I usually try not to deal with "what ifs" in terms of thinking about past events. You know, "what would of happened if I won a million dollars" ? or "what if I had met you first"? or "What if the Leafs had won the Stanley cup last year"?
There have been some fairly entertaining examples of "What Ifs". Harry Turtledove has authored several novels regarding "alternate history", asking such questions as: "What if the South had won the Civil War"? What if The Byzantine Empire had never fallen"?"What if the Nazi's had won the Second world war"? But while fun to think about, they have absolutely no bearing on the "here and now", unless you're Harry Turtledove. So to dwell on them is to deprive yourself of the opportunity to make the best of the circumstances life has provided you with. And to dwell on them is to ignore the lessons that history has to teach you.
Today though, I am allowing myself to indulge in a "What If". The time is 2008, early autumn. Then Prime Minister Stephen Harper has broken his own rule about fixed "American Style" election dates and called a snap federal election. He craves a majority in the House of Commons so he may rule unfettered. The polls are in his favour and he has done a very thorough job of defining his opponent, Stephan Dion, painting him as a lilly-livered, stumbling, bumbling, limp wristed Frenchman who can barely speak English and is easily frustrated by language barriers in the House. He decides it is the time to strike, before Dion has a chance to recover and actually begin to appeal to Canadians.
So my self-indulgent "What if" is, what if Dion had won that election in 2008 and not Stephen harper?
For the sake of argument, we shall assume that in terms of numbers of seats in the House, the Liberals and Conservatives have just switched places. It is most likely that if the Liberals had won the election, it would have been with a minority anyway.
Dion knew he could count on the support of the New Democrats for some of his proposed plans. But the NDP did not hold the balance of power. So in order for the Liberals to achieve any of their goals, they would need to have the support of either the Conservatives or the Bloc. Neither of which, would have been a very desirable scenario but, Dion would have been determined to make work.
When the House reconvened after the election, Harper and his Conservatives would likely have come out on the attack, probably as aggressive as he had ever been. He would know his political career was at steak. He would have done everything in his power, ethical or otherwise, to discredit Dion and to find that one smoking gun, like the Sponsorship scandal, that could spell Dion's immediate downfall and a guarantee of a Harper Con majority in the election that would result from a vote of non-confidence.
The Bloc would be no fans of the Liberal Leader also. As Separatists, they would still be smarting from the fierceness with which Dion attacked the National Unity issue in Quebec while one or Jean Chretien's Cabinet Ministers. But being the pragmatists that they are, the Bloc would be willing to make deals with Dion if they felt it was in the best interest of Quebec. And Dion would be willing to play that game if he had to.
So in December of 2008, The Liberals with the support of the Bloc would maintain their status as ruling party through to the end of that particular sitting of the House of Commons, meaning that there would have been no vote of confidence as a result of threats to remove federal funding for federal parties (Harpers attempt at eliminating any and all opposition if you'll recall), so there would have been no prorogation of Parliament.
Early in 2009, the Conservatives would have had a leadership review and Harper would have been tossed from office. His bullish, brutish "Damn the Torpedoes" attitude would have been deemed to have failed and the party would have divested itself of the would-be tyrant. It isn't likely that Peter MacKay would be his successor. Too many of the party members recall MacKay's promise when he was head of the Progressive Conservatives that he would not make a deal with the Reform/Alliance Party. He won the PC's party leadership on the strength of that promise, but he turned around and betrayed his party by forging a deal with Harper. No, The Conservatives would not be lead by a liar and a cheat.
It is far more likely that someone such as Jim Prentice would have emerged victorious. The extremest Reform rhetoric would have been dialled down and they would be seen as moving a little closer to Centre in an effort to reclaim some of those lost Conservative seats. But the "P" for Progressive would not be restored to the party name.
This newer model Conservative party would have created some newer possibilities for Dion as well. It would have meant that he might have been able to forge temporary alliances with them,long enough to have accomplished some of his goals. If nothing else, Dion would have had the opportunity to demonstrate his ability to collaborate with the other parties in an effort to make Parliament work. Let's not forget that if there was no threat of a confidence vote late in 2008, there would have been no coalition.
Dion's "Green Shift" plan would not have come to fruition. Alberta, with it's joined at the hip relationship with the Oil Sands, would have fought it tooth and nail. The Conservatives would have rejected it out of hand and the Bloc would have demanded certain concessions before supporting any kind of a climate change plan. Canada would have likely ended up with a "Cap and trade" system and some emissions targets that, while still above Kyoto proposed levels, would be an improvement on what Canada is doing today.
Dion would have wanted the environment to have been the centre piece of his party's policies, but the world wide economic down turn would have scuttled that. As a result, Dion would have had to wander into a mind field he was not prepared for. He had policies and answers for every other conceivable issue, but not for this. And it may, or may not have been his eventual downfall.
But getting back to the big "What If" picture, what else might we have seen if the Liberals had survived the economic crisis? Well for one, Canada would never have been seen as the Fossils of the year at any of the Climate Change conferences such as Copenhagen. In Fact, Canada would be seen as a world leader in this regard with high profile people such as Dion and Elizabeth May both working night and day to create a pact among all industrialized nations that may have established some meaningful targets. And with May's connections to Bill Clinton, there might have been the possibility of bringing the Americans into the fold.
Canada would have ceased combat missions in Afghanistan. Likely for the last two years. We would have already switched from that to a training/peace keeping mission, utilizing our international reputation for impartiality and fairness. Who knows where that war might be, but rather than fighting a war, Canada would be working for peace.
Canada would have maintained it's arm's length alliance with Israel but continued with it's impartial participation in the Middle East peace process.
Canada would have recognized Aids as the world wide epidemic that it is. Aid to African Nations would not only have been maintained, but increased. A deal would be made in the House that would have allowed for cheaper distribution of Aids medicines to that troubled continent. Foreign aid to developing nations would not have been tied to whether or not those nations perform abortions. Oh, and Canada would now have a temporary seat on the UN Security Council.
Dion might not have survived the Detainee issue in the late stages of 2009 as he would not have prorogued the House to avoid accounting for it. The Conservatives would have tried to make the Detainee issue their "smoking gun". But whether or not it resulted in a vote of non confidence remains to be seen.
Among some of the other big ticket "What Ifs" of course would be: the F-35 issue, which likely would not have occurred, the stacking of the Senate in an effort to circumvent the democratic process would not have occurred, We would be on better terms with developing new super-economies like China and India and there certainly wouldn't be this new found paranoia regarding Russia and it's intentions in the Arctic.
The list could go on and on. But again, a Dion victory isn't what really transpired in 2008. We have what we have in terms of political leadership. And perhaps this dark chapter in the history of Canada will eventually result in Canadians remembering what is important to us, our freedom, our democracy, our tolerance of others and a fair and just society for all not just the privileged few. And maybe we will eventually emerge as a nation more unified than we were before Harper's divisive reign of fear and terror. We might just emerge as a Nation that we can all be proud of again.