Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Coalition governments in Canada: The new normal?

What do you get when you put a federalist, a socialist and a separatist in the same room?

Well, if you're in Canada you get a ruling coalition government.

By this time next week it is expected that the minority Conservative government will be overthrown by an alliance comprised of the Liberals, NDP and Parti Quebecois (although technically speaking the PQ will prop up the government and not be a part of the coalition).

Much to the surprise of many Canadians, this is a completely constitutional course of action. And it's happened before; the Liberals and NDP toppled Joe Clark's PC government in 1979.

If all goes according to plan, the newly formed coalition will put forth a vote of non-confidence next week and a new government will take its place (unless the Governor General calls for an election, but that is highly unlikely given that the last election was only 6 weeks ago and that the economy is in a sorry condition).

Canadians are not used to this sort of parliamentary political maneuvering. And for those who support the Conservatives, this is beyond the pale. Even those wary of the Liberal Party are concerned, noting that 74% of Canadians voted against them during the last election. For many, the whole situation seems fishy and a tad extreme. As one of my readers recently noted, “This is a coup if I ever saw one.”

Part of the concern stems from the feeling that the vote of non-confidence is unwarranted. Critics feel that this is nothing more than sour grapes and opportunistic power-grabbing. On this point I'll disagree for reasons elucidated in my previous post; the Harper regime is a mess of contradictions and a band of phonies who have chosen to rule with arrogance and indifference during a time of economic crisis.

But further to the point of parliamentary coalitions, what many Canadians have failed to realize is that this has been fairly inevitable: The face of Canadian politics is changing and coalitions may become a regular fixture of parliament.

There was a time when there were only three players in town, the Progressive Conservatives, the Liberals and the New Democratic Party. Today there are 5 viable parties, including the addition of the startlingly influential Parti Quebecois and the up-and-coming Green Party. This has caused the left to fracture, a turn of events that has greatly benefited the only true right-wing party in Canada, the Tories.

We've also been somewhat immune to the reality of coalitions here in Canada. In Europe it’s par for the course. Take Italy, for example, in which there are typically no less than a dozen parties that can comprise a government. Indeed, this can often make for strange bedfellows, but such is the nature of parliamentary democracies.

And in such systems, voters may get to choose who goes to parliament – but it's the parliament that gets to choose the government.

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