The Grinch Who Stole Democracy

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.



15 comments on “The Grinch Who Stole Democracy

  1. wil says:

    This is the second blog post I've read concerning the Canadian government's recent power plays…and I'm still kind of fuzzy on the whole thing…doesn't sound good though. I can barely keep track of my own two-party government!

  2. Sylvia says:

    Well, imagine if, some time in the past, Bush shut down Congress because he knew they were going to impeach him. That's sort of what just happened in Canada. It's the sort of thing you expect in a Third World dictatorship, not a Western parliamentary democracy.

  3. Sylvia says:

    It might help if I add that in Canada we do not elect a Prime Minister or a government. We elect individual Members of Parliament. The party with the most MPs usually forms the government, and the leader of the party (who they always manage to get elected as an MP) becomes the Prime Minister. The government only lasts as long as they have the confidence of the majority of the Members of Parliament. In a majority government with party discipline this is not a problem. A minority government, on the other hand, must cooperate with the other parties or else get thrown out of office. Usually when that happens there is an election, but in this case we have an alternative, a coalition of MPs from the other parties who can form a government.

  4. wil says:

    Very helpful! Thanks.

  5. Stefanie says:

    I've been following what Harper was up to and was astonished to read the news that he really did suspend parliament today. I didn't really understand how the Canadian parliament worked so thanks for the explanation. And good luck to the coalition!

  6. Bloc42 says:

    Your article is very well written and summarize in few words what really happen last week in Canada. Harper claims that the whole thing was not democratic and bla bla bla… But he is just a big whiner who is saying: “it's not fair…” Like you said the rules are clear and he did'nt had the majority needed to impose his “Bush type” ideology to the rest of Canada. Hope the coalition sticks together and restore democraty.

  7. Sylvia says:

    Moi aussi, Bloc42. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  8. Sylvia says:

    Thanks, Stefanie. If in the future you ever do have to immigrate up here you'll have a head start on the civics quiz. 😉

  9. Sylvia..
    Excellent observations… it is astounding to think that the Conservatives do not seem to realise, or do not want people to realise, that we did not elect him or his government… we elect indiviual MPs who then form a government based on a consensus of a majority. Like you, I am very dismayed at what has happened, and even more dismayed by the vitriolic PR campaign launced by his office, claiming nonsense like “Canadians gave Stephen Harper a strong mandate.
    The coalition option, representing both a majority of MPs and a majority of votes cast, represents a far more legitimate option than his collection of laughably incompetent and strident ideologues.
    Thanks for speaking up!

  10. Sylvia says:

    Thanks for the comment, Steven. I think Harper is well aware of the facts of the matter but is deliberately misleading the public, as he has done all along. He has learned well from Rove and co. They had anti-elitism, Harper has Francophobia to draw on, and it's working. Between the Bloc and Dion Canadians don't want to touch the coalition with a ten foot pole. It's so disappointing. After years of laughing at how susceptible Americans are to fearmongering, the same thing is happening up here. But let's hope for the best, eh?

  11. Dar McWheeler says:

    I like your analysis of the situation, but I feel that something needs to be pointed out. It's something that I hear time and again that is incorrect and we, as a group, will not be able to move forward without knowing this:
    Canada is not a Democracy; it's a Constitutional Monarchy.
    Everyone, and I mean everyone, that I talk to is painfully unaware of this.
    We vote for 4 people that govern us: town councillors, Mayor, MP, and MPP.
    And most people mistake this for Democracy.
    But we are not. And we should begin to approach our discussion, if we wish it to be constructive and useful, with this in mind.
    Otherwise how can we meaningfully, collectively, address and fix our governmental problems if aren't even talking about the actual form of government we are under?

  12. Sylvia says:

    Thanks for the input, Dar. Indeed we are a constitutional monarchy, but I think that is generally considered to be a form of democracy, though obviously not a republic. When I look at other countries I don't see it making any practical difference. In any case, I don't think a public that doesn't realize that the Bloc is not part of the proposed coalition government is not going to appreciate such technical distinctions!

  13. Dar McWheeler says:

    Yes indeed….

  14. Darren Maurer says:

    Keeping in mind that I am not a Conservative supporter, but instead a fan of true democracy, the argument that 56.4 percent of Canada favours a coalition and the conseratives are not the 'chosen' ones, is utterly absurd. Using the same argument, any coalition including the Conservatives and vs any other party would be of an even larger margin, as the Conservatives were still a majority vote. One point of fact that everyone seems to miss, is that the coalition Government does NOT change the face of Canadian politics, merely its figurehead, The Prime Minister of Canada. The number of seats do not change (as they shouldn't, having been elected by the country's people). And whether I agree with the chosen leader or not, I do feel that the people should have what they voted for, and not have 'backdoor politics' influencing who is the Prime Minister, but instead using the democratic voting system and letting the people speak, which they have, and the Majority want Mr. Harper as our country's leader. By the way, his favourability rating was 46% before Christmas. As Jon Stewart pointed out, that's higher than Bill Clinton's rating ever was (largely considered that country's most approved leader). I think people are making a mockery of Canada's system of politics, and trying to further their own agendas(getting Liberals into a driver's seat position with the Prime Minister's seat), instead of looking at the damage in foreign investment that has already taken place due to the apparent instability this has created.
    P.S. Stephen Harper REQUESTED parliament be suspended, and had to give good reason to Michele John. She is the one who suspended government, not Mr. Harper. Perhaps you think she should be overthrown too? Perhaps even in 2009, Lynch Mobs still exist?

  15. Sylvia says:

    Hi Darren. The thing is we have a different system than the US. We do not elect a Prime Minister, and we do not elect a government. We elect individual MPs to represent us in Parliament, and they can form a government however they like as long as they have the support of the majority of MPs. Organizing into parties speeds this process, but parties are not necessary to form a government. Any group of MPs who have the confidence of the majority of the House can form a government. So there is nothing illegal, immoral, irregular or even unusual about a coalition government.
    I don't blame Jean. She is supposed to stay neutral, and it *would* be irregular for her to refuse the request of the PM. The problem is Harper proroguing Parliament to prevent it from carrying out its normal function.
    I should add that the replacement of Dion with Ignatieff falls within normal procedure. Any MP from any party can theoretically become Prime Minister if he has the support of the House. The party system is a separate thing and they decide for themselves how to pick their leaders. In this case the Liberal party followed their established rules. Nothing new happened here.
    Bottom line: Only the people of Calgary Southwest voted for Stephen Harper, and they elected him MP not PM. That's how our system works. We may imagine it is different but the Constitution says otherwise.

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