The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A coalition no one voted for?

It took less than two days for the Conservative blogosphere and grassroots to be harnessed to the target message, repeated again and again and again almost verbatim:
  • No one voted for a coalition.
  • Undemocratic!
  • Against the interests of the country!!!
Next time you hear the call-ins on talk radio or feel inundated by apparently unanimous letters to the editor, take a close look at the link above, and see if any of the points sound at all familiar.

Left completely unsaid is that the Conservatives were not elected with the majority of the popular vote and that they were not elected with a majority of the seats. It is also carefully overlooked -- and opposing messages drowned out -- that parliamentary cooperation with another party does not consist simply of presenting a proposal and expecting all other parties always to agree in the name of cooperation. In a minority government situation, cooperation must be marked by significant compromise. In an extreme economic situation, that compromise must include the possibility that the governing party's economic policy might possibly not be in the best interests of the country, as seen by the majority of seat-holders and the majority of voters.

Especially, what is never said is that there is no method by which a coalition government can be created directly by the electorate, and that the nature of a representative democracy has always been that those elected to Parliament have been given a mandate to act in the interests of their riding by virtue of the election itself. In a partisan government structure, such election includes the understanding that any candidate with party affiliation will act in accordance with party policy.

You may never hear any of these points if you don't go actively looking. None of these points are part of the script.

So where does this shouted message leave someone like me? who is interested only in what is best for the country (and the world), and really could not care less which party leads us to it?

To buck a bully-driven message which has achieved mob appeal takes nerves. Certainly there is no profit in it for the person who dares to buck mob-driven reification. The road of independent thought is ever a lonely one.

So, let's try a different tack:

In 2004, as the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition during the 38th Canadian Parliament, Stephen Harper went to then Governor General Adrienne Clarkson with a rather interesting proposal. At the time, the Liberal prime minister Paul Martin was holding a rather precarious minority, which would later be defeated in a non-confidence vote at the end of November 2005.

What Harper proposed to the governor-general was that should Martin's government be defeated in a vote of non-confidence, an election should not be called. Instead, Harper's Conservatives were ready to lead, in a coalition government supported solely by the Bloc Québecois. At the time, the BQ had not yet set aside their separatist agenda. (That did not happen until after the unexpected surge of the Conservatives in Québec following Harper's "Captain Canada" speech.)

Make of this piece of history what you will.


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