I awoke this morning to the disappointing but expected news that the Prime Minister of Canada had suspended parliament to avoid a confidence vote that would have ended his reign and replaced his government with a coalition of opposition parties. You see we have a minority Conservative government that desperately wants to be a majority. Earlier in the fall, after only two years in power, they called a quickie election (only 5 weeks of campaigning) in a cynical attempt to win a majority of the seats in parliament, but we got pretty much the same result as before, at great taxpayer expense.
But they don’t just want a majority, they pretend to be one too. Ever since they came into power the Conservatives have been playing chicken with the opposition, threatening to call elections every time the opposition threatened to vote against them. This goes against parliamentary tradition of minority governments compromising with the opposition in order to get legislation passed, but the Canadian public was so sick of politics that the opposition didn’t have the nerve to call the Prime Minister’s bluff, and he got away with it. But not this time. The three opposition parties shocked the country last week by announcing that they had formed a coalition that would vote against the government in a confidence motion and form the next government.
We don’t have proportional representation in Canada so we are not used to coalition governments, but they are permitted and we have had them in the past. In fact our founding government was a coalition. The arguments against it are that it will cause instability (or at least the appearance thereof, which amounts to the same thing) that will exacerbate our economic
problems, that the people didn’t vote for a coalition government (an absurdity since one can only vote for individual candidates) and that one of the parties involved favours Quebec sovereignty, and so it is “anti-Canadian.” The last argument is probably the most compelling, though
there are also many Anglo Canadians who really like the Bloc Québecois leader. The Bloc is by no means a one-issue party and they share many progressive ideas with the other opposition parties.
The arguments for the coalition are that the it represents the majority of Canadian voters (54.4% versus 37.5% who voted Conservative), that they will take more immediate action on the economy than the current government (which is lagging far behind the world community in this respect), that the Bloc Québecois has signed on with no preconditions and will have no cabinet positions, and that the unpopular leader of the main opposition party will be replaced in May
as previously planned. The parties involved really do agree on many issues and would probably function very well, but Canadians just aren’t used to parties working together, especially after the last few years, so they remain nervous.
At any rate there was nothing the Prime Minister could do to stop the coalition so he took the only way out and had parliament suspended until late January (a constitutionally questionable move, but it’s done). In that time he’ll be putting together a new budget, and will no doubt be busy scheming and campaigning to break up the coalition as well. In fact the TV ads have already begun. I think that will only be delaying the inevitable, though, and all this just goes to show what little respect he has for democracy and for his peers in parliament. We could today have a government elected by the majority of Canadians, or a minority government that takes the wishes of Canadians who didn’t vote for it into consideration, but instead we have an empty parliament with locked doors. In effect, my vote has been taken away from me. What a sad day for democracy in Canada.