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.

Is there still a chance it will be Prime Minister Dion??

The content of this blog is made up of a comment I put on Not to be Trusted with Knives in response to a question about how the Governor General might be able to ask the other parties to form a government should the current one fall.

I am not the resident historian/political scientist but I do hold a Masters degree in history with a minor in political science…so here goes.

As most of your readers likely know, the Governor General (GG) is the Queen’s representative in Canada. While some of her duties are written down many are down by ‘convention.’ Which basically means it has always been thus and therefore we can assume (generally speaking) it will be done this way again.

So, in the case of the government falling due to a non-confidence vote – the PM (AKA the Harpie) can ask her to dissolve parliament and call an election. Convention has dictated that the party who holds the largest number of seats is asked to form the government. Technically, the GG could ask whoever she wanted but that would be ignoring convention – which is not generally done. When a government falls quickly then the GG can ask the party with the next largest number of seats if they can form a government.

If this scenario comes about it will be tricky. To my knowledge it is the King-Byng affair which is instructive in this case but it does not match exactly. In 1926 King called an election. He got less seats than the Conservatives but combined with the Progressive party there was enough to form a coalition so King did not resign. It quickly became apparent, due to a scandal, that King did not enjoy the confidence of the House and therefore asked Byng to dissolve parliament. He refused, instead asking the Cons to form a government – which they did.

If the Opposition parties can form an alliance (I would be surprised but I suspect they are desperate given the thought of staring at the Harpie for much longer) then perhaps the GG will ask the Liberals to form a government.

I think this is bad strategy and a bit desperate but I guess the Libs figure they have nothing to lose…