This is the last time that I will be addressing the readers of Business Edge in 2008 and that makes it an appropriate moment to pause and say: I hope that you have enjoyed absorbing the contents of these columns as much as I have enjoyed producing them.
Yearend is normally a time to reflect on the events of the previous 12 months and to contemplate what might be in store for us in the weeks and months ahead. But who would be brave or foolish enough to hazard a guess at what lies before us given the tumultuous economic events of this autumn.
Furthermore, economic uncertainty has been compounded by political instability in Ottawa and a foolhardy and completely unnecessary crisis in our national capital. It began when Prime Minister Stephen Harper included in the government's economic and fiscal update a proposal to withdraw public funding for political parties and another to withdraw the right of civil servants to strike for three years.
These proposals infuriated the opposition Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois, who rely heavily on their public subsidies. They promptly drafted a motion expressing their lack of confidence in the government and they asked Governor General Michaelle Jean to replace the Conservatives with a Liberal-NDP coalition that could only survive with the support of the separatist Bloc Quebecois.
Fortunately, this disaster-in-the making was averted when Jean agreed to Harper's request on Dec. 4 to prorogue Parliament. The House of Commons will be shut down till Jan. 26, when the Tories will introduce a budget.
The immediate crisis has ended, but there are bound to be lasting consequences because both Harper and the opposition parties have revealed their darker sides. The prime minister, who proved himself an extremely capable leader during his first term in office, has demonstrated that he is a pathologically partisan politician and has mortally wounded himself in the process.
With his blatantly partisan blunder, Harper has reinforced the visceral dislike and distrust that many voters feel for him and which have prevented him from obtaining a majority in two consecutive elections. He has squandered whatever trust he may have accumulated and he is unlikely to regain it.
As for the Liberals, their leader Stephane Dion and his caucus proved themselves to be weaklings during Harper's first term. They allowed themselves to be pushed around until they were abject and humiliated. Then they did what weak people always do. They snapped and overreacted.
They were not content to bloody Harper's nose by forcing him to back off the contentious measures in the update. Instead they launched a naked grab for power by forming what would inevitably have been a weak, disjointed and disoriented coalition.
In so doing, they revealed the congenital arrogance of the Liberals - the pompous conceit that they deserve to be in power no matter how weak their leader or how inadequate their policies.
Had it succeeded, the coalition would have displaced a government with a Western prime minister and strong representation in the West with another led by a Quebecer and a downtown Toronto NDPer. The Liberals would have ruined their prospects of electoral success in the West for years, just as they did with the National Energy Program of 1980.
Nor would the Liberals have improved their chances in francophone Quebec. Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe was poised to extract billions of dollars in booty for his province as the price of supporting the coalition and Quebecers would have expressed their gratitude by sending another delegation of Bloc MPs back to Parliament after the next election.
So, this political bloodletting has left the prime minister gravely wounded and it will not help the Liberals regain their status as a truly national party with strong representation in every region of the country.
Meanwhile, Canada faces acute economic challenges. In the short term, we may be headed for recession. In the long-term, structural changes threaten our prosperity. These include: The rising economic power of developing nations like China and India; the permanent loss of manufacturing jobs because wages and benefits in this country are uncompetitive; the aging of the Canadian workforce and huge looming increases in the costs of health care and public pensions; and a growing shortage of skilled workers in construction, mining, transportation and several other sectors.
Neither major party has a coherent program to address these challenges. Harper and the Conservatives went to the country this fall with a nickels and dimes platform that was completely devoid of big ideas or a vision for the future of the country.
Dion's Liberals bet that they could win an election with a platform built around an environmental plan when the economy was clearly the issue.
Is it any wonder then that so many of us are so peeved at the political class in this country?
(D'Arcy Jenish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)