Coalition myths

While the two would-be prime ministers address the nation with their talking points, and talk radio is flooded with angry phone calls, it seems obvious that many Canadians (and politicians) are basing arguments on a profound misunderstanding of the nature of parliamentary democracy. In that spirit, here are some myths being thrown about and reality checks for each:

Canadians voted for a Conservative government and Prime Minister Harper: Canadians did no such thing. Despite the impression given during election campaigns, the prime minister (and hence his government) is not chosen by the voters (you may have noticed that the words “prime minister” were not on your ballots, nor were “Stephen Harper” unless you voted in Calgary Southwest). Instead, the prime minister is chosen by the 308 members of Parliament elected by the voters. A majority of those 308 members have decided that Harper should not be the prime minister.

The coalition wants to overturn the results of the election: I don’t see where that’s the case. There are no floor-crossings involved here (and even if there were, both the Liberals and Conservatives have benefitted from such crossings and ignored hypocritical calls from the opposition that the member resign and face a by-election to ratify the change in party). The election resulted in a minority government, which means that any measure needs support of more than one party to be approved.

The Liberals were forced to act to save Canadian jobs: Oh please. This is clearly a power grab. The Liberals saw their opportunity, but it was just a matter of time before this happened. A minority situation where three of the four parties are left-of-centre and the remaining right-wing party is the one in charge just wasn’t sustainable. The economy argument is a smokescreen.

Dion is so desperate to become prime minister he’s trying to get in by the back door: While I’m sure part of Dion is gleeful about the idea, and he’s definitely better at this kind of political maneuvring than he is getting popular support from Canadians, he isn’t reversing his decision to step down as Liberal leader. The leadership campaign will go on as planned and if the government lasts that long, the winner will become the prime minister.

Making a deal with separatists threatens this country directly: If this were true (and it’s not), the Conservatives are just as guilty. Many of its laws, including matters of confidence, were supported by the Bloc Québécois in exchange for matters the two could agree on like transferring more money to the provinces. Dion’s federalist bona fides are not in question. Besides, the argument is being made on the other side that the Bloc has sold its soul to the federalists by agreeing not to take down a coalition government for a year.

The Liberals have a better plan to fix the economy: Nobody’s going to fix this economic crisis. The United States is in a recession and debt markets are in turmoil. There’s nothing a prime minister can do to fix that. They can make a small impact: the Tories want to reduce taxes and the Liberals/NDP want to increase spending, both of which will put this country back into deficit and increase the national debt. The best solution would probably be something in between, but there is no centre option here as long as the Liberals are in bed with the NDP.

The coalition will bring the stability and progressive policies needed to weather the economic crisis. Wow, I need to get some of what you’re smoking. The coalition will bring partisan gridlock to Parliament Hill in no time flat. Another election will quickly follow, in which Canadians will either punish Harper for his arrogance or (perhaps more likely) punish the Liberals for a transparent  power grab.

This crisis shows why we need a majority government: Whether this crisis is good or bad for Canada depends on which side you’re on. Majority governments are by nature more stable, because they’re run by a benevolent dictator. They also have a habit of being more fiscally responsible by being able to cut spending and make tough decisions. But minority coalitions are more democratic and involve more compromise and negotiation. And when one party attempts to do something unpopular, it can be overridden by the other three parties.

If the government loses a confidence vote, an election must be called: That’s not necessary. The King/Byng affair demonstrated that. The governor-general has the option to allow another group to become the government if she feels they would have the confidence of the House.

We must protest to ensure we get the right government: While both sides are appealing to public opinion, it’s highly unlikely that any of the four parties will listen to the public which has already divided so transparently along party lines. The Liberals and NDP have already made up their minds about forming a coalition. The Bloc has already agreed not to let it fall for a year and a half. And the Conservatives are going to fight to the last breath to keep Stephen Harper in power.

Any other misconceptions you feel need to be corrected?

Oh hell, I’ll just let Rex Murphy summarize:

5 thoughts on “Coalition myths

  1. Stephane Michaud

    Thank you so much for this post, I just can believe how much BS is being said in the house of commun right now, from all parties…

  2. Tim

    Very well articulated. Unfortunately the misconceptions about the workings of the Westminster parliamentary system are pretty well engrained. Hopefully you can enlighten a few.

    The premise of the Liberal/NDP coalition is to provide a more developed economic intervention than the one the Conservatives propose. Here’s my beef, though: the only parties who have laid out a plan (as far as I’m aware) are the Tories and… the Bloc. The Liberals and New Democrats have spent the past few days behind doors negotiating who will go where, but not what they’ll do that will be any different (let alone better) than the Conservatives.

    My heart of hearts trusts the Libs and New Democrats more than the Tories, and demystification of the evils of a coalition government can be good for the nation’s politics (just as demystification of the evils of a minority government has been), but it’s a brazen position to overturn a government on one policy when you have no alternative to propose.

  3. Frog

    The Liberals are not left of center. The are neo-liberal on economics, like harper, and hawkish on foreign policy, but not as much as Harper. A green policy, which is only seen as leftist by the extreme right stances of the American neo-cons doesn’t make a party left of center. If the Liberals ever bad mouth the quasi-capitalist system that panders to wealth with intent to change it, then by all means let me know.

    The NDP aren’t even lefist. Their policies are handouts. That’s not leftist, that’s a welfare state. The mocked by it’s opposition.

  4. Jean Naimard

    The root problem of all this “mess” is the very simple and obvious fact that Québec does not see anything appealing coming from the canadian parties. The cons are mad-dog right-wing rednecks, the grits are clueless centralizators who see nothing wrong in infringing the Constitution, the NDP are socialists that are clueless about the fact that different people have different outlook on society (never mind that they are vastly more centralizators than the grits) — and the tories are dead, dead as “he’s dead, Jim!”.

    The liberals have been burned since 1981 (thanks to Trudeau’s «nuit des longs couteaux»), and the conservatives since 1989 (after failing to honestly have Canada accept to have more constitutionally acceptable terms for Québec).

    We have been solidly voting Bloc for 15 years ever since, and that big bloc of 50ish MPs missing from the balance of all those parties have finally started to take it’s toll on the federal parliament. For the third time in a row, no party was able to grab the power in the Commons.

    No canadian party will propose anything acceptable to us, because canada thinks that what is good for us is a loss for them. Hearing the Québec bashers hardly dispells that notion.

    And after that, people still wonder why we want to “separate”…


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