The Canadian Imagination

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

Monday, December 01, 2008

The popular vote

Since the recent federal election, it has become clear that the government headed by Mr. Harper has no plan, no competence and no will to effectively address this (economic) crisis. Therefore, the majority of Parliament has lost confidence in Mr. Harper's government, and is resolved to form a new government that will effectively, prudently, promptly and competently address these critical economic times.
- Stéphane Dion

In the 2008 federal election, the popular vote across the nation broke down as follows:
  • Conservative: 37.65%
  • Liberal: 26.26%
  • New Democrats: 18.18%
  • Green: 6.78%
  • Bloc Québecois: 9.98%, all in Québec, translates to (in Québec only)
    • BQ 38.1%
    • Liberals 23.7%
    • Conservative 21.7%
    • NDP: 12.2%
If the Conservatives had managed to work with even one other party with sitting members, their minority government would truly have represented a majority of voting Canadians. More: working with even one other party with sitting members would have represented a majority of voting Canadians in every single province and territory of Canada except Québec, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, and the Yukon territory. It would not even have had to be the same party throughout, but could have been any one of the three. For a minority government, that is about as good as it gets.

Instead, Stephen Harper chose to govern as though he had a majority, in effect challenging the other parties to vote down his fiscal policies and make any resulting election their fault.

The other parties found a different way.

With the newly signed accord, the Liberals, New Democrats, and Bloc Québecois together represent a majority of voting Canadians in every single province and territory of Canada except Manitoba and points west (but not north). In every single province and territory except Alberta and Saskatchewan, the three parties together have the same or higher popular support as the Conservatives alone. Only in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where the Conservatives have the majority of the popular vote, do the three parties fall short.

This means that across the country and in almost every single region of the country -- including all the west except Alberta and Saskatchewan -- the proposed coalition government has the support of far more Canadians than the Conservatives governing alone.

Although the NDP have committed to supporting the coalition for two years, it is not a roll-over folding to Liberal policy. They will hold a quarter of the Cabinet seats, slightly more than their percentage of the popular vote. This degree of party cooperation would be a first in Canadian politics.

Recognising that no one in Canada wants another election for at least a year or two, the three parties even managed to sidestep what almost every Canadian outside Québec would have seen as the dealbreaker: the BQ will not technically be part of the coalition, and no members of the BQ will sit in Cabinet.

Make no mistake, this result is true voter representation and true democracy in action ... perhaps more so than we have seen in some decades. Choosing to govern a minority as though it were a majority, without working with any other party: well, if this were the will of the majority of voters, wouldn't the Conservatives have been elected with a majority during the last election? especially in a first-past-the-post system?

(And I will admit to a personal satisfaction at the choice of Stéphane Dion as the coalition prime minister. He deserved much better than he got.)

Now let's look more closely at Harper's reaction, given that as things stand, he knows he will lose the next fiscal vote. The single easiest way around this is to manipulate events so as to disallow the parliamentary vote. Procedure allows a few legal ways of doing this, and Harper has already invoked all of them. He has cancelled today's opposition day, which prevents the Liberals from introducing a motion to bring down the government. (The next opposition day is scheduled for one week from today.) He has cancelled the ways-and-means motion which catalysed the current state of events -- not the policy itself, but its implementation and consequently the ability to vote on it, which as a fiscal matter would have been a vote of confidence.

So now the questions are: is Harper able to agree to a drastic level of compromise he rejected unequivocably earlier? Will Harper keep cancelling opposition days until the new budget, scheduled for the new year? (and what will be the effect on the country of that action?)

Finally, and most importantly: how far will Stephen Harper go to retain power?

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