An even worstier case scenario

Michael Johansen
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Some friends are insufferable. Well, actually, most are fine. There's one friend in particular - she's insufferable.

She hardly ever reads this column. I'm too negative, she says, but what she means is I'm too alarmist. She says I shouldn't explore worst-case scenarios (like the chance that Stephen Harper could postpone the next federal election) because she thinks I'm inciting public hysteria.

It does no good to explain that the "worst-case scenario" is a tool used for anticipating many possible futures, from the most benign to the most horrific. To point out that our 39-per-cent prime minister has already cancelled votes he was sure to lose and so could do it again is not to say that this scenario will most certainly happen - just that it could. By realizing that Harper is capable of attacking democracy if it gets in his way prevents him from taking us by surprise if he actually tries it.

Impossible, my friend says. Unimaginable, she adds.

Hardly, I retort. I can imagine it quite clearly. When Harper knew he would lose a confidence vote in the House of Commons, he dodged it by hiding behind the skirts of the Governor General.

If Conservatives perceive that their misleading attack ads and illegal funding schemes aren't working as well as usual and that they might lose their shaky majority, can they be trusted with our democracy?

Might they not try to avoid a popular vote altogether? All it would take would be a convenient national emergency. Our current government creates those without even trying.

National emergency? my friend interrupts. You think there'll be civil war?

Finally, I thought, she's getting the hang of this worst-case scenario stuff. I hadn't imagined a civil war, but now that she's raised the possibility, it's worth considering.

However, the spectre of one primarily haunts debates about Quebec separatism: declaring independence could spark a fight.

These days, that's a slim possibility. Quebecers seem content to let sovereignty sleep while they've got all these new New Democrats in Ottawa.

No, it seems to me that an election-stopping national emergency will be something different from a war. Most likely, the emergency won't even be a real one, but only one imagined by the current prime minister and his like-minded advisers.

That's a scenario easy to imagine. After all, the government is already poking organized labour with a stick and the Occupy movement could develop into something that not only annoys mayors and CEOs, but the federal government, too.

If Harper sees civil or economic disruptions as a personal threat, he might react badly.

Won't happen, my friend says. Harper is maturing, she argues with diminishing conviction. Besides, she adds, he might be just what Canada needs. Reaction to his misguided policies will shake Canadians out of their apathy and make them demand better things.

Then, she continues, Harper's growing maturity will allow him to listen to the opposition and he'll change his mind about what he's doing to the country.

That's certainly a possible scenario and not the worst one, but not the most probable, either. What usually happens when someone holds power is not that they listen more to outside voices, but less.

In all the years Harper has been prime minister, he has shown little ability to question his own conclusions, and now that he's head of a majority government, he doesn't want anyone else doing it, either - that's why he cuts off debate in Parliament.

As both opponents and supporters agree, Harper is a control freak. So what happens if he loses control? What if, as the next election approaches, unions are striking, citizens are demonstrating, liberal-minded foreign leaders are shunning him, provinces are refusing to pay federal bills and - despite attack ads and illegal funding schemes - the opposition parties are gaining more support? Will he submit to democracy, or will he freak out?

If he thinks he might lose the election, will he allow a free and fair vote, or will he try to shut up voters like he's trying to silence unions and opposition parties?

A negative possibility, for sure, but to consider it is a positive democratic act- all part of being eternally vigilant.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: House of Commons

Geographic location: Quebec, Ottawa, Canada Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Taylor
    November 26, 2011 - 23:37

    I guess Mr. Johansen has nothing real to criticize the Harper government for, so he is now resorting to writing fantasy scripts. The scenario described in this article is utterly implausible, mainly because the Conservatives are cruising to another victory in the next election while the Liberal Party and NDP fumble around aimlessly and search in vain for credible leadership candidates.

  • Carl
    November 26, 2011 - 23:32

    Wow. Johansen has finally passed the tipping point and fallen into total paranoid hysteria.