Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Another Election? Thank Stephen Harper

As I'm writing this we don't know whether or not we'll be heading to the polls yet again to elect another government, that decision rests with our Governor General Michaƫlle Jean. But make no mistake about it, if the decision is made to hold another election Canadians will have Stephen Harper to thank for it. It didn't have to be this way.

Less than two months ago Canadians voted in those individuals we wanted to represent us. Some people voted for the leader they liked best, some because they liked a particular candidate, some because of an affinity to one party or another. Regardless of the reasons we made our choices and sent our representatives off to the nation's capital to represent us. After that our job as the electorate is done and it is up to our elected representatives to get on with the business of running the country.

In this country we don't vote for a specific type of government, the ballots list the names of the candidates running to be our member of parliament and the parties, (if any) they represent. We don't get to pick between minority, majority or coalition and we don't get to pick which party we want in power. That's determined after each riding has a sitting member, and the party with the most seats in the house of commons gets to form the government.

If the elected party has a majority they can rule as they see fit, and then in four to five years time we'll have a chance to either reward them by re-electing their party's members...or punish them by voting against them. If its a minority situation then we expect the governing party to work with the other parties to build consensus on a legislative agenda...kind of like agreeing to go out on a date, but insisting on a chaperon.

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives had a responsibility to govern in just that fashion, and that was what Mr. Harper pledged to do on election night in his acceptance speech. He said all the right things about the mandate he'd be given and that he would work with the opposition parties to deliver good and effective government to Canadians. Unfortunately like with his pledge not to tax income trusts, he reneged. And now as a result Mr. Harper has lost the confidence of the House.

Michaƫlle Jean now has two choices. She can do as Mr. Harper wishes and send Canadians to the polls for the fourth time in less than five years, or she can allow a coalition of the Liberals and NDP to govern getting support from and in consultation with the Bloc Quebecois.

The Conservatives are in full rage at the prospect of a Liberal/NDP coalition and are going to do everything they can to ensure Canadians are forced into voting in another election. It strikes me that the Conservative strategy under Mr. Harper is to have Canadians vote over and over and over again until they're either voted into a majority, or until the opposition parties roll over and allow them to govern as one.

The arguments being put forth about a coalition are certainly interesting, however I have yet to come across any that bear up under close scrutiny. Among those getting the most play is that this represents some form of 'coup' or overthrow of the government. The Liberal and NDP are not outsiders, they have sitting members in parliament and their share of the popular vote at 44 per cent far exceeds that of the Conservatives' 38 per cent.

We're also hearing that its unconscionable for the Bloc to have any role in supporting a coalition. That's a valid opinion certainly, but we'd need to amend the constitution to change it. Bloc members of parliament can vote as they see fit, and face their constituents in the next election to face defeat or re-election accordingly. In fact it wasn't very long ago when Stephen Harper's Conservatives and the Bloc were in talks about defeating the Paul Martin led Liberal minority government. I guess its okay for the Conservatives to work with the Bloc, but not the other parties.

I doubt Canadians want to delve into the morass of Constitutional change yet again. After all it was Brian Mulroney's Tory government which spawned the Bloc. Looking to expand the Conservative brand into previously hostile Quebec, Mulroney successfully courted soft separatists like Lucien Bouchard with the promise of constitutional renewal. When his efforts failed the Bloc was born and it continues to perplex English Canada, especially now.

In English Canada we have 4 viable political parties to choose from: The Conservatives, Liberals, NDP and Greens. If Quebec continues to elect mostly Bloc members we may be facing minority parliaments for many elections to come. Vote splitting in English Canada among those more inclined to support centre-left parties makes winning any mandate difficult for the Liberals.

So Mme Jean, its up to you now. Canadians elected a government that was expected to work in a bi-partisan manner of consultation and co-operation, and Stephen Harper's Conservatives were unwilling to do that. Now the Liberals and NDP have shown that they're willing to govern in just that fashion. You can allow the coalition to govern and let Canadians render our judgement when the next election comes along, or you can send us trudging off to the polls in the dead of winter.

I for one do not want to be voting at a time of year when parts of this country get so cold that Jehovah's Witnesses stick to my screen door.

Feel free to comment.

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