Sunday, January 25, 2009

Will a coalition happen in Canada... or here?

On Tuesday the Canadian Parliament sits again, for the first time since the dramatic events at the beginning of December (When was this put to the electorate?, Has Canadian democracy triumphed? and Harper 1, Dion Nil ). In the weeks since then the Canadian Liberals have gone and done one of our Liberal Democrats' favourite things - decapitating their own leader. New leader Michael Ignatieff seems to be desperately searching for a way to get out of the proposed coalition with the New Democratic [sic] Party and the separatist Bloc Québécois - see Ottawa Citizen: Parliament vs. The People. It looks like for now Canadian democracy has triumphed, to the credit of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

But could such a situation happen in the UK? Just imagine if the next general election returns a hung parliament, as many have been speculating. And then if the Conservatives are the largest party but Labour forms a coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish and Welsh separatists (the way things are going in Northern Ireland it's doubtful there'll be any Nationalist MPs actually taking seats in the Commons), thus giving a strong say in the running of the country to those who want to tear it up. The big point of contention may be over what the parties say in the general election. If some or all of the parties give pledges against a coalition they could not credibly claim a mandate.

And if particular parties campaign against each other it will be especially galling. If the Liberal Democrats campaign to take a Labour seat on the basis that "a vote for the Conservatives is a vote for Labour" (supported by a dodgy barchart) they will be betraying voters if they turn round and put Labour in government anyway. When pressed on the question of what the party will do in a hung parliament the Liberal Democrats are frequently evasive, either talking about vague general goals or saying they won't answer the question until the voting system is changed. If they want voters to trust them, they should try giving a clear answer for the entire country for once. But that would be totally alien to the party's nature.


MarkG said...

I'm not sure how Stephen Harper's shutting down (proroguing) parliament, just two weeks into the session, to avoid a motion of non-confidence, can be characterised as a "triumph" of Canadian democracy.

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

As the Ottawa Citizen article details the philosophical side of this affair has been the argument over whether the government should be (as opposed to "constitutionally is") decided in the ballot box (and thus the Conservatives), aka "democracy", or in Parliament (the Coalition argument), aka "parliamentarianism". Harper's tactic flushed the proposed coalition into the open where it had to face public opinion before getting power, rather than making an immediate power grab. One of the reasons why the Liberals have gone soft on the proposal is that the same opinion polls that give the coalition a lead over the Conservatives in a head to head are also showing majorities that believe that such a change should come in the ballot box not the backroom. That is "democracy" triumphing.

MarkG said...

The government is decided in the ballot box. We, in Canada, elect members of Parliament. Each member of Parliament represents the citizens of his/her riding.

To pass key legislation, government must have the confidence of the majority of the Members of Parliament (who represent the majority of the electorate). If not, the vice-regal can either dissolve Parliament, and there would be a new election, or the vice-regal can call upon the leader of the opposition to form government (this would depend upon how recently there had been an election.) In the latter case, the same principal applies -- the government formed would require the majority of the elected members of Parliament to pass key legislation (like the budget).

Closing down Parliament to avoid non-confidence of the majority of elected members of Parliament is more akin to something you'd expect to see in Zimbabwe than in Canada. Government in a democracy should have the support of the majority. Hopefully the Liberals don't wimp out, and Stephen Despot-boy Harper will be sent packing on Tuesday (the 27th), once Parliament resumes.


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