Good morning daddy / u heard the news / it’s another Canadian rumble / of the coalition blues?

May 29th, 2010 | By | Category: In Brief
Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton at the 2009 Dragon Ball in Toronto — with Jack’s wife Olivia Chow in the middle. They do look friendly here?

Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton at the 2009 Dragon Ball in Toronto — with Jack’s wife Olivia Chow in the middle. They do look friendly here?

The latest polls on Canadian federal politics clearly show the Harper Conservatives with the single largest share of the Canada-wide vote. (See, eg: Harris-Decima, May 18EKOS, May 20 ; Harris-Decima, May 27 ; EKOS, May 27.)

In all these same polls, however, the Harper Conservatives have a smaller share of the vote than they won in the October 2008 election (which still only gave them a second minority government). And in all the polls the Liberals and New Democrats taken together have a larger share of the vote than the Harper Conservatives.  (Lib-NDP – 45%, 40%, 43%, 42%. vs. Cons – 32%, 35%, 36%, 34%. A still more recent Leger Marketing poll that just surfaced late yesterday shows the Conservatives with “nearly the same percentage of vote share that delivered a minority government in October 2008” — 37%. But even in this case the Liberals and NDP together have more — another 42% ).

These kinds of numbers have helped reignite what sometimes seems at least slightly serious talk of  either some form of Liberal-NDP coalition actually running in the next federal election, or some sort of Liberal-NDP coalition government taking office as a result of the next election. And, whatever else they might say, this  has alarmed the Harper Conservative minority government enough to prompt a memo bemoaning “discussions about forming a new Liberal-Bloc Quebecois-NDP Coalition,” which would be “a recipe for uncertainty and instability.”

Clockwise from top left:  Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, and Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May. If shares of Canada-wide popular vote in recent opinion polls were all that counted, it would only take three of these leaders to form a stable majority coalition government in Ottawa. Alas, real political life is not quite so simple?

Clockwise from top left: Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, and Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May. If shares of Canada-wide popular vote in recent opinion polls were all that counted, it would only take three of these leaders to form a stable majority coalition government in Ottawa. Alas, real political life is not quite so simple?

(The Bloc Quebecois is in these calculations on the argument that, as in the current 40th Parliament of Canada, in a new 41st Parliament just the Liberals and New Democrats would still not have a majority of seats. This is not necessarily true. In all recent polls noted above, the Liberals, NDP, and the Green Party together do have at least a majority of the Canada-wide popular vote, without the Bloc Quebecois. At the same time, in our view there is some deeper virtue in the Bloc Quebecois’ supporting a Canadian federal government, as it has on occasion even supported Mr. Harper. But that is an argument for another day.)

It certainly could be that the Harper Conservatives’ latest anti-coalition ranting is just a waste of paper. According to the National Post, the Ignatieff “Liberals’ talking points this week” have spelled out that, in the next federal election, whenever it comes, “Liberals will campaign to form a Liberal government … We aren’t interested in coalitions.” And in the Globe and Mail this past Tuesday NDP strategist Brian Topp was complaining that, although “as an exercise in mathematics, it is likely true that” it would make sense for the New Democrats and Liberals “to combine their efforts in some way, at some appropriate time, before or after the next election,” NDP leader “Jack Layton still has no dance partner.”

Jack Layton still has no coalition dance partner, Brian Topp says. And he may be right?

Jack Layton still has no coalition dance partner, Brian Topp says. And he may be right?

It is true as well, no doubt, that, given some of things Mr. Topp and other New Democrats have been saying lately, it is not hard to understand why the Liberals might be still be reluctant to ask Mr. Layton to dance. There nonetheless remains one bright light in the current coalition blues after-hours club — in the person of current federal Liberal MP and former Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae. The latest Harper Conservative anti-coalition ranting has been especially inspired by “a recent post on Mr. Rae’s website in which he reminisced about the 25th anniversary of the 1985 Liberal-NDP accord in Ontario. He was leading the NDP at the time and in the post he hinted that such a deal could happen federally” nowadays, in the early 21st century.

Mr. Rae’s talents in what hopefully actually is an emerging new coalition debate (to distinguish it from the flawed Dion-Duceppe-Layton concoction of late 2008, on which Brian Topp has also written rather impressively) go beyond his strictly rhetorical skills. (As in his nice dismissal of the latest Harperite anti-coalitionese as “predictable hysteria from the dark side.”) Mr. Rae also has a telling way of putting his finger on assorted constitutional chinks in the Harper minority government armour that are often missed by other foes and friends alike.

Bob Rae (l) and David Peterson prepare for an election debate in August 1990. Not too long before, their 1985 Liberal-NDP Accord ended 42 years of — albeit rather “Red” — Tory domination in Ontario provincial politics, even though Frank Miller’s Progressive Conservatives still had the single largest number of seats in the legislature at Queen’s Park. Hans Deryk / The Canadian Press.

Bob Rae (l) and David Peterson prepare for an election debate in August 1990. Not too long before, their 1985 Liberal-NDP Accord ended 42 years of — albeit rather “Red” — Tory domination in Ontario provincial politics, even though Frank Miller’s Progressive Conservatives still had the single largest number of seats in the legislature at Queen’s Park. Hans Deryk / The Canadian Press.

Especially in the wake of the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in the UK, eg, some friends of the Harper Conservatives in Canada have been keen to urge that only the party with the largest number of seats in the legislature can lead a proper coalition government in our kind of democracy. Yet as Bob Rae has more aptly written on his website: “This week marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Liberal-NDP Accord in Ontario. The election in early May of 1985 had elected a minority Parliament, with the Conservatives at 50 [seats], the Liberals at 45 and the NDP at 25. The vote split was roughly 37/37/25 [per cent].”

These numbers were finally enough to take the government away from Frank Miller’s tired Ontario Conservatives, even though they did still have more seats in the legislature than any other single party. For as Mr. Rae succinctly explains the continuing constitutional niceties (and legalities) of our  parliamentary democracy: “In a Parliamentary system elections produce a Parliament, and Parliament makes a government. That was the lesson learned in 1985. Prattle about ‘winning a mandate’ with less than a majority in Parliament is just that — partisan spin, all sound and fury, signifying nothing. It is a lesson worth remembering.” [Italics added.]

 It is probably unfair to say that this is where Stephen Harper is trying to lead Canada. (For one thing he is not as cute — or slender.) But it is not much more unfair than some of the things Mr. Harper’s spin doctors have been saying lately about “a new Liberal-Bloc Quebecois-NDP Coalition” in Ottawa.

It is probably unfair to say that this is where Stephen Harper is trying to lead Canada. (For one thing he is not as cute — or slender.) But it is not much more unfair than some of the things Mr. Harper’s spin doctors have been saying lately about “a new Liberal-Bloc Quebecois-NDP Coalition” in Ottawa.

If and when the opportunity does arise, we do hope that enough of our political leaders have the courage and breadth of mind to remember this lesson. An increasingly strange “technical” situation in which the Canadian federal government perpetually remains in the hands of a minority political party that can command the support of not much more than a third of the Canadian people — and increasingly seems content to milk the technicalities and remain inside  its own small tent — is not a good recipe for the future of Canada.

[And, with respect to the title above, our apologies to the first four lines of the incomparable  “Dream Boogie,” by the late great Langston Hughes.]

Tags: , , , , ,


Leave Comment