From Thursday's Globe and Mail
No one knows how events in Ottawa will ultimately play out, but if the current crisis is resolved without an election, the damage to the country could be serious and long-lasting.
And I'm not sure anyone is thinking about that right now.
It's pretty clear, though, that each of the two most likely scenarios Canadians are looking at - Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper maintaining power or seeing it handed over to a coalition of Liberals and New Democrats with the backing of the separatist Bloc Québécois - potentially creates huge problems. Problems few could have imagined even a month ago.
While there are critics of the proposed coalition across the country, the bulk of the opposition has seemingly amassed in the four western provinces where the Conservatives own 71 of the 92 available seats. The party that would lead the coalition, meantime, has only seven MPs west of the Great Lakes. Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion is widely reviled - yes, admittedly, just as the Prime Minister is in many parts of the country.
I realize that not everyone in Western Canada voted for the Conservatives, and there are many who live here who would love to see Stephen Harper pay the ultimate price for an often arrogant governing style. But the fact is there are plenty of westerners who are now contemplating life without a governing party in Ottawa they felt finally understood their wants and needs, that appreciated the West in a way successive Liberal governments had not.
Now they have to adjust to this new possibility, one that only exists because of a deal with the Bloc that has separatist leaders in Quebec jumping for joy. Meantime, comments by the Prime Minister and others critical of the role that the Bloc has played in the current drama have stirred up feelings and passions in the West that are not necessarily positive.
Or, as André Pratte said in an editorial in La Presse yesterday: "Watching how the Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition couldn't care less about the feelings of western Canadians, listening to PM Harper refer repeatedly to the threat represented by 'Quebec separatists,' gives us an idea of the damage that this crisis could inflict on the unity of the country."
But just as those who oppose a coalition-led government live across the country, so do those who support the gambit.
What has become clear in the past few days is that Mr. Harper may be the most polarizing figure in Canadian politics since Pierre Trudeau. Maybe Brian Mulroney, just before exiting politics, was loathed to this extent.
Mr. Harper, as has been pointed out by many, has to shoulder a lot of the blame for his predicament. Few prime ministers have exhibited the same almost megalomaniacal affinity for toxic partisanship. At a time of economic uncertainty, at a time when he needed to extend his hand to the opposition parties and include them in crafting a response to our financial predicament, he failed us.
When we needed statesmanship and leadership, he demonstrated the factional instincts of Richard Nixon.
Still, as imperfect as Stephen Harper is, right now, at this time, it's hard to be persuaded that he and his government don't offer a better alternative to a coalition led by a failed leader his own party doesn't want who will be replaced in five months by heaven knows whom.
It's just as difficult to comprehend why adjourning Parliament until late January and allowing the Conservatives to come back with an economic stimulus package that includes some of the measures the opposition is demanding is such a terrible idea.
Mr. Harper has backed down from his petty-minded plan to eliminate public subsidies to political parties. Why not give him a chance to take another run at his economic package? Or is this a case, as many suspect, of two parties that can't believe their luck? Of an opposition intent on finishing off a government that accidentally shot itself?
Canadians are often far more practical than those chosen to lead them. I think most would agree that those in Ottawa need to take a break for a while, put up a Christmas light or two and reconvene in January with a fresh perspective.
Meantime, others can assess how much damage to the country has already been done. And how much more possibly lies ahead.