Minority Report

First off, I pay much less attention to domestic Canadian politics than to US politics. The outcome of an American presidential election or US economic and foreign policy have much more effect on the lives of Canadians than most elements of Canadian politics. And while the obscene amounts of money spent in US campaigns are , well,  obscene, the low key Canadian (redundant?) campaigns tend to be snore fests. I mean you see more passion and slicker professionalism in US ads for County Commissioner than in Canadian Federal elections.

But there is a lot of ignorance regarding the Parliamentary system in Canada and the actual background of the parties. It is not some convenient neat analogy to the US.

What is true is that Parliament is not a binary game. You can have a government with one party controlling a majority of seats, one party controlling a minority (but with compromise or acquiescence or abstention from some other members or parties) or a coalition of parties to from a majority or a functioning minority.

The latter is not without precedent in Canada, but it is rare. And it tends to be regarded as a consciously chosen solution following a divided election, rather than a vote of non-confidence in the house. What does threaten – and has in the past posed  – a constitutional crisis is when the government loses confidence and the Governor General – a figurehead representing the role of the Monarch – offers a coalition of losers the chance to form a government without an election.

We had an election  in Mid October. The results of this effectively 5 party contest were

CONSERVATIVE      143  seats    38% of vote   they are what passes for a centre-right party in Canada. Overall they would be more like centre right western Democrats or the moderate wing of the Republican Party if it still existed (the moderate Republican wing died 25 years ago, the party died last month). This actually represented a net gain of seats to control over 48% of the House against a fractured opposition split among 3 diverse parties. This probably empowered Harper to downplay the
social conservative “pig farmer from Alberta” crowd within the party. At least it gave him a few free “shut the fuck up!” passes to hand out so he can concentrate on his real agenda of economic issues.

LIBERAL                         77     seats    26% of vote  The traditional establishment centrist party. These are not progressives, they are about power. They are still being punished by voters for the corrupt period of power between 1993 and 2006. Led by a very weak leader who has already announced his departure, he was a compromise choice between  two potentially strong leaders who are now running to replace him. Even if you are a partisan supporter of the Liberal party you ought to recognize that they would be in a stronger position running a real election in 18 months or so with a real leader and a record of frustrated Conservative minority to run against.

Bloc Quebecois              49 seats    10% of vote     A Quebec only secessionist party. You Americans remember how well that worked out. Their sole national objective is breaking up the country. They have allowed minority  governments to exercise authority but abstaining from matters they consider outside their core interest. If you subtract them from the equation, then the conservatives 143 seats represent a clear majority of the the remaining 246 seats that are not primarily concerned with breaking up the country.

New Democratic           37 seats    18% of vote  The actual progressive party in Canada. Like a completely unmoderated version of the left wing of the Democratic Party in the US. Unions, interest groups and well intentioned but naiive people dominate. Has shown an ability to govern at a Provincial level but only after being moderated by the chastening effect of  “actual responsibilities”

Independent                     2 seats       1% of vote

Green                                0     seats    7% of vote  Treated unnecessarily seriously in this last election by media and some other parties. Have moved from a one issue party to take a measure of the protest vote away from the NDP. No elected members, but a further illustration of how 38% of the vote and 48% of the seats in the house of Commons starts looking close to a mandate against 4 opposing  parties.

So the issue is not whether the conservatives are good or bad (neither) or Harper is Bush Lite (Harper is nothing like Bush and no one is Lite compared to Bush).

The issue is will the Governor General hand the government over to a hodge podge of 3 parties with little in common, one of which is pledged to tear the country apart. In the past, a much less controversial option imposed by a much more powerful (or less narrowly scoped) governor general became our biggest constitutional crisis.

Or we can have another election. In January. In Canada. This is a miserable combination. Frankly it already is without the election. The opposition parties risk incurring the wrath of the voters for putting everyone through this 3 months after the last election. And making us feel like Italy or Israel and their dysfunctional Parliaments.

Honestly I don’t see a huge difference in the outcome. The NDP probably pick up a few seats. I can’t see the Liberals doing worse. But again if you were those folks would you want to preserver your lame duck leader and be part of  the weakest government in history during an economic meltdown and then run against a more competent and more powerful opposition in an election a year or two down the road.

Unless she is out of her mind, the Governor General will not intervene any way. She will not grant Harper a suspension of Parliament. She will not offer the other parties a chance to form a government. She will throw it back on the parties in Parliament where it belongs. It the opposition wants to bring down the government and  votes to do so, then another election. But either protecting Harper’s minority or encouraging non-confidence with the carrot of a coalition dangled out would be a reach. And contrary to the last 80 years of constitutional thought.

Get ready to vote in the snow, Canadians.

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1 Comment

Filed under Politics

One response to “Minority Report

  1. afrankangle

    Thanks for this post. During a cruise on October, we got to know a Canadian couple well. As their election was early in the cruise and our election dominating the news, we had some good talks.

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