Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Big tent caterpillars, take two

John from Dymaxion World points to yet another reason why coalition governments and electoral reform are better models for Canada than merging parties out of existence or deliberately crowding them off the political map: the health of our democracy.

Something more than 30% of this country votes conservative, and on occasion much more. But the motivating idea behind a single progressive party seems to be to prevent Conservative voters from ever forming a government, ever again. Or at least, not until we've decided they're responsible enough to handle the reins again.

The problem, in case it isn't obvious, is that Canada isn't a left-wing country. Canada has a strong and legitimate conservative streak, and I'm not wild about any idea that has as it's goal the marginalization of 30%+ of the Canadian electorate. Pragmatically, we can see that Japan has had a single party in power for the last half-century, and it's produced paralysis, corruption, and a legendary amount of pork-barreling in government.
As John points out, engineering things so that conservatives could never have a say in Canadian politics again would mean that our Parliament would represent Canadians even less well than our current configuration does, and granting that kind of permanent hegemony to a big-tent centrist party would be a recipe for corruption on a never-before-seen scale in Canada. This would hardly be a positive development. Lefties and centrists need to counter conservative ideas by offering up better ones, not by trying to ignore the people who want to advance them.

This is also why I can't agree with the analysts who point to the PC-Reform merger as a success story for conservatives. Sure, it bought the Conservative Party of Canada power, but at what cost? The Red Tory faction now has no political home. The small yet once-vocal far right does exist in the current caucus, but those MPs are now muzzled, so there's nobody left to represent that part of the political spectrum, either. And the people in charge of the party are the strategists who will do pretty much anything to gain more power, including masquerading as moderates--and yet they're still polling at only 33%. I'm sorry, but that's a "nobody wins" scenario, not an "everybody wins" one, and certainly not one I want duplicated on the left. Within reason, more parties means a greater diversity of perspectives--and that's a healthy thing, even when we don't all agree. (Or maybe even especially then.)

It was the diversity of the Canadian political spectrum that first drew me to Canada after years of no real choices as an American lefty. And it's a good thing I don't actually believe any of these big-tent-left movements in Canada have a chance of succeeding, because if I did, I'd probably be looking for a job in New Zealand.


Candace said...

"...granting that kind of permanent hegemony to a big-tent centrist party would be a recipe for corruption on a never-before-seen scale in Canada..."

The Liberals have been in power, whether by majority or minority for what, 70 of the last 100 years? So to consider a coalition gov't with them, either this year or next, would amount to a shorter timeout, electorally speaking, than I used to give my daughter (1 minute for every year of age). And while I'm sure there is more to be discovered by the AG, if Adscam isn't already definitive of "corruption on a never-before-seen scale" then, well, I'm almost afraid of letting Sheila loose in the gun registry or CIDA or any number of programs that swallow large chunks of cash and only emit tiny burps upon gov't command.

I don't want to see the flip side, either, of straight Conservative governments for a large number of decades. What I want is some balance. I can live with not always agreeing with the gov't in power (whether I voted for them or not), but I have had a difficult time these past 20-25 years rarely, if ever, agreeing with decisions & laws made.

I am interested to see what other joint projects take place in the CPC minority, and hope that the Clean Air Act committee is just the start, rather than a one-off like the '05 budget. Time will tell.

Personally, I think a coalition gov't that was CPC/NDP would be much healthier, as you'd have serious yin & yang going on rather than the over-the-top situations that have occurred in the past - dare I say NEP? The goal may have been a noble one - I won't bother with that debate - but the execution crippled an economy. Yes, OPEC had a hand in it, but the bulk of layoffs that occurred in AB were immediate & direct result of a badly flawed & poorly implemented nationalization program. OPEC was just the caustic icing.

It would be interesting to analyze (if I had a clue how to do it) what the NEP might have looked like if implemented by a conservative, more market/economy-oriented gov't.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

You and I are actually in agreement about more of this than you probably think. Certainly we agree that balance is preferable to hegemony, and that the political spectrum should be broad and diverse.

The thing about whether or not the Liberals should be let in again after the next election, though, is that it's up to the voters. If the Liberals get the most votes, then Dion will be prime minister--that's just how it works. So really, not "considering a coalition government" with them in that circumstance would be amounting to the NDP saying: "we think you should be given a longer we're going to let you govern alone." I would think that someone like you who's willing to have a government you disagree with as long as they're not, well, gross, would take some comfort in there being someone in government to watch over the Liberals if that happened.

I would actually be fine, in theory, with a CPC-NDP government. There's no reason why a palatable centrism couldn't be accomplished by left-plus-right. I'm less certain that it would work at all well under Harper, though, with his control-freak streak. This new cooperative attitude was definitely forced on them--before Christmas, they not only wouldn't work with the other parties, they wouldn't even talk with the media! It's a fantasy to think that Harper isn't cursing every deviation from the way he wants things to be.

And there's another thing to consider, too, which is that coalition governments between parties that are ideologically very different do tend to work sometimes, but I doubt that it would work well while our politicians are still figuring out how to make coalitions work for them in the first place. As we move toward coalition governments being the norm, there will inevitably be a lengthy transition period in which they learn how to do politics differently, and I'm not sure a pairing of ideological opposites is something to try until after that transition period is over.

IP, stopping in from rainy California (apparently, I can't help myself! Someone save my one day of vacation from my blogging fixation!)