Coalition governments coming soon?
No never means no in politics.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says he’s absolutely, definitely, 100 per cent opposed to forming a coalition with the NDP if the Harper Conservatives fail to win a majority in the fall general election.
Trudeau says he doesn’t want to deny Canadians a choice at the ballot box, but his refusal to dance with the New Democrats is more about election politics than principle.
The Liberals have said the NDP would hurt the economy, and they disagree on many issues. It’s hard to talk about forming a relationship with the party you are demonizing.
Trudeau, however, might very well change his tune if his party finished second in a Tory-dominated minority Parliament. In that case, the idea of partnering with NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair might look a little sweeter.
The third-place party, moreover, doesn’t have to actually form a coalition with the second party. It merely has to agree to support it under certain conditions.
The question of the NDP and Liberals forming a coalition to deny power to the Conservatives has come up in the past, but it never went anywhere.
The very idea of it was considered by the Conservatives as undemocratic, but it is nothing of the kind. Canadians elect a Parliament, and the governor general asks the party with the most members to form a government.
If the opposition parties make it clear they won’t support that party, and they are prepared to work together in some form, it is perfectly legal and democratic for the head of state to pick an alternative government that has a chance of succeeding.
For some reason, coalition governments have been considered un-Canadian – except for the one that was formed in the First World War – but they are consistent with the British parliamentary tradition. Other countries, such as Germany and Israel, regularly operate successfully under coalitions.
There is always a danger one of the parties in a coalition will suffer at the polls in the next election, but that’s politics. It also explains why minority governments in Canada never last a full term. No party wants to be seen as being in alliance with the enemy for too long.
Meanwhile, coalition governments, or some other form of co-operative relationship between political parties, could become unavoidable if either the NDP or the Liberals form a government in the future.
That’s because both parties have promised to end the first-past-the-post system that enables a political party to win a majority of seats with less than 40 per cent of the popular vote. Only a few governments in the history of Canada have ever been elected with more than 50 per cent.
A proportional system, its proponents say, would be more democratic because it would make every vote count by allotting seats on the basis of the popular vote. Participation in the political process would also increase as voters realized they could make a difference in the outcome.
The Conservatives believe they would be at a disadvantage in such a system, but that’s not necessarily the case. It would, however, require every political party to offer agendas that appeal to the most Canadians, as opposed to appealing to narrow bases.
Ideally, such a system would produce more co-operation and consensus in Parliament. The alternative would be more frequent elections, but eventually voters and political parties would figure it out. It works elsewhere, and there’s no reason why it couldn’t be adapted for Canada.
The idea of a coalition government may be off the table for now, but some form of it could well show up after the Oct. 19 election.