Thursday, 4 December 2008

Oh (dear) Canada!

With a hat tip to James at Two Doctors, I learn that, after the inability of Stephen Harper's Conservatives to secure a majority of seats in October's Canadian election, the opposition parties have a plan to kick him out of office.

The Conservatives, in minority government, have 143 of the 308 seats - 12 short of an overall majority. The opposition Liberals have 76, the New Democrats have 37 and the Bloc Québécois - the Quebec separatists - have 50. Add them together and you get 163 - more than a majority, and enough for a collective vote of no confidence in Stephen Harper and his government.

The Liberal/ New Democrat/ Bloc plan would see current Liberal leader Stephane Dion become Prime Minister, while the New Democrats would get six of the 24 Cabinet posts. The Bloc has pledged support for 18 months. However, to avoid a motion of no confidence, Stephen Harper intends to ask for a suspension of parliament - and then another election. The Washington Post calls it "one of teh worst political crises in Canada's history" while the Canadian National Post suggests if the plan goes ahead, Canada would become "the world's coldest banana republic."

As a student of politics, it is a fascinating situation to watch unravel. Despite losing 27 seats in the previous election, the leader of the Liberals may become the next Prime Minister, with the support of a party who wants to separate the territory it represents from Canada. But it raises a huge number of questions about the nature of democracy. Two telling quotes from the exchange between Harper and Dion:
Harper: "The highest principle of Canadian democracy is that if you want to be prime minister, you get your mandate from the Canadian people, not the separatists."
Dion: "Every member of this House has received a mandate from the Canadian people... The prime minister doesn't have the support of this House any more."
Difficult to believe, but I agree with both statements. Harper won the election and thus has a mandate to govern - but with a minority government, you have to find ways of co-operating with opposition parties in order to pass legislation. Equally, the opposition parties have lost confidence in his ability to govern effectively and have agreed (with an overall mandate greater than that of the Conservatives) a plan to govern in his place. But is that democratic? Indeed, is any coalition government? Or, for that matter, a minority government?

Makes you wonder what will happen in Scotland if the unionist parties ever decide to gang up on the minority SNP administration and force a vote of no-confidence.

I'd suggest the answer - by no means a popular one given the current political and, well, natural climate in Canada at the moment - is to have another election. But then, presumably, all that would happen would be that the Conservatives would lose some seats and the horsetrading would begin all over again.

Quite glad it isn't my job to sort out this mess really!


Jen 5 December 2008 at 07:19  

i figure a coalition of the majority elected ministers is better than the minority gov't. this is potentially because i really don't like harper. but this is our second minority gov't in as many years and it just seems a bit pointless really. why waste more money on another election that will very likely return the same end results.

maybe the way forward is the having 3 out of 4 parties cooperate to govern. clearly harper couldn't get any of the other parties to support his actions enough to boost his votes to the majority doesn't a coalition represent the best option for democracy...

the separatists are an interesting side bar...addressed by mr harper in his speech to canadians last night (which interrupted corrie to my mum's dismay ;P) he's very much pushing the cooperating with a party that wants to destroy canada card. but isn't this just sour grapes? i'm sure he'd have taken bloc support if he could get it. besides, it's not like it's giving them any power and in a minority gov't they have to support someone.

on a personal more gov't until end of january means i'll prob be waiting even longer to start my job. boo :(

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