Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Will of the Majority

Source: CTV NEWS: Canadians Growing Weary of Minority Governments: Poll

Well, for the most part, this week and the last have been mostly slow for political news stories within Canada. Mostly, there is still discussion over the last number of things I've talked about within the media, and frankly, I have no desire to keep bringing up issues I've already talked about...unless of course there is a development that requires talking about; much like the way I've presented nuclear power and Saskatchewan on this blog.

So, today I'm going to give my two cents about a recent poll that was conducted and posted on the CTV News website. Apparently, Canadians are starting to doubt and move away from minority governments. The poll suggested that 64% of Canadians would prefer a majority government in Parliament, as opposed to 52% who supported a majority a little over two years ago.

In fact, while support for the majority government standing have gone up, minority support has dropped by 12% from 36% in 2007 to 24% now.

But of course, the more important question proposed by the poll: Out of these four scenarios, which would you prefer: A Liberal Majority (30%), A Liberal Minority (14%), A Conservative Majority (24%), A Conservative Minority (9%).

So, while the Liberals find themselves in a position of support for them to lead a majority, Canadians also seemed to favour the idea of a coalition government, 45% to 42%, after the next election has taken place. Effectively, the idea that Harper bemoaned as anti-democratic and even almost treasonous, may become a political reality after the ballots have been cast.

So, now let's talk margin of error. According to the pollsters, the survey has a margin of error around 3.1%. As such, what does this mean?

Well, those who favour a Liberal Majority are still the top answer even with the margin of error factored in. As for the coalition, it becomes a bit more deadlocked with those who would oppose a coalition government.

And now, that the facts have been presented, let's talk a little bit more about the pros and cons of the majority and minority governments.

When Stephen Harper was first elected with his minority government, he had a unique advantage. The Liberal Brand was tarnished in the Sponsorship Scandal, their 'golden boy' Leader Paul Martin seemed to have fizzled out as a Prime Minister and Leader, and the party found itself in a general sense of disarray.

Despite these hardships against the Liberals, Harper failed to use these weakness to bolster himself and his party into a Majority Government, for a number of reasons. Some would argue that his leadership style, in which he governed as if he did have a Majority (known as the Clark Technique) may have harmed him. Others place the blame on centrist voters not willing to support a party with so many right-wing ideologues within the party.

Whatever the reason, Harper failed to capitalize on his best chance to form a majority government. Even under the weakened leadership of St├ęphane Dion, Harper could not push the tables far enough his way to get the majority he craved, instead, he simply gave the Liberals their worst showing in years and still ended up in a minority situation.

Ultimately, the Harper Years have done nothing more than prove that Canadians do not want an ultra-right wing government in office. Centrist, yes...Perhaps even centre-right, but nothing that fully steps away from the centre. This of course, is Harper's greatest weakness. Even if he shows Canadians that he is not the right-wing man he used to be; the one who praised American values and wanted a 'fire-wall' to separate Alberta from the rest of Canada, his party members and fellow Parliamentarians are still enough to show this ultra-right wing presence within the party. Not even gagging and restricting his Parliamentarians have been enough to take away this perception among centrist voters.

And so, since Harper has failed in his quest for the majority, Canada has seen numerous consecutive minority governments. However, we have not actually seen a TRUE Minority Government.

I say true minority government, because in a minority, it is up to the parties to come together on bills they can work on and pass for the good of the nation. Parties work together and put aside differences in order to try and make parliament work, and that is not what we have seen during the Harper Years.

Instead, we have seen the largest party threaten and bully the others into supporting their legislation or risk an election. The disorganized Liberals too afraid to risk further loses and perhaps worried of suffering the 1993 result for the Progressive Conservatives, ready and willing to back the Conservatives in order to protect their own skins.

Then of course, we have the NDP and Bloc Quebecois. Both parties have consistently voted against Government Motions, and occasionally, when acceptable, they have voted with a government bill. This is only part of what you are supposed to see in a minority government. These parties voted with the government when the bill before them was acceptable to their beliefs as a party, while the Liberals voted or abstained or didn't even show up, simply to prevent an election.

The other part, the part we didn't see thanks to Harper and his 'Clark Technique', is the parties coming together to work on bills in a bipartisan manner and present a bill that forms the idea of two different parties.

An example of this would be the Governments of Lester B. Pearson, who was often supported in his own minority government by the New Democrats. During this time Canada saw Universal Health Care, the Canadian Pension Plan, as well as our National Flag created in the spirit of two parties coming together in a give and take atmosphere.

Now, some people might say that the NDP of old just bullied the Liberals into supporting them (much like Harper is doing now) or face an election and risk losing government. Well, allow me to point out the difference:

In a minority government, the opposition parties should seek a give and take atmosphere; you support this and we'll support you on this motion. In this case, Universal Health Care for budget support and likewise.

Under the Harper Government, with the weakened Liberals, we've seen: You support this bill, or we'll go to an election right now...And it's the GOVERNMENT that is saying that, not the opposition.

Effectively, minority governments are supposed to come close to the perfect idea of a parliamentarians coming together to better life for all Canadians. To increase co-operation between two parties and allow MPs to say: The opposition has a point with this motion, or the government does, and allow them to support a motion because it is the right thing to do.

Instead, we've seen parties (both in minorities and majorities) vote against motions simply because the 'other' party introduced the motion. We've also seen parties vote against something, have an election, then introduce the motion they voted against. (See Brian Mulroney and the North American Free Trade Agreement on this one.)

Minority Governments, when the government realizes they don't have a majority and need to work with the other parties, can be a good thing for Canadians, as the Governments of Lester Pearson prove.

However, under Harper, we've not seen the minority governments of co-operation but rather ones of division and advantageous nature. (By which I mean, calling an election that directly contradicts a motion your own government passed on fixed election dates.)

When the next election comes, I hope for two things:

1.) That the Liberal Party can secure a minority government and form a coalition with the NDP, and Bloc if necessary, to show Canadians that minority governments can work when their is a spirit of co-operation involved.

2.) That if the Conservatives win another minority, that the Liberals are effectively able to re-establish themselves as a party from the tarnish of the past, so that without their weakened former position Harper will not be able to bully the other parties to his will and will lose his power to the parties willing to work together in an opposition coalition.

Ideally, for me anyways, we'd see a third option: Federal NDP Government. If Canadians are truly becoming disillusioned with the political system in Canada, then the fault lies with our two governing parties, and the only real solution is to elect a new governing party. Some of Pearson's best accomplishments came from an opposition NDP who got their ideas across through give and take; imagine what they can accomplish when they're in power.

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