Coali­tion gov­ern­ments com­ing soon?

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL -

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.

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