Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Plain as the nose on a man's face."

Or is it?  Avid readers (sic) of Tilting at Windmills will know that the blog found its genesis mostly in the post-2008-election discussions about minorities, coalitions and such. To be more precise: minority governments, coalition governments, and such. There is lots and lots of evidence to this effect if anyone has the stamina to peruse the archives (I suggest copious quantities of caffeine prior to the attempt).

Liberal friend Rob Silver tweeted yesterday something to the effect that the word "coalition" has come (rather quickly, I add) to have at least 6 different meanings. Somehow, over the past little while, the word (and concept of) "coalition" in the political context has become synonymous with "collaboration", "merger", "cooperation", "discussion", "arrangements", and "accords", to name a few (I'm kind of chuffed that I actually came up with six!).

This morning I was tagged in an earnest Facebook note by another Liberal friend, whom I am sure, means the best and cares deeply about his party, its electoral prospects, its Leader and so on, basically the whole nine yards, but was riddled with confusion about just what people are, and likely should, be discussing.  And then I read a piece by David Mader (Tory alert!) in The Mark, which I have come to enjoy, largely because the pieces are just out there and no one, other than the commenters editorializes much.  On the other hand they don't correct the record either.

Just look at what Mader says in the first paragraph: 

The partisan reaction to whispers of a Liberal-NDP coalition, or even a formal merger, has been predictably predictable. Hopes of such an arrangement revived when the British Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties recently entered into a formal coalition, and Liberal MP Bob Rae – himself a former NDP premier of Ontario – further fanned the flames with his reminiscences of the 1985 Liberal-NDP coalition in that province. When the president of the Young Liberals of Canada added his voice to those calling for a proper coalition, pointing to a poll that suggested such a coalition would be at least competitive with the Harper Tories, an air of momentum seemed to develop.
 So he links "whispers" of a coalition (keep in mind my bolded word/clarification, government) to a "merger", incorrectly calls the Ontario Liberal/NDP accord of 1985 a coalition, and states that YLC President Sam Lavoie called for a "proper coalition". Frankly, Lavoie did no such thing.  Lavoie called for discussions on collaboration and cooperation in a pre-electoral context, hinting, but never stating that those could/might eventually to some sort of merger and most certainly not a coalition government.

For my part, I've become a tad (not a lot, but a tad) concerned that any little interventions I may have made are being viewed in this state of collective confusion.  So allow me to, er, um, clarify.

I would like my party to discuss and recognize the democratic nature of the possibility of a coalition government, in Canada, given our Westminster-styled parliamentary democracy.  I would like recognition that given an agreed upon set of circumstances that such an outcome - after an election - would be a legitimate consideration. (Aside -  I am not personally interested in pursuing other pre-electoral collaborative arrangements, unless I see that we have drifted so far from Liberal principles that a new movement might be palatable, but I surely see the need for my Party to not be afraid to sit in a room and discuss it).

I'm tired of this concept being demonized by PM Harper and his hoards, and sorry to say, by our Leader as well.  I do not think that his categorical statements reflect the nature of our democracy very well.  In constantly referring to "the" coalition, which I take to mean the attempt in 2008 by Messrs Dion and Layton, as opposed to "a potential coalition government", the Party falls into the same trap as M. Dion did back then.

It's rather obvious that a coalition government can only be entered into after an election given that pollsters aside, no one really has a crystal ball that can confirm what the final outcome will be.  I am in the camp that says there should be some conditions to legitimize the option should it come to that.  For me, a most important condition includes the fact that the possibility should be contemplated by the electorate, so that it can take it into consideration as it deliberates about its reasons for voting the way it does.  This is done in most European elections (where I might add the longevity, therefore stability of most governments is in excess of three years regardless of majority, minority or coalition status) and was most recently witnessed in the general elections in Germany and the UK.

This, for me, and for many academics and practitioners is the main reason I view the Dion/Layton attempt as, how to put this politely: not terribly legitimate.  That's because, during the 2008 election, M. Dion (and I believe Mr. Layton too - I'm just too lazy to search out a reference) categorically ruled out considering it.  In fact he used identical wording to current Leader Michael Ignatieff, just days ago: "Liberals will campaign to form a Liberal Government. We aren't interested in coalitions."

I don't think this is in keeping with democratic principles and I don't think it is particularly wise, and, I do not think that it serves Canadians very well. 


  1. Just FYI, not only did Jack Layton not rule it out, he actively left the door open, saying something to the effect of: elections are when the voters get to decide, and afterwards we'll work with whatever configuration of parties in parliament the people send there, as we always have ... or words to that effect. CTV torqued that Canada AM interview with him to suit their own purposes, but he did not rule it out. Brian Topp's book may have the definitive citation.

  2. It's a sad comment on the state of the public dialogue that you need to go to these lengths to clarify views. I'm glad you did and I'm glad you're clear and eloquent about it. I'm not glad that it even had to happen.

    How pathetic is it that a form of governing (i.e. through a coalition) that is, at its foundation, an honourable compromise, has been demonized as the polar opposite, namely a dishonourable power grab.

    No wonder the public tunes us all out.

  3. Any arrangement of MP's that can command the confidence of the House of Commons is technically legal in our system.

    Having said that, I believe it's also technically legal for the Governor General to refuse to sign into law any legislation she doesn't like, but voters wouldn't stand for it.

    In the wake of Mr. Dion's "no coalitions, oh wait, I lost, okay NOW we have coalitions" move, Mr. Igantieff needs to make it clear under what electoral outcomes he'd attempt to form a coalition. It's not that hard. There aren't that many possible outcomes.