Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Canada’s management question: majority, coalition or minority government?

So fair are times in Canada that a national election is actually being fought over the size of the prize.
With rare vehemence Stephen Harper asserted that unless the Conservatives secure a “stable national majority” Canada will be faced with a Liberal-NDP coalition backed up by the separatist Bloc Quebecois. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff responded Saturday, both in a written statement and in a press conference. His denial has two problems: (1) it was not complete and (2) it puts him in the position of defending the status quo—minority adhockery.
He insisted:
 “Whoever leads the party that wins the most seats on election day should be called on to form the government,” Mr. Ignatieff said. “If that is the Liberal Party, then I will be required to rapidly seek the confidence of the newly-elected Parliament. If our government cannot win the support of the House, then Mr. Harper will be called on to form a government and face the same challenge. That is our Constitution. It is the law of the land.”
He also described coalitions as "a legitimate constitutional option," but vowed to work with other parties on an issue-by-issue basis.”
The reverse take-over underlined above skirted what’s most likely to happen: the Conservatives win more seats and more votes. The option his statement thereby kept alive is almost exactly what nearly unfolded in the winter of 2008. Instead of approving a Throne Speech and waiting six weeks, Ignatieff freed himself to vote no-confidence immediately in a victorious Harper minority and put together a coalition/accord with the NDP. The Governor General could not conceivably call on him to form a government if he could not fashion the stable support of at least one other opposition party.
Of course, Ignatieff will hold other press conferences and may promise to give a new Harper government reasonable time to govern and continue praising the virtue of multi-party, multi-crisis minority government.
But rather than speculate about what the leaders may say to each other—and the Governor General—after the election, let’s get back to the election and the people.
A formal Liberal-NDP coalition against Harper’s Conservative coalition would give voters the direct power to pick a clear winner. Democracy and government would be strengthened. A straightforward center-left coalition would be taken seriously and would be legitimate—if the Liberals and the NDP would acknowledge the option now.
Nevertheless, both Ignatieff and Jack Layton are formally campaigning to win outright—to be the next prime minister, to make minority government work. Ignatieff enthuses on the record of Lester Pearson’s minority governments in the Sixties.
The prospect of another minority government may sound better than the prospect of a coalition government, but it is not necessarily more attractive than the alternative—a stable majority.  After 3 minorities, in 1968, Canadians elected a no-nonsense majority. The winner, Pierre Trudeau, was disdainful of the vacillation of Pearson minorities, promised strengthen as well as reform, and dared the people to make a clear decision.
This may be the wrong year for Ignatieff to run as a Pearson Liberal.

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