strange bedfellows

Things are getting positively weird in Ottawa. This weekend, Prime Minister Stephen Harper put the kibosh on rumours his party was negotiating a government-preserving deal with the Bloc Quebecois.

Things are getting positively weird in Ottawa.

This weekend, Prime Minister Stephen Harper put the kibosh on rumours his party was negotiating a government-preserving deal with the Bloc Quebecois.

National newspaper reporters heard rumblings the Conservative Party was trying to cook up a deal with either the “socialist” NDP or the “separatist” Bloc to stave off a Liberal-triggered election.

The Harper juggernaut, which exhibited much swagger and swing in November after its strengthened minority, has been oddly quiet of late.

His fist-in-the-mouth politicking in December united the opposition under anemic Stephane Dion, and almost toppled his government.

That put a scare into the Conservative ranks and badly damaged Harper’s credibility.

Though he’s still at the helm, many Conservatives consider Harper past his prime. He’s no longer seen as his party’s future.

The New Democratic Party is in a similar bind.

Leader Jack Layton doesn’t want an election either. Not now.

Like Harper, Layton’s also at the tail end of his stewardship of the party and lacks the right stuff to build support, especially in the face of a Liberal resurgence under Michael Ignatieff.

So Layton, who pulled the plug on Paul Martin’s government—killing the Kelowna Accord and a national daycare program—may have to prop up Harper to ward off a potentially devastating electoral loss?

Now, imagine if Ignatieff proposes a broader employment insurance program. What would Layton do? Such a proposal would put him in a tough spot indeed.

And, of course, there’s Harper. The economy’s in a tailspin, his leadership is under review and he’s facing a stronger Liberal Party under Ignatieff—all problems of his own creation.

Like Layton, he has to buy time - perhaps until after the 2010 Olympics, a gala that might lighten the national mood.

To do so, he needs the support of an opposition party. Any opposition party.

But, the only options are the Bloc and the NDP.

What’s a guy to do? Those are the same parties Harper vilified as “socialists and separatists” in December.

Given that, it would be hard to cozy up to them today.

Hard, but not impossible.

Last week, there were suggestions a rapprochement was underway. Until Harper announced it wasn’t.

Harper’s bare-knuckle politics has made such a coalition unlikely. Double-dealing with the Bloc would be the height of hypocrisy.

But, if minority parliaments have taught Canadians anything, it’s that politics makes for strange bedfellows.

And we haven’t seen the end to the weirdness. (Richard Mostyn)