03 December 2008

coailition government true and false

like most canadians, i like to maintain a smug sense of superiority about our knowledge of political issues, particularly in comparison with our neighbours to the south. however, the last few days have made me realise that, when political push comes to shove, we're basically sheep following what we've heard in the news in the last seven days. so here is my humble attempt to address some of the partisan myth-making that has been circulating as a result of the current constitutional confusion.

a majority of canadians chose stephen harper and the conservatives to govern the country- false. of those who voted (59.1% of those eligible), 37.63% voted for the conservative party. this is not a majority by any measure. it is a plurality, which means only that the conservatives got more votes than any of the other parties. this percentage of the vote was not enough to give the conservatives a parliamentary majority, meaning that the other parties combined have more seats than the conservatives, but no single party has as many seats.

coalitions are inherently unstable- depends on what you're comparing them to. they are unquestionably less stable than single party governments with an outright majority. however, they are no more or less stable than minority governments operating without a formal coalition agreement.

a majority of canadians voted against stephane dion- false. no one in canada voted for or against stephane dion except the residents of the st. laurent-cartierville riding. parliamentary systems, unlike presidential ones, involve voting for parties, not leaders. the sad fact that many people allow themselves to believe otherwise, because it's easier than finding out the details of a party's actual platform, doesn't change that. stephane dion is not the issue, except for his own party.

to give the power of government to a group of parties, none of whom were given a mandate to govern, is undemocratic- false. and true. it's false in the sense that, combined, the liberals, new democrats and bloc quebecois actually represent a substantial majority of those who voted. the argument that they didn't run as a coalition is specious. coalitions are formed by parties by determining if they can come to an agreement on major issues to an extent that would allow them to govern and in minority situations, it is to be expected that some of the parties will work together. it's also true, however, that governments that function on a purely "first past the post" basis are inherently undemocratic, because they immediately discount every vote that was not cast for the winner. if the conservatives govern alone, every vote for another party- 62% of those cast- is essentially lost. if the coalition prevails, every vote for the conservatives- the largest single party block of votes- is lost. no one was given a clear-cut mandate and therefore the system dictates that a large group of people lose out. the way to get around this is to change the system. the outcome of the current crisis is irrelevant to the question of democratic representation.

the coalition can't work- false. coalition governments do work and have worked in other countries and in canada. in fact, the conservatives have been governing with a kind of coalition for two years. they have not had (and have not generally sought) the support of the opposition parties, but those parties have given a kind of consent by strategically absenting themselves from parliamentary votes to prevent the government from collapsing.

the inclusion of separatists in government is unprecedented in canada- false. separatist politicians have participated in past governments to a greater extent than the bloc quebecois would under the current coalition agreement. the difference is that they weren't calling themselves separatists. brian mulroney's success in quebec was due in no small measure to his ability to win "soft" separatists over to the progressive conservative party. he even put some of them in cabinet. remember?

and here are a couple of less clear-cut questions...

the coalition represents a power grab by the opposition- maybe. people will interpret the motivations of the opposition as they will, mostly based on their own previously established partisanship. "person on the street" interviews in burlington, a heavily conservative toronto suburb, show a vast majority of people with a vitriolic reaction against the coalition. in the same sort of interview in montreal, where the voters tend to be more left-leaning (and where the conservatives do not hold a single seat), the reaction was more positively disposed towards a multi-party government. the fact is that no one can speak with any authority on the motivations of the politicians involved.

stephen harper needs to resign- probably. the impression being given is that much of the belligerence on the part of the conservatives comes from harper and his unelected staff and that the strange developments of the last few days can be traced back to harper's own truculent style of governing. remove him from the equation and the argument that the conservatives need to go because of their unwillingness to work with the other parties loses much of its resonance. in addition to the fact that the harper-driven economic update was the landmine that set all this off to begin with, his reaction has been blundering, petty, hysterical and ill-informed. whatever the end solution is, it seems unlikely that it can be a positive one with him in the picture.

and now that you've heard my opinion, you might want to check here for a different, but also non-partisan opinion.

1 comment:

Master Jibberish said...

For the record, I live in Ontario and voted Green...so I believe my thoughts on this are pretty unbiased not supporting Liberals, Conservatives, nor NDP.

Harper should have resigned after the election seven weeks ago when he did not deliver a majority for the C's...however, this still feels like a slap in the face to voters who trust the politicians to represent them. Legal or not, this is how we voted and a Coalition slaps of a back door power grab.

Also, something few are thinking about...will this Coalition give more power to Separatists...true, but not in Quebec. Instead in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia where they will alienate those people strongly in favour of the Conservative government. If this Coalition goes through, I expect to see referendum votes on separation (or even becoming the newest member of the USA) at least in Alberta, if not all three, relatively fast.

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