Friday, 26 December 2008

An Awkward 6 Months in Prague

The end of the year is fast approaching, and with it the EU reign of SuperSarko is coming to an end as well. On December 31 at Midnight France will pass the rotating EU presidency to the Czech Republic, which will hold the position for the next six months. With the ratification of the EU reform treaty still up in the air, it will be an incredibly volatile time to hold the leadership position. And with the Czech president a notorious EU-hater, it's going to be an awkward few months

It is perhaps ironic that the EU reform treaty is set to abolish the cumbersome rotating EU presidency, which is handed off to a new country every six months. During this critical time, it could be the holder of the rotating presidency that kills the treaty.

The tension that the next six months will bring was in evidence at a recent lunch for European ambassadors to the Czech Republic. As recounted by the Economist, the guest of honour at the meeting, Czech president Vaclav Klaus, made the meeting extreemly uncomfortable. After being politely asked about how the Czech EU presidency might handle various EU policies, Klaus responded with an angry diatribe about how since he is against the EU's existence, he has no reason to answer such questions. He then followed this with an angry speech about how the Czech presidency is irrelevant anyway because the EU is always dominated by the big founding nations no matter who holds the presidency. He even turned to the envoy from Slovenia and accused that country's presidency for the first half of this year of being a farce.

Now it's important to point out that the Czech presidency is a largely ceremonial position with no direct power over domestic or foreign policy, as many in the Czech government have been quick to point out. But his symbolic importance is huge. At a time when Irish millionaires are seeking to build a pan-European movement against the EU reform treaty, the fact that the current ceremonial figurehead of the EU himself is against it is not insignificant. Comments like the ones made at this recent lunch will become a rallying cry for Eurosceptics across the continent over the next six months, and Vaclav Klaus will be the hero of the anti-treaty movement. Klaus had a well-publicized dinner with millionaire Irish anti-Lisbon campaigner Declan Ganley in November, and he still refuses to fly the EU flag over Prague Castle.

My former professor while I was studying in Prague, Jiri Pehe, told the BBC this week that the EU "has the right to be worried a bit about the Czech presidency." Pehe, an advisor to the first post-communist Czech president Vaclav Havel, should know. The Czech Republic itself is only 19 years old, and it's only been a member of the EU since 2002. "This 19-year-old teenager is now taking over a bus with 26 other people on board," Pehe told the BBC. "Maybe the rest of the European Union would be OK if this particular teenager was driving the bus on an empty road with no intersections ahead, but I think we are facing very difficult traffic, with several complicated intersections."

So it's perhaps not surprising that French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been reluctant to hand over the reigns to his Czech counterpart. Over the past few weeks there have been rumours of a secret French plan for Sarkozy to continue hosting European summits after the new year, inviting only those countries that use the euro. This plan, according to insiders would allow Sarko to maintain control if Klaus attempts to "sabotage" the EU during the Czech presidency. Recently an official from the Elysee Palace used that exact word to describe the process.

It will probably become clear within the first month of 2009 how Klaus, and the Czech government, intend to proceed with the presidency. But a confrontational tact would throw the EU into pandemonium just as it is desperately seeking to get the reform treaty ratified. Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy year.

Seasons Greetings from New York

I just wanted to post a quick note to wish everyone happy holidays. I'm in New York at the moment, home with the family for Christmas and New Years. It's nice to be home, I haven't really been back to New York properly for a year. It's amazing the amount of sales here at the moment, particularly considering its the days just before Christmas.

Other than that everything seems mostly the same here, the post-Obama-election streets aren't yet paved with gold. A lot of my friends here have been laid off, which is disconcerting. Of course it's like that all over, not just here. I'll spend New Years here and then it's back to Zurich for me. And after that, well that has yet to be determined! January will be a time to make some plans.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

For Once, Europe is United Over Gay Rights

A major milestone took place at the UN yesterday. Sixty years after the organisation adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 68 countries signed a non-binding delcaration sponsored by France and the Netherlands demanding the worldwide decriminalisation of homosexuality.

This was the first time that any gay rights issue had been pressed in a large motion at the United Nations, and it was interesting to see that the body was just about evenly split, with 68 countries supporting and 60 countries rejecting the declaration. The nations which rejected the the resolution were largely Arab and African states, with one notable exception: the only Western country to refuse to sign the declaration was the United States.

This is perhaps not surprising considering that homosexuality was only nationally decriminalised in the US five years ago. The Supreme Court decision of Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 ruled that a Texas law making homosexual sex a crime was unconstitutional, and in the process invalidated a number of such state laws across the country (this was the decision which Senator Rick Santorum infamously said would lead to decriminalisation of beastiality). But in light of that recent decision, it seems unusual that the Bush Administration are saying that they can't sign the treaty because it would interfere with states' rights. The 2003 decision ruled that states don't have the right to criminalize homosexuality, so that argument is non-sensical.

Of course any country can sign the declaration at a later point, and perhaps the Obama administration will revisit the issue when it comes into office. It is rather embarassing, and incredible, for the United States to be the only Western country that has refused to sign the document.

But what I found even more interesting that the US's embarassing stance on this issue was the fact that the EU was competely united behind it - all 26 member nations signed the resolution. This is impressive considering that gay rights have been one of the most divisive issues within the European Union - particularly with new entrant Poland, an extreemly religious and conservative country. So to see that Brussels was able to crack the whip and make sure that countries like Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuana and Estonia supported the resolution is quite impressive. Even Ireland and Italy might have balked at signing such a declaration a decade ago. It's a promising sign for gay advocates in Europe who would like to see EU-wide gay rights policies implemented one day in the future.

Homosexuality remains a criminal offence in more than 80 countries, and is punishable by death in seven nations.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Merkel the Obstructionist?

If there's one thing the global economic turmoil has taught us, it's how suddenly everything can change. Angela Merkel definitly doesn't need to be told this twice. Just a few months ago she was Europe's champion; a practical, no-nonsense leader whose pragmatism and spirit of compromise had earned her great respect throughout Europe. But since the onset of the financial crisis she has largely been in the background, failing to come up with new ideas or solutions.

In the past week, this transformation has continued even more dramatically. Suddenly she's become Europe's 'Mrs. No,' the adversary to Gordon Brown's new self-styled 'hero of the world' role. Tensions have been simmering between Germany's chancellor and the British prime minister since last week when Brown didn't invite Merkel to a summit he held in London with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and European Commission (EU) president Jose Manuel Barroso. After that the German foreign minister publicly criticised Gordon Brown's plan to rescue the global economic crisis through government bailouts and shore-ups.

Also last week, Merkel appeared to do a flip-flop on Germany's climate change target commitments, as Germany argued in Posnan that it should have its target lowered, causing many environmental campaigners complaining that Europe seemed to be abandoning its commitment to tackling climate change.

In the end, Merkel ended up relenting for the most part and signed the agreements both for a Europe-wide bailout plan and an EU consensus on climate change. In the end she probably had to relent because although she has suddenly found herself in the role of 'Mrs. No,' she has no alternative plan to propose either for the economy or climate change. Merkal has always been short on ideas but long on action (the exact opposite of her French counterpart Sarkozy), so it's not surprising that she doesn't seem to be excelling in times that require quick and bold acttion. But even still, it's clear she has strong and profound objections to the idea of taking on more debt to solve the economic crisis. It will be interesting to see if the pattern of the last week will be repeated in the coming months. For the time being, it is clear that the relationship between Brown and Merkel has soured. And with her relationship with Sarkozy already notoriously rocky, Merkel could find herself isolated politically.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Happy 'Switzerland Joins Schengen' Day!

After so much anticipation, I rose early this morning at dawn to creep down to the fireplace and see if I had received a visit from Schengen Clause. I gasped with joy to find it was true, he'd come! The border check with Germany had disappeared!

Ok I can't really see the German border from my dad's house in Zurich (although I can see the border with the next Canton), but I did eagerly check the news this morning to see if it had indeed come to pass. I have no idea why, but the moment which countries open their borders with other countries really excites me.

At midnight CET this morning Switzerland joined the Schengen Zone, the 25-member European block that allows passport-free travel between the member states. Switzerland is not technically in the EU, but it has a series of bilateral treaties with the EU which make it in many ways a "virtual member," bound to follow EU regulation although it has no representation in the EU parliament.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Blagogate: Obama's first scandal?

Interestingly, the unfolding scandal around the arrest of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich has received zero coverage over here in Europe. But the implications of this huge political development could profoundly affect the Obama presidency even before he's taken office, and that would likely be of great interest to Europeans. To me the scandal is fascinating, bringing back memories of my days as a reporter in Chicago covering the truly staggering level of corruption in that area of the US.

The fact that a governor of Illinois is corrupt isn't what's surprising about this development, after all Blago's (that's his nickname in Illinois) two predecessors were also arrested for corruption. It's the sheer audacity of his crimes that's so staggering. Among a long list of corruption charges, one of them is that he was trying to sell Barack Obama's senate seat. Obama was previously a senator for Illinois before he won the presidency, and when a senator departs it is the governor of that state who appoints the new senator. Blagojevich is a Democrat, so the Democratic Party didn't have to worry about losing that seat. But the governor can appoint anyone he wants, and apparently he was planning to sell the seat to interesting parties.

The language he's using in the wiretaps is straight out of the 1950's, it's astonishing any politician could be so stupid in this day and age. Not only does he explicitly say he's planning to sell Obama's senate seat, he uses language so mafioso-like it sounds like it's coming out of Tamany Hall. He even litterally says that someone interested in the seat was willing to "pay to play" at one point in the tapes.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Europe Nervous as Greek Riots Continue

The deep fault lines within Greek society have exploded this week, with huge riots erupting across the country. The causes for the violence are myriad, but considering that part of the cause is the global economic stress, anyone in Europe watching the images on TV right now must be feeling at least a pang of dread. With so much uncertainly looming, there are plenty of people who fear scenes like this could be coming with more frequency across the continent.

The riots were immediately sparked by the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old protestor by police over the weekend, but the severity and length of the violence indicates that this is about much more than the shooting. Even though the country is prone to rioting from a strong left-wing student movement, this is the worst civil disorder to hit the country for decades according to reports. Schools across the country have been shut down, and transport has also come to a standstill. Most of the damage has been against property: luxury hotels, banks, any strong symbol of capitalism. The targets indicate that it is the economic reforms of prime minister Kostas Karamanlis that are driving people to the streets.

Students have a long and respected history of protest in Greece: it was they who brought the right-wing military junta down in the 1970's, and after that students were given special privileges to protest by the new government (similar to what happened in Spain in the 1970's). Police are not allowed to enter university campuses to arrest students, and during these riots students have used the campuses to regroup in between flare-ups of violence.

The government is saying that the police officer who shot the boy is going to be charged with manslaughter. Police say the boy was shot as he and some other young protesters were pelting a police car with stones. They say he was shot as he tried to throw a fuel-filled bomb at the police.

Greece is reeling right now from the effects of the global economic downturn; it has been hit harder than other European countries. The economic hardship has resulted in new flare-ups between the right and left in this country, both very powerful and both seething with hatred for the other side. As Europe watches the violence unfold, there must be fears in other countries with strong leftist movements that if the economic troubles get worse, these tensions between the right and left could flare up in their own countries as well.

Friday, 5 December 2008

My adventures in the French education system

Well I've made it through my semester at the Sorbonne. I finished my final exam (a 4 hour process spread out over 2 days) earlier this week and hopped on a train to Zurich immediately after. Now I'm settling in at my parents' house in Zurich and I'll have the opportunity to reflect a bit on my three months in Paris and on what I want to do next. I just called to get my result and am pleased to report that I passed with the highest distinction, so I am now a certified French speaker according to the Sorbonne. Nifty!

This was an incredibly interesting three months. Not only was I able to dramatically improve my French, but I also learned a great deal about French culture and way of life. One thing I experienced with a bit of frustration was the obsession within the French education system for test-taking. I think it's safe to say that never before in my life have I been in a course so preoccupied with exams.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Ireland's Road Trip

As Britney Spears makes her whirlwind tour of Europe (she hit the British, French and German versions of American Idol in quick underwhelming sucession last week), she isn't the only one criss-crossing the continent in the hope of redemption. This week Irish prime minister Brian Cowen is coming hat in hand to the European capitals delivering his proposed solution to the Lisbon standoff. By most indications, it looks like Ireland is going to have another referendum before June.

So far Cowen has been in Luxembourg and Germany. Today he's in London with Brown and tomorrow he'll be in Paris with Sarkozy.. At the same time, his Europe minister is visiting the small countries to tell them of Ireland's plans. The two of them are coordinating with the leaders for next week's proposal to the European Councilon what to do about the situation. According to reports, that solution is going to be another vote. But what they have to come up with is a way to say that this is not the exact same vote done over, but rather a different vote that will be palatable to the Irish people.

Surveys have been done over the past few months that have indicated that if the Irish government were to get specific guarantees for key areas - namey abortion, neutrality - the referendum would pass. Of course there was nothing affecting these two areas in the treaty anyway, but it is thought that if the Irish were to have the issues spelled out in disclaimaers. This will surely not be enough for the dedicated no campaigners - since their beef is with the EU itself, but it may be enbough to convince some of the fence sitters.

The revote would be a big gamble, particularly for Cowen whose government hangs by virtually a thread at home. But it is thought now that the economic turmoil has set in, it is thought voters will be more receptive to argument sthat Ireland shouldn't cut off its ties to the safety net of the European Union. The Irish may have been feeling a bit overconfident about their economy during the last vote, no doubt their optimism about whether Ireland needs the EU has changed over the past few months.

So as much as the first referendum was watched, the second one will be even more so. If Ireland votes no again, there are only two options: Scrap the treaty and allow the EU to operate in disfunction, or or go ahead with the treaty and kick Ireland out of the union. Considering that the current economic crisis means that the EU's institutions must function properly as soon as possible, the second option is perhaps the more likely. And I think that this time around, in these uncertaint times, EU leaders won't be above using this as a threat before the vote.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Guest Blogger: The Queen and Canada's Crisis

As I watched pomp and pageantry of the Queen's speech this morning, I couldn't help but reflect a bit on the role of the British monarchy in the modern world. Though the role is now mostly ceremonial, the British government still depends on it to function properly. For instance, parliament cannot open its new session without the Queen's blessing and speech. But the monarchy can have sudden importance outside Britain as well. And this is being born out in Canada at the moment.

Domestic news in Canada usually gets short shrift both in the US and Europe, but at the moment some huge events are unfolding over there that could topple the current government and change the face of Canadian politics permanently. It's a bit complicated, but essentially all of the opposition parties are wishing to band together and form a coalition against the currently ruling Conservative party. A coalition government has never before been formed in Canada, and doing so would completely shape the political landscape there. The big question is whether the parties will be allowed to band together to oust the goverment and rule in tandem. And the person who will decide the answer to that question? None other than the Governor-General of Canada, who answers directly to Queen Elizabeth II. Canada is still, after all, technically under the rule of the British monarch. And it could be the British monarch that will decide this hugely important question for her dominion on the other side of the Atlantic.

I'm not very knowledgable about Canadian politics, so my friend Dan Berrier, a pollster in Washington DC was nice enough to explain the situation. Enjoy!

Canada in Crisis
By Guest Blogger Dan Berrier

In many ways the current crisis in Canada is a long time in the making. It is first and foremost a political crisis, involving the politicians of the day and their respective stances on issues and their choices about policy outcomes. But it is also a constitutional crisis, one that puts serious strains on the very foundation of the Canadian federation.

Standing in the center of it all is a woman named Michaƫlle Jean, the 27th Governor-General of Canada, who will have to mediate with Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Opposition leaders and come to a series of decisions that preserve the Canadian's people's faith in their government and in their constitutional processes. It is truly representative of 21st century multi-cultural Canada that this responsibility rests on the shoulders of a woman of African descent, born in Haiti, who moved to Montreal as a child and became a distinguished television journalist before being appointed to this largely ceremonial and symbolic post. For Americans, it would be as if Barbara Walters, with a lot of advice from lawyers and constitutional scholars, was entrusted with some unique and abstract role as the final arbiter on important constitutional matters. Technically speaking, Jean is the sovereign's representative, in this case, the Queen of England. But in reality, she serves the Canadian people and is supposed to make decisions that will stand the test of time, set precedent, and maintain the trust of the public.

The politics of Canada over the last 20 years have been defined in large part by two movements, Quebec separatism and Western regionalism, as well as the mainstream political reaction to these strains on national unity. For most of the post-war period, Canada's two leading political parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives (formerly the Progressive Conservatives), have held sway and ruled the country. Most of the time, one party or the other would win a majority of seats in the House of Commons, and thus form a majority government.

Along with these two parties, the NDP (New Democratic Party) also gained support from trade unions and the left, but never garnered more than 20 or 30 seats in the House of Commons, though they did win some provincial elections. In 1988, they hit somewhat of a breakpoint and earned 20% nationally under the leadership of Ed Broadbent. This coincided with two strong showings by the Conservatives and a much weakened Liberal Party.

The 1993 election saw the emergence of Quebec separatism and Western regionalism as major forces in national politics. The Bloc Quebecois won 54 seats and became the second largest party after the Liberals, who won a landslide victory and decimated the Progressive Conservatives, who were down to just 2 seats. The Reform Party, a new conservative party that promised to advocate for a greater voice for Western Canada won 52 seats in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.

Throughout the 1990s, Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien served the country, still winning some seats in Quebec, his home province. This limited the appeal of the Bloc and helped the Liberals stay in power. The Liberals went on to win two more impressive victories, in 1997 and 2000, assisted by the fragmentation on the political right, as Progressive Conservatives still won seats in Eastern Canada and Reform won seats in the West. In Ontario, both of these parties ran candidates, splitting the conservative vote and ensuring continued Liberal dominance in Canada’s most populous province.

With the end of the Chretien era, Liberal popularity waned, and the Conservatives finally put aside their differences, merging the eastern Progressive Conservatives with the western Canadian Alliance (formerly the Reform Party). This new Conservative Party would present a single slate of candidates and was anticipated to dramatically improve its performance in Ontario, where they had been dividing their vote.

The Liberals managed to hang on in 2004, Prime Minister Paul Martin, Chretien's successor, won a minority government by taking 135 out of 308 seats, falling short of the 155 needed to form a stable majority government. The NDP did well, winning 15% of the vote and 19 seats. Their strengthened position, along with the Bloc's continued dominance in Quebec seemed like it would make it very difficult for any national party to again win a majority government.

Without the support of a majority of parliament, a government in Canada must tread very carefully. They need to earn either the support of opposition parties to pass their budgets, or at least get them to agree to abstain. Because continual elections do not allow any of the parties to rebuild, they typically manage to cooperate and allow minority governments to last at least one or two years. This tenuous position gave even more power to the NDP and to the Bloc Quebecois, in effect allowing them to play kingmaker. In 2005, the then-Conservative leader Stephen Harper tried to make a deal with both the NDP and the Bloc to bring down the Liberals, but this failed.

Martin lasted until 2006, when he was forced to call another election. This time the Conservatives came out in front, but with a government even weaker (124 seats) than the Liberal one preceding him. They won by dramatically increasing the number of seats they won in Ontario, while strengthening their near monopoly of seats in the West, especially in Alberta.

After two and a half years in power, Prime Minister Harper thought that October 2008 would be the time that he could win his long sought majority. But again, his hopes were dashed in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, where the party lost seats in Newfoundland and made no gains in Quebec. Further gains in Ontario helped the party move from 124 to 143 seats, but he was still 12 votes short of his majority. Without a majority, the Conservatives knew they could get very little done.

What is happening now is the aftermath of that election, in which just 37% voted Conservative and still elected a government. The remaining 63% voted for another party. More voted Green than ever before, earning 7% of the vote but no seats in the House of Commons. The NDP won 18% and strengthened to 37 seats. The Liberal Party was badly bruised, winning only 26% of the vote and just 77 seats, a historic low. The Bloc Quebecois won the remaining 10%, entirely in Quebec, winning 49 seats.

Mr. Harper’s actions following the election, not agreeing to a major economic stimulus package, and threatening to cut off public funding for political parties infuriated members of the opposition. They realized that the time to fight the Conservatives was probably now or never. With their funding removed, they would be seriously hampered in competing in the next election or any kind of public relations battle with the much better funded Conservatives. That was the final trigger to make them decide they had to try to bring down Mr. Harper at the very start of this parliament.

The political fragmentation of the left is now seriously plaguing Canada and is what the leaders of "the Coalition" are trying to remedy. Their fundamental argument is that they represent the wishes of more of Canada's public than do the Conservatives, and that they should rule the country. This is perhaps true, but their many factions will make governing difficult. They may be able to cobble together a government, but it will not last through an election unless there is some kind of long-term agreement. What is needed is either a merging of the two main left-wing parties, the Liberals and the NDP, or at least some kind of agreement to not run candidates against in each other in parliamentary ridings where one candidate has a chance to win and the other does not.

The prominent role of the separatist and left-wing Bloc Quebecois in the coalition (though just in parliament, not in the Prime Minister's cabinet) will unnerve the rest of Canada. The provinces of the west, particularly Alberta that is almost entirely represented by Conservatives in parliament, will become more and more alienated. This will be even more of a problem for a new coalition government if the Conservatives are successful in painting it as illegitimate.

This is where the role of the Governor General becomes so important. It is likely that Prime Minister Harper will ask her to “prorogue” Parliament, essentially hitting the restart button, and dismissing them until late January when he will present a budget. This would prevent his government from falling after losing a no confidence motion on the floor. It is an open question whether the Governor General could turn down the request. Undoubtedly, she has the authority to do so, but it has never been done before in the history the country. But it is also true that a Prime Minister has never made such a request so soon after an election, and for the express purpose of avoiding a vote of no confidence. While undoubtedly provoking outrage, it is not inconceivable that Jean could simply tell Mr. Harper no and let his government fall on Monday, December 8th as is currently scheduled.

If she grants his request and institutes a prorogation, he would likely lose in January anyway, if the coalition managed to stick to their guns and vote him down. Giving the Conservatives six weeks to de-legitimize the incoming coalition government does not seem as though it would serve the interests of Canada very well. But it may serve to maintain the standing of her office, whose enormous powers are only respected because of the reverence people have for the office. These powers are only really exercised in the most rare circumstances. If she denies the Conservative request for a delay, she will likely be painted as a Liberal stooge, since she was chosen when a Liberal prime minister was in office. Her Quebec roots, and her husband’s alleged separatist sympathies would also be highlighted by a Conservative Party, mostly of Western Canadians, outraged at their sudden loss of political power. The damage to her office could be significant.

Once the vote of no confidence takes place, either next week or in January, it seems likely the Conservative government will fall and the Governor General will face another choice, this one much easier. Prime Minister Harper will go to her and request the dissolution of the House of Commons, triggering another election, just six weeks after the last general election. With the country inclined against such a course of action, she will have much greater standing to deny this request and take up Liberal leader Stephane Dion’s offer to form a coalition government supported in the House by the three major opposition parties.

The reaction in Western Canada to this course of events will be interesting to watch. There are reports that the Separation Party of Alberta is already getting a flood of angry emails, phone calls and volunteers. This may just be bluster, but it is representative of very real and lasting divisions in the country between east and west, and over Quebec. The reaction of Conservative leaders to this loss of power will be critical. Will they turn further to the right and further west, with some prominent politicians joining the call for separation or more regional sovereignty? Or will it just be a temporary blip in Canada’s political history?

The future of the Liberal Party will be even more dramatic to watch. Having just lost an election, Stephane Dion has already announced his intention to step down as leader of the party. They will choose between Michael Ignatieff, Dominic LeBlanc and Bob Rae. Whoever wins this election would then immediately become Prime Minister, with Mr. Dion stepping aside.

Even more important than the future of the Liberal Party is the future of the entire Canadian left. Going into another election as they did the last three, with votes being divided between the Liberals, the NDP and the Greens, they will undoubtedly be much weaker than they would be if they were more united. Will the governing experience motivate these parties to come to some type of agreement to be able to unify? Will they at least be able to coordinate in some fashion so as to not defeat each other’s candidates in marginal seats? If they can manage to do this in some fashion, they may be able to govern in the next parliament without the support of the Bloc Quebecois. Without stronger numbers, Quebec will undoubtedly seek more concessions and money from the federal government, and a weak coalition will have no choice but to acquiesce to these demands.

Canada is facing more than just a political battle about economic stimulus and Stephen Harper. The very foundations of their parliamentary democracy and sense of national unity are being tested. What is needed is a fundamental re-consolidation of the political party structure on the left to again restore stability. This will present Canada with a true choice, between a Conservative Party that gains support from all across the country and a left wing party that is diverse and welcoming of different ideas, but is mature enough to cooperate and to govern. The worldwide economic crisis has now forced that coalition together and they will likely be given a chance to try. I hope that this is just a first step in a process that will again see political stability come to Canada. What will be needed in May is a Liberal leader that can step up to the plate and seize that mantle. Who will it be Mr. Ignatieff, Mr. LeBlanc and Mr. Rae?