Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content


Denis Smith

Politics 2011: an astonishing tale of derring-do Add to ...

When MPs left Parliament Hill in December, they didn't know what the future promised. Only the Prime Minister knew, and even he didn't know. He was watching the polls and the hockey scores. He promised himself that, if the Leafs and the Oilers won a total of six games in January, he would go to the people.

So, first of all, he prorogued Parliament, as he explained it, "to recalibrate the barometer." To assure a good spring electoral climate, he fired the director of the Canadian Meteorological Service and moved weather forecasting into the PMO.

In February, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty delivered "an aspirational budget" to an enthusiastic audience in Fort McMurray, anticipating an annual growth rate of 4 per cent in 2011 (8 per cent in Alberta).

The PM made quick visits to Quebec City, Edmonton and Saskatoon to promise federal aid for new hockey arenas, to be financed from a "voluntary lottery ticket ecological benefit fee." (The arenas, Environment Minister John Baird explained, would all have solar panels - and surpluses in fees would be applied to massive tree planting in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon.)

In early March, the PM announced he had e-mailed the Governor-General and instructed him to dissolve Parliament for a general election.

From then on - as we know - things went badly for almost everyone.

The issues were clear. For the government, it was "Harper or Chaos." For the Liberals, it was "Ignatieff or Chaos." For the NDP, it was "Chaos everywhere." For the Bloc Québécois, it was "Chaos sans barrières." For the Greens, it was "A plague on chaos."

No one was winning. No one was losing. The public yawned.

On April 1, the people spoke. Stephen Harper won 110 seats. Michael Ignatieff won 110 seats. Jack Layton won 35 seats. Gilles Duceppe won 53 seats. Elizabeth May won 0 seats (her best showing yet, foiled by first past the post). Mr. Harper and Mr. Ignatieff declared decisive victories. Mr. Layton called for a coalition government.

The next day, there were populist eruptions in all four federal parties. Mr. Harper was overthrown in a coup engineered by Tom Flanagan. Taking constitutional advice, the Governor-General invited Don Cherry to form a Government of All the Talents. He named Rob Ford as Minister of Finance, Julian Fantino as Minister of Public Order, Larry Smith as Minister of Culture, and Senator Stephen Harper as minister to promote the Olympic Games. He closed the Parliament Buildings and 24 Sussex Dr. as unsafe for human habitation, ordered the arrest of "suspicious kooks," and decreed he would henceforth be addressed as "Your Excellency, President and Chief Executive Officer Inc."

Mr. Ignatieff was arrested and extradited to Russia on charges of "inciting the restoration of Czarist titles and honours and pre-revolutionary borders and of being generally overbearing." Canadian consular officials offered assistance to Mr. Ignatieff in the Lubyanka detention centre. In an overnight consultation, members of the Liberal executive chose Conrad Black as interim leader. From his Florida home, Mr. Black offered "a stimulating program of recovery, rearmament and world expansion in the best Canadian tradition," and promised full co-operation with the next U.S. president, "whether s/he turns out to be Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee or General David Petraeus."

Jack Layton, meanwhile, was overthrown and replaced by Ken Dryden, a recent defector from the Liberals.

And Mr. Duceppe renamed his party the Bloc Canadien. He quietly arranged with the Governor-General to summon Parliament during the first game of the Stanley Cup finals (when Don Cherry was doing his other job), then introduced a no-confidence motion, moved the previous question and defeated the government. (The entire cabinet was in Phoenix for the hockey game.) Between periods on Coach's Corner, President Cherry denounced the country for "unfair and unpatriotic play" and resigned. Late that night, on the Governor-General's invitation, Mr. Duceppe chose an all-party cabinet and revoked the emergency decrees of President Cherry.

Nevertheless (or inevitably), the Quebec Nordiques returned to their ancestral home, playing the opening game of the 2012 season in Moshe Safdie's daring new Quebec Coliseum before an overflow crowd.

Denis Smith is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Western Ontario and author of Ignatieff's World Updated: Iggy Goes to Ottawa .

Report Typo/Error

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobeDebate

Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular