That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Winning, losing, and that other thing

"You mean you've got TWO parties in your government?"

My second post – it’s a warm feeling! Even if the post is in response to Norman Spector of the Globe, and Stephen Harper.

The running commentary in Canada since the UK election has of course been a real coming-of-age. While the term “coalition” has been utterly toxic in Canada since the ill-fated attempt by the Liberals and NDP in December 2008, now the Canadian media has a golden example of harmonious partisan inter-mingling to gaze upon: Britain.

Sure, Germany, Japan, India, Sweden, New Zealand, Finland, Israel, and 10 of the world’s 16 triple-A economies are all run by coalition governments – but now that the UK has joined the club, this just resonates in Canada differently. There’s no denying that the colonial mother figure still holds a lot of sway! Now, in the eyes of the press and it seems the public arena writ large, coalition is moving from the realm of barely legal to outright legitimate.

This has focused Canadian minds on what the aftermath of our next election will be. With no party polling over 35%, and a hung parliament as likely as its been for the past six years, no longer can formal bipartisan government be spun as some kind of unholy betrayal. And, it seems, no longer is it the default option for Canadians to accept unitary government from a party that only secured a third of the votes in the country.

And so it is that Stephen Harper would like to refine his old message: standing alongside David Cameron last week, Harper was forced to confess that there is indeed legitimacy to coalition government – but only when the largest party is involved. “Losers don’t get to form coalitions,” Harper declared, referring to the second- and fourth-place finishes of the Liberals and NDP in their 2008 dalliance.

And the Globe’s Norman Spector has run with this particular ball, insisting that “coalitions of losers” are fundamentally different from coalitions involving the first place party.

Spector and Harper are either missing the point completely, or they are deliberately obfuscating it. Two reasons:

1) if no party has secured 50% of the seats, then I’d deem them all “losers.” David Cameron has said so himself, as the leader of the UK’s largest party.

2) a democratically accountable government (“simple concept, really”) should represent the majority of popular opinion as expressed in an election – period. If it takes two parties to do that, then I agree it would be nice if the largest party were a part of that, but it’s by no means essential. As everybody knows, Israel is governed today by a rainbow coalition of four parties, none of which came in first in the election. And Harper is a friend of Israel, no? It’s also happening in the Czech Republic right now, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t – better, always, that a government represents the majority, not just a large plurality.

The Conservatives in Canada keep trying to spin the whole concept of coalition out of the ballpark of public opinion, using a whole range of different rationales. One day it’s because of distaste for the Bloc, the next day coalitions are fundamentally undemocratic, and the next day they’re acceptable so long as parties at a certain threshold of seats in the House are involved. It’s a lot of flipping and flopping for someone of Harper’s stoic demeanour, when the core reason for his frustration with coalition is plain as day – he’s not a “partnership” kind of person.

Filed under: Canada, Politics,


June 2010

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