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.

Michael Ignatieff – Perhaps a Leader?

Depending on when you read this Michael Ignatieff may be the interim leader or not. I have not had a lot of faith in Ignatieff. His story does not have command respect in the Canadian pantheon – after all he is a well-educated Canadian who left for the US for most of his adult life. Now, as he is approaching retirement (perhaps needing our health benefits??) he has come home and seems to want to tell us all what is good for us. He is an academic and has come off as out of touch with Canadians when he first burst on the national scene.

Fast forward a couple of years. As we are mired in another Conservative minority government, Ignatieff is poised to take over the Liberal Party of Canada – at least in an interim way. The current political crisis demands action and when Harper shut the door on the Coalition by having Jean prorogue parliament the Liberals needed another escape hatch. So, Dion is being forced to leave earlier, Dominic Leblanc and Bob Rae are dropping out, clearing the way for Ignatieff. I am not sure having the caucus vote to elect an interim leader is the most democratic but it seems like the circumstances demand it.

I listened to the Sunday Edition podcast with Michael Enright from the CBC. If you have not heard it I strongly recommend it. Michael was interviewing Ignatieff and I have to admit that I was impressed. While Stephen Harper may have understood Machiavelli only to the point of the ‘ends justifies the means.’ Ignatieff has a much more nuanced approach. When talking about the Coalition, Ignatieff described it as a ‘means’ and as an ‘end.’ This is a very interesting approach. As a ‘means’ he indicates that the Coalition has served a purpose. It has forced the government to reconsider its position on several key points. The Coalition may also be an ‘end’ in that it may end up forming a government.

Ignatieff also seems to be bringing some leadership to this point as well. He is saying (don’t forget this was on Sunday before he knew he would be leader by Wednesday) that it would be irresponsible to bring down the government without actually looking at the budget first. Wow, what a breath of fresh air. I am all for the Progressive Coalition but only if it is reasonable and all other avenues have been followed and exhausted.

Ignatieff made anther great point around rhetoric. Particularly, he was quite hard on Stephen Harper’s (and rightly so) casting duly elected members of Parliament as ‘traitors’ and ‘separatists’ because the Coalition was going forward with the help of the Bloc. I fully understand the purpose of the Bloc and so do the Quebecers who elect them. But the Bloc is about more than just protecting Quebec’s political and nationalist interests in Ottawa. They are also a left of centre party who hold seats in the House of Commons. They are every bit as ‘elected’ as everyone else. To cast aspersions on them and other politicians who work with them is inappropriate.

At this point I am cautiously optimistic about Ignatieff’s leadership. I don’t think it can be worse than the non-leadership of Paul Martin or the muddy style of Stephane Dion. I was also impressed that Ignatieff was pledging his support to Dion as late as Sunday even when other members of his caucus were sharpening their knives. In the party that had the big leadership battle between Chretien and Martin this was a bold stance. It would seem that Mr. Ignatieff has integrity – which will serve him well.

Oh, and he is a brave, brave man: he called Michael Enright ‘Mike’ more than once!

Little Stevie…

If Stephen Harper received a report card for his recent behaviour I am sure it would read: “Little Stephen does not work or play well with others.” Harper is a bully plain and simple. He talks the talk about working with others but he is completely without skill or desire in this realm.  What does he do when no one else agrees with him? He closes the sandbox. What kid should have that power? There is a reason we have a system of government complete with rules and conventions – it is so that politicians need to work together or they will be defeated. I think little Stevie needs to put down the Machiavelli and pick up the Ghandi.

Now, on to the rhetoric. I am so sick and tired of the Conservatives misinformation campaign. If I were a Quebecer I would be downright angry that he used the word ‘separatists’ when he spoke in English and called them ‘Sovereignists’ en francais. It is disingenuous. Does he think that no one in Quebec can speak, understand or read English? I am also sick to death of hearing that the Coalition is trying to steal power. They have conducted themselves correctly within a parliamentary democracy. All the scare mongering the Cons can muster is not enough to overrun the rules of Parliament.

I am worried for the Coalition. Some Liberals are sharpening the knives and they are all aimed at Dion. If the Coalition cannot stay together and agree on a leader then we are all in trouble. A bully running amok without someone to push back is a recipe for disaster. The Liberals need to unite behind Dion as he has government experience and will be very effective in government. Really, governing is what Dion does best. He is only the leader until the Leadership Convention in May and he is the Liberals only real opportunity to govern in the near future.

I am not sure how Harper convinced Jean to prorogue parliament. I will refrain from GG bashing as it is inappropriate. However, I believe this decision is bad for Canada and bad for democracy. It creates a dangerous precedent where a sitting prime minister can duck his/her responsibility to maintain the confidence of the House. Canada needed the confidence vote – after all Harper used to love to make everything a confidence vote to force the Liberals to abstain. Then his other tactic was to poke fun at Dion for abstaining.

Harper has made a serious political error. Dion has nothing to lose and everything to gain. He either goes down in history as the worst leader the Liberals have ever had (although I think that dubious distinction belongs to Martin) or as the bold, innovative leader who was able to build bridges with the NDP and the Bloc. In short, Dion is everything that Harper is not.

What Canada really needed the GG to do was to put Harper in a time out – perhaps with a dunce cap.

My E-mail to James Moore

Here it is. I won’t hold my breath that he will call me back…

Dear Mr. Moore – I heard you on As it Happens yesterday and you said something that concerned me. You mentioned that you had not talked to any Canadians who support the new Coalition government. Well, Mr. Moore, I am a Canadian and I support the coalition. I would also like to add that you trotting out scare tactics only makes your party look weak. The Liberals and NDP are not doing anything that has not been done in parliamentary democracy since it was created. They are not ‘stealing’ power. Your party and particularly your leader has lost the confidence of the house therefore your party has lost the right to govern. If you want someone to blame please talk to Mr. Harper. So, if you would like to talk to a Canadian who supports the progressive coalition please call me at 604 xxx-xxxx. Thank you and have a nice day.

James Moore…

Today James Moore, the newly minted Conservative Heritage Minister was interviewed on As it Happens about the political brouhaha going on in Ottawa. In addition to trotting out the usual bogeymen and strawmen, James Moore said something a little interesting and something I can address. He stated that he has not talked to any Canadians who want the Coalition government to go ahead. So, I have decided that I will call and email Mr. Moore relentlessly so that he has heard from at least one Canadian who wants the progressive Coalition. I urge all my faithful readers (5 of you, as far as I know) to inundate Mr. Moore with telephone calls and emails so that he will have talked to one of us who supports the Coalition! Here is a link to his site and his contact information.

James Moore

Tri-Cities Office/Bureau
2603 St. John’s Street
Port Moody, BC, V3H 2B5


Ottawa Office/Bureau
House of Commons
Chambre des communes
Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A6

WTF is happening with the Federal Government?

I have been fielding a lot of questions about what is happening with federal politics right now given the threat of the opposition bringing down the government. So here is Canadian politics 101:

– The Canadian parliamentary system operates usually with majorities. That is one party takes a majority of seats (155) in the House of Commons. Convention dictates that the Governor General (GG) would then ask the leader of that party to form a government.
– In situations where one party does not win a majority then convention dictates that the GG would ask the leader of the party with the most seats to form a government. Now there have been situations where this has not happened. Notably the King-Byng affair. King did not win the largest number of seats but he was a sitting prime minister and he was able to put together a coalition with the Progressive party to govern. The government did not last long due to a scandal. King asked GG Byng to dissolve parliament and call an election and he refused. Instead he opted to ask Arthur Meighen to form a government as there had been an election recently. This is what the coalition of Liberals and NDP are counting on.
– Here is how things stand right now the Liberals are going to introduce a motion of non-confidence. Basically if it passes, it means that the members of the House of Commons have lost confidence in the government. If this motion passes then the government falls. The GG can then call an election or ask the new coalition to form a government.

Here is a press release from the Canadians for a Progressive Coalition:
Hello everyone,

What a weekend! The Liberals and NDP have agreed to form a coalition government with support from the Bloc Quebecois. With our help, they will bring down the Conservative minority government on December 8 with a vote of no-confidence, and form a coalition government with mixed cabinet.

This week, we can expect a massive campaign trying to discredit the validity of a coalition government. There will be millions of dollars put towards this. It is absolutely critical that we respond strongly. We may lack the money, but we, the 60% of Canadians who voted for progressive platforms, certainly have the numbers. We will need to push with everything we have this week to show the country and our MPs that Canadians support a progressive coalition.

Canadians for a Progressive Coalition is a non-partisn grass-roots movement that was formed shortly after the election to organize Canadians to show their support for a progressive coalition. As of Sunday at 9PM PST well over 4,000 people have signed the petition, over 2,500 have joined the Facebook group, and over 4,000 have watched our YouTube video.

That’s a good start. There are two goals that we need to accomplish this week: First, to show the media convincingly that Canadians support a progressive coalition. Second, to show our MPs that Canadians want a progressive coalition.

What can you do?

1. If you have not done so already, please sign the petition. We will submit the petition to Parliament on Thursday December 4, which is shaping up to include events across the country. We will submit the updated petition again on Monday December 8, the day of the confidence vote.

2. Forward this message to people who use email, and speak with people who don’t. Speak with your friends and family and show them the YouTube video.

3. Phone either your MP, or the President of the local Riding Association of the party you voted for, to tell them you support their party forming a coalition government.

4. Write letters to the editor, call in to radio shows, and post comments on news stories and blogs. We have included a guide with some key messages and facts to help you.

People are preparing events for this Thursday. We are planning a series of “Candles for a Coalition” gatherings and rallies accross the country. We are meeting with other organizations that are driving action on this issue Monday morning to coordinate our efforts and will report back to you shortly.

Finally, email us at campaign@progressivecoalition.ca if you would like to become an organizer in your region.

Canadians for a Progressive Coalition

PS – Check out another group rowing in the same direction: http://www.smartvote2008.ca/