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Canada’s “Crazy” Government

01-Dec-08 10:27 pm EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

The Conservatives are in an uproar after today’s events on Parliament Hill.  Just to quickly recap:

  • A formal coalition agreement to govern in Canada’s Parliament was signed by the 3 opposition parties today; including, the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party and the separatist Bloc Québecois
  • the agreement follows on the heels of a nation-wide federal election in which the Conservatives won 143 of a total 306 seats in the House of Commons (Parliament’s lower chamber, the seat of real power in Canada’s government)
  • the agreement follows the governing Conservatives attempting to stifle the flow of money to opposition parties ($30 million), money used largely to finance research staff and public communications seen by them as key to providing an effective opposition
    • The Conservatives argued all political parties should fund themselves exclusively on donations
  • the Conservatives have charged the move is “undemocratic”, “dangerous” and even “crazy”; adding a political crisis to an already troublesome economic crisis facing many nations in the world right now
Official election results, as summarized by CBC’s Election 2008 website.  Election Day itself was on October 14, 2008.

Today at work, I got pulled into (or felt compelled to participate in) a discussion about today’s events.  And a fellow that occupies a neighboring cubicle seemed very upset at this state of affairs, echoing the government’s charge that this was basically a political coup d’etat. Whatever you want to call this, a coup this is not.  This same individual seemed equally preoccupied that the Conservatives had “won the election” and thus had a mandate to govern, unable to conceive of how the opposition parties could possibly be allowed to take over.

At this I was a little amazed.  I respect this individual, but I can’t agree with his analysis at all, although I’m sympathetic to his notion of voting (as he clearly had) for the ‘winner’ of the election, and then having victory snatched away.  Nobody likes that. 

But Canada isn’t a country governed by the party that merely wins the most seats and treating the election result – a minority government as if minority status were simply a technicality is being very ignorant of how our system works, or, in my view, ought to.  Our government is an election of 306 members which happen to belong to variety of parties.  And if the members invest their confidence in a party other than that which won the most seats – then it is actually that party (or coalition of parties) which gets to form a government, with the leave of the Governor-General.

The only practical alternative in the end, one way or the other, is an election.  That’s our history.  That’s our convention. That’s Canadian democracy.

I admit, I didn’t vote Conservative.  Yet, I’m a fierce democrat (contrary to what your typical Conservative might think of us non-Conservatives) – and wouldn’t ever try to impose my views on my countrymen just because I thought I was more right or wiser than everyone else.  On election night, Canadians voted in only 143 Conservatives, which is not a majority.  That’s the bottom line.  To call this a ‘coup’ because democratically-elected members representing 65% of the popular vote is pure ideologically-motivated fiction.

Indeed, it’s ideology that’s at the heart of this “craziness”.  And inasmuch as we Canadians are supposedly aghast at the drama unfolding here in Ottawa, admonishing those whom we just sent to represent us as acting like “children”, we have a system we can be very sure will resolve the matter – ultimately, in another election if that’s what it comes to.  When that co-worker I’d cited earlier started talking about taking up arms to defend the government (somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I hope) simply because they were on the brink of losing a confidence vote is the real insanity here – and would set us down the road to setting Canada, a virtual utopia when compared with the environs of places like Mumbai, India, on a course to a kind of dysfunction it has and, God-willing, never will know.

There’s a place we dare not go, regardless of our own political differences.

So until someone comes forward with a better system that reconciles the varied possibilities inherent in a nation’s politics, I say people should reserve judgment and not think things have really got too “crazy”.  If the government gets too dysfunctional, there’s always an election around the corner that’ll allow everyone their say.  And even the specter of a coalition government propped up by a separatist party isn’t the worst thing that could happen politically.

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Terry Glavin


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