Duceppe is making demands Harper could never accept

It comes down to the Liberals whether or not we have fall election

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The Gazette, Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Just a few weeks ago, Gilles Duceppe had only two conditions for supporting the Throne Speech - ending Canada's mission in Afghanistan in 2009 and limiting the federal spending power in provincial jurisdiction.

In the interval, the Bloc Québécois has taken a serious hit in three Quebec by-elections, and for some reason Duceppe feels empowered by his losses.

Now he's back with five conditions, five "unconditional demands," as he styles them. (Why is that Quebec always has five conditions? I digress.)

First, Duceppe is now demanding the elimination, and not just limitations, to the federal spending power. This is a deal breaker. Stephen Harper should tell him to go jump in the Ottawa River. In fact, Harper shouldn't even give him a meeting if that's Duceppe's agenda going into one.

Second, a clear commitment to respect the Kyoto Protocol and its targets to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012, targets which Canada has already missed by 33 per cent. Harper has another idea - reducing emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 and 50 per cent by 2050. These targets are known as 20/20 and 50/50. Harper has proposed them at the G8, the APEC summit, the UN and Canada will propose them at the Washington summit. Kyoto is dead, it just hasn't stopped moving yet. Duceppe either didn't get the memo or, like most Kyoto Kool-Aid drinkers, is in denial. In any event, this unconditional demand is also a deal breaker.

Oh, and while you're at it, Prime Minister, Duceppe wants a carbon-trading exchange in Montreal. Hey, it'll be on CNBC every day.

Third, Duceppe wants to withdraw Canadian Forces from Afghanistan when the current mission ends in February 2009. Not to redeploy them to another less dangerous province than Kandahar, on the ground another NATO country should share the burden. But to withdraw, abandoning 37 NATO partners and the Karzai government in Kabul.

This will never happen on Harper's watch. That's three deal breakers out of five demands.

The other two are throw-ins - maintaining supply management in agriculture, and financial aid to Quebec's hard-pressed forestry sector.

The last two are actually negotiable, since the Conservatives are trolling for votes in the same Quebec profond pool as the Bloc.

No one has ever suggested touching supply management in dairy and poultry. No one has the political courage. And there's no doubt Quebec's and Canada's forestry industry has been tossed by a perfect storm of exchange-rate parity, the softwood lumber deal with the United States, and the bursting of the mortgage bubble in the U.S. housing industry. Ottawa should be putting together some kind of rescue package.

But this is the only point on which Duceppe makes perfect economic and political sense.

On the three deal breakers, he's either bluffing or he's prepared to send this Parliament into the history books in a confidence vote on the Throne Speech.

No Canadian government has ever fallen on a Throne Speech, but there's a first time or everything.

This is a train-wreck scenario that's setting up.

The Conservatives need the support of only one opposition party to survive the vote on Oct. 18, but they do need one, otherwise there will be a writ on Oct. 19 for an election on Nov. 26.

The NDP won't be the Tories' dance partner. Jack Layton can be as responsible as he wants, but his caucus would never allow him to keep a right-wing government in office. That's just the way it is, and everyone understands that.

Which brings it down to Stéphane Dion and the Liberals. Having just got pounded in the three Quebec by-elections, Dion is in no shape to go to a general election, though there are plenty of disgruntled Liberals who wouldn't mind getting it over with so they can get on to the next leadership convention.

Having laid down his own unconditional conditions on Afghanistan and the environment, Dion is now auditioning for the part of Hamlet, saying he won't declare his opposition to the Throne Speech until he sees it. He is buying time rather than being obstinate, and that's smart.

In pushing all his chips into the centre of the table, Duceppe is actually putting pressure on Dion to call or fold. Except that all cards are up and Duceppe is holding a lousy hand - he just got killed in Roberval, barely hung on in Saint-Hyacinthe, and lost his deposit in Outremont.

Harper? He's the dealer in this high-stakes game. On the Throne Speech, he's holding all the new cards.

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