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Friday, November 28, 2008

cooperation and coalitions, not constant partisan brinksmanship, should be what canadians get in a minority parliament.

It was only last week that I lamented hopelessly to an associate about what a boring duty paying attention to Canadian politics had become. I felt that Stephen Harper was becoming a reasonably decent (but uninspiring) Prime Minister, I didn't expect the opposition Liberals to soon deviate from their lackluster hand-sitting performance during the 2004-2006 Parliament, and I was waiting to see how Jack Layton's NDP were going to nudge out the Liberals by staking out more territory in the political centre.

But everything changed this week. Any warm feelings I held towards Harper quickly went cold when the partisan maneuvering of his Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, grabbed national attention. Though I quickly became intrigued with the prospect of the opposition parties introducing a motion of no-confidence and forming some sort of progressive coalition/Liberal minority government in the Commons, I can't help but wonder what it's going to take to change the political culture in Ottawa from one of constant partisan brinksmanship to one where MPs from all parties can actually cooperate for a period longer than five minutes.

To be clear, I don't feel that any of the parties have a legitimate claim the moral high ground in Canadian politics, as I don't believe for a second that a quick role reversal would see the Liberals or NDP kick a financially vulnerable Conservative Party any softer. This said, the rhetoric and positioning would suggest that the proposed economic stimulus package is just as unpalatable to the opposition parties as the canceling of the party funding formula (which is now split from the economic package and part of a future Bill).

The quick moving political action in Ottawa has made it quite difficult to differentiate between media speculation, insider meddling, and actual happenings, but if the Liberals and NDP have indeed brought in Jean Chretien and Ed Broadbent to facilitate negotiations for some sort of symbiotic parliamentary relationship between the two parties, it would signal a monumental shift in Canadian political history. Not since the First World War has an actual 'coalition government' existed in Canada.

Though the Conservatives have protested this move as 'undemocratic,' parliamentary alliances are normal in many western democracies. In the October 14, 2008 Federal Election, no party received a majority of the seats in the House of Commons, nor votes in the general election, therefore no one party can claim to have the confidence of the majority of Canadian voters. Yes, the Conservatives received the largest share of votes and seats (37.65% of the vote and 143 seats), but the other parties combined received more in both cases (163 seats and 54.76%) - a fairly basic Grade 6 Social Studies concept.

Can a Liberal-NDP coalition/alliance govern? Who would lead this coalition? (Stephane Dion? Jack Layton? Ralph Goodale? Michael Ignatieff?) Or will the Conservative minority government continue to hold power? What ever the result in the upcoming confidence vote, I'm sure that more than one Member of Parliament is going to lose some sleep this weekend while being haunted with the mathematical reality that the political survival of either of these groups depends on a group of 49 Quebec Nationalists: the Bloc Quebecois.

16 comments:

eh said...

Ed Broadbent has publicly confirmed that he is in talks with Chretien. I believe Duceppe when he says that he will support a coalition government as long as they help out faltering Quebec industries.

Anonymous said...

Well put, Dave. It's kind of lost to the media that the Bloc is the king maker in both scenarios.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave

Its a strange situation - the conservatives took a risk (a poor one) and brought this on itself.

The only comment I have on a coalition government is that it was not an option presented to the electorate. While combining the seat total gives you a majority of seats nobody voted for a Liberal government propped up by socialists and seperatists.

The bottom line is that if Harper truly wants to govern - he should do that. A minority government should be a chance build respect among politicians by working together in the face of adversity (the economic crisis.

Anonymous said...

"The only comment I have on a coalition government is that it was not an option presented to the electorate."

Actually, it was presented to the public. The media had a field day with the possibility of a Liberal-NDP coalition in the midst of the election. By electing the # of Liberal, NDP and BQ members they did, Canadians refuted Steven Harper's agenda and demanded that he work with others. That he has proven incapable of this is his own downfall, but should not cost Canadians another 300 million dollar election.

"While combining the seat total gives you a majority of seats nobody voted for a Liberal government propped up by socialists and seperatists."

Actually that's exactly what Canadians voted for. A majority of seats going to the Liberals, NDP and Bloq Quebecois when combined. You may not like that fact, but it was the result of the election. And thanks to Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty's ceaseless arrogance, it will be the makeup of Canada's new government sometime in the next few weeks.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Harper has done enough damage already. The Coservative party should wake up and smell the coffee. Nobody likes him. The Tories should have won the last election in a landslide, it was a gift. He's even turning off long time conservative voters after this week.

The Conservative party should do what Preston Manning did years ago and move him out. I'm not the only one eho is sick of his vindictiveness, manipulation and dishonesty

Robert Vollman said...

The reason people are calling it "undemocratic" for a simple reason.

1. The people just decided on the government we wanted.
2. That government is behaving exactly as it said it would during the campaign.
3. The government is being changed without consulting the people.

If any of those facts were different, then we might be able to shed the "undemocratic" label.

Madtory said...

Sorry Robert, you have been misled somehow.

1 No they did not, over 60% of Canadians did not want Stephen Harper as Prime Minister, he is Prime Minister by default. And if the representatives of the massive majority band together because the public is furious with Harper, it is the will of the people.

2. For starters, the government is NOT behaving as they said during the campaign. They are playing extreme partisan politics as they said they would not. They are also, not consulting with the oppositon as they promised. They also promised no deficit. Exactly as they said???? Wow.

3. This is the only truly accurate statemnet. And if it happens you only have Harper to thank, he blew it with his arrogant partisan tactics.

Ryan said...

The Conservatives take a post-modern approach to democracy. It's all subjective to them.

How many Reformers HOWLED dictatorship when the Liberals would get whopping majorities with vote percentages in the high 30s?

The shoe is on the other foot but Harper denies that they are actually flip-flops.

roblaw said...

Dave.. you are entirely correct.

End of story. This Conservative agrees - Harper should never have allowed the current financial concerns to be used as a political tool, and should have been more open to a tri-partisan strategy to allow parliament to do some business.. even if it didn't accomodate everything he wanted..

Then - if the Libs or NDP decided to obfuscate to push their own agenda, he could take the high ground.

He screwed up. Simply said by a Conservative.

rc said...

"How many Reformers HOWLED dictatorship when the Liberals would get whopping majorities with vote percentages in the high 30s?"

They have awful short memories. You'd think given the failings of the plurality system that they experienced - where 40% of the vote equals 60% of the seats in the House, and thus 100% of the power - they'd be more open to electoral reform that would even things out.

Now it just appears that they want to stack the system the other way, in their favour.

Madtory said...

Its not short memory, its selective memory.

Anonymous said...

More selective memory, or is it memory loss? Harper forgot that he proposed a coalition against Martin, when he says a coalition is undemocratic. Yet another blunder.

Party of One said...

I've posted this elsewhere (http://blog.macleans.ca/2008/11/29/behind-the-scenes-at-pmo-wait-so-this-wasnt-ryan-sparrows-fault/), so I won't repost in its entirety here.

But...

If the Liberals/NDs/Green/Bloc REALLY want to sell the idea of a "coalition" government, or at least make it palatable to MOST Canadians, they will have to deliver on some form of proportional representation amendment to the Elections Act.

Not a promise. Not a commission to study it. An actual bill, that would be voted on immediately after the first "coalition government" budget gets passed.

It would give their own endeavour credibility, and would ensure that Canadians get the representation they vote for when, not if, the coaliation government eventually falls.

Anonymous said...

Wow more hypocrasy, lies, dirty tricks and deceit everyday from the PMO. Nothing has really changed, its just that the he's distracted now and can't put the energy into diguising it as well as he has been.

Anonymous said...

Why is the economic update so unpalatable? Where are the economic measures or indicators to suggest a massive stimulus in the economic update 60 days before the budget? Where are the facts to back this claim?

Can the country wait until the budget? Who should be PM? Harper? Dion? Rae? Ignatieff? Do we determine this in a back room deal?

Marnie Tunay said...

Here's advice I have found to be useful, about how far to push an adversary. Perhaps Harper would have done well to consider it before his latest ploy to cut off funding to the other parties. It was related to me years ago by a tough Texas lawyer named Dan O'Meara: "In any situation where you are wondering how far you can push an adversary, it's useful to think of him/her as a tiger in a cage - and there you are, the tiger-tamer, in the cage with a chair. The question is, how close can you get - before the tiger jumps?"
Marnie Tunay
Fakirs Canada