Let’s talk about Coalitions

Harper and his coalition government fear mongering is getting on my nerves. He talks as though Mikey and Jack could wake up one morning and talk to their buddy Gilles and kick little Stevie out of the sandbox without any one stopping it. This is so far from the truth. He is completely exploiting a rarely used solution to a government falling as a way to scare the electorate into giving him a majority government. What is more disturbing is that the media are playing along like he is correct.

In parliamentary democracy, it is only customary that the party with the largest number of votes forms the government. It has been done this way since the beginning therefore, it continues to be done this way. In the case of a minority government, where no one party has the majority of seats, it is still customary that the party with the most seats forms the government. As long as the government ‘enjoys the confidence of the house’ then all is peachy keen. They all agree to get along and play nicely in the sandbox.

In a minority government situation, the government is only as safe as its next set of negotiations with the opposition parties. What this means in practice is that at any point the opposition parties can pass a motion of non-confidence (basically they are saying that they have lost confidence in the government) and if the motion passes the government could fall. This could feasibly happen in a majority government situation, especially a tight majority, the government could be caught off guard and a motion of non-confidence could be tabled. However, they usually strike agreements with the other parties and pair up MPs to allow everyone to have the freedom to do constituency work at home. They agree that if Joe isn’t in the house then Jane won’t be. This way they keep the numbers proportional. But I digress.

Back to our minority government situation. When the house fell on the budget bill, (any monetary bills are considered de facto confidence motions) a federal election was not a foregone conclusion. In fact, when Stephen Harper went to see the Governor-General he had 2 choices – calling an election or asking the party with the next largest number of seats to form a government. In fact, we have not had many coalition governments in Canadian history.

So, the whole coalition government thing is a ruse. It is a way for Stephen Harper to divert attention from all the scandals that have plagued his government. If he is busy scaring everyone that the Bloc Quebecois might have a hand in governing Canada then he doesn’t have to answer questions about how he subverts democracy. The next time you are in mixed company and someone starts talking about the spectre of a coalition government, take a moment and educate them. The truth is the chances of it happening are almost slim and none. But you can never rule it out completely as a possibility. In the grand scheme of things, it might be a good government where more Canadians might be represented rather than the party who received 35% of the popular vote taking more seats because of our antiquated first past the post system of electing representatives.

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. One problem, aside from the fact that so few seem to understand how the Westminster system works (I blame a combination of poor schooling and too much American influence), is that Canada has never had a coalition government, so there is a fear of the unknown. There have been minorities that governed with informal support from another party, such as the two minority governments led by Lester B. Pearson, but we have never had an actual formal coalition, in which members of more than one party sit at the cabinet table, such as it now the case in the United Kingdom.

    You’ve spelled it out well. So has the Globe and Mail. I’m not sure about other media outlets.

    Stephen Harper’s broken record is sheer fear-mongering. Should a formal coalition ever be formed, it would never, ever include the Bloc Québécois. No Bloc MP will ever hold a cabinet post.


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