have some really abominable scandal or crime to make that happen.

When a government falls like this, the Governor General has the option of calling a new election, or asking the other side if they can collect enough votes on their side to take the place of the government. This just doesn't happen in the U.S., because you only have two parties, but if you have 3 or more, the way the vote divides can lead to just this kind of intricate balancing act.

Priscilla pointed me to this American blogger's view on the differences between Canada and U.S. highlighted by this episode, but there was one point that I think he missed. The "economic crisis" that has swept across the world has hit Canada too. Not quite in the same way (our banks weren't as exposed to danger as those in the U.S.), but our stock exchange has fallen, the fall in the price of oil has affected us, and the fall in the housing market is already resulting in layoffs and bankruptcies, just to mention the most obvious highlights.

However, in all this, our government basically "disappeared" for almost two months. The politicians have continued to talk about "crisis" and "emergency" and teetering on the brink of disaster, but unlike the U.S., they've pretty much sat on the sidelines, waiting for Parliament to return. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the politicians have barged their way to the front of the crowd, waving their arms and insisting that everyone get behind them as they "do something", which has turned out to be throwing astronomical sums of money around, week after week. Has all this flailing activity produced anything very different from Canada's enforced inaction? Here, our stock market has inched up a little, just like the Dow Jones, and we hear bad news about this or that company laying off workers, but there has been no catastrophe, people are not starving or homeless. For a "crisis", this is a very well-behaved one, and it's patiently waited around for almost 2 months for someone to attend to it. It makes me wonder if all the hysterical arm-waving in the U.S. has really made much difference after all.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two months without government, and everything was fine. . . Makes you think, doesn't it?

Ellie M.

9:43 am  
Blogger Priscilla said...

First, aren't Canadians known for calmness and better behavior?
Second, here in the US, the very ones who caused the housing problems in the first place are same ones who are now screaming the loudest about doom and gloom . Six months ago they were assuring us there was nothing was wrong. And last November whom did the Kool-aid drinkers elect?
I'm so frustrated.
Lastly, nothing wrong with two months without the those clowns passing legislation we don't want or need!

10:57 am  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

We are, but it can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the situation. It's probably mostly due to the kind of people who founded Canada. You Americans got the adventurous, free-spirited dynamos who wanted big, big space to spread out and do what they liked. Your founding fathers were big thinkers and philosophers. Ours were Scotch lawyers. So we have a background of more timid, conformist people who put up with bossing and nannying by the government, but we also tend to be more cautious about sinking all our money into fly-by-night schemes. It pays off in economic meltdowns.

3:30 pm  
Anonymous Bill in Ottawa said...

I would also argue that the vast majority of our European population base are refugees of one kind or another: Loyalists from the US, Scots from the Clearances, NS Germans from the 30-years war, Ukrainians from the collapse of Tsarist Russia, potato-famine Irish, French transportees out of pre-Revolution politics and the list goes on up to today with Somali, Vietnamese and Bosnian refugees being some of the latest.

This escape from tyrrany has manifested in both a willingness to put up with small inconveniences and a terrifically strong stubborn streak that will occasionally result in landslide ousters of unpopular governments (St. Laurent, Trudeau, Mulroney.)or the founding of relatively effective protest parties (Progressives, CCF, Reform and Bloc Quebecois).

The banking industry got very heavily controlled in the Dirty Thirties and deregulation has been very slow and cautious primarily because the Canadian West still does not trust banks.

1:27 pm  
Blogger Eowyn said...

"It makes me wonder if all the hysterical arm-waving in the U.S. has really made much difference after all."

Two things:

1) We now inhabit a global economy. Up until about the end of the 1970s, economies were self-contained among nations. Business minds recognized that bigger profits were to be made by taking advantage of cheaper labor markets (which then existed on steroids -- a worker in Malaysia, or India, costed a fraction of a native worker).

"Labor" costs were not seen in human terms. They were simply a number on the balance sheet. Hence, the movement toward securing cheaper labor. (With all the devastating consequences.)

2) Trade is, at its base, psychology. That is: We agree to exchange this abstract concept -- money -- in exchange for what it will reward us for. The ASSUMPTION that you will recompense me for what I have given you is ASSUMED.

But it is not GUARANTEED.

And here, thinks me, is where civilization is falling down: We are not able to deliver the physical goods, based on the agreement, because someone else's promise of delivery making it possible for us to deliver is not there. It is a house of cards -- and all based on ASSUMPTIONS, rather than on physical reality.

The moment the United States departed from the Gold Standard, economy-wise -- that is, our treasury is backed up by an actual GOOD -- gold -- a PHYSICAL REALITY -- rather than by a credit -- an ASSUMPTION -- was the moment the world economy began to teeter. This was back in the 1930s. We are seeing the effects today.

My take? We humans are a bunch of .... well, ants, who have the audacity to think we're all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips. *grin*

8:13 pm  

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