Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Out of the mouths of innocents

Last night I had dinner with two colleagues from Germany. The first one--let's call her Confused--is an immigrant who has been here for a couple of years now, but who is still trying to figure out the Canadian political system. The other one--let's call her Bewildered--has only been here a couple of months and is still stumbling over the basics. And I'm the closest thing they've got to a political expert who can explain things to them. (Yeah, yeah, I know. Poor souls.) Anyway, here's an approximate reconstruction of last night's conversation:

Confused: So, explain this to me. There's a minority government, right?

IP: Right.

Confused: And that means that if the Conservatives want to get their environment legislation passed, they need to work with one of the other parties and make compromises.

IP: Well, actually there's a special committee working on the legislation, so all of the parties are supposed to get a say. But yeah, they have to make compromises.

Confused: So why are people so mad?

IP: What do you mean?

Confused: I mean, people voted for a minority government, right? So they wanted the parties to work together, right? But every time they try, the politicians don't like it!

IP: *laughing* Well, the Liberals don't like it. The Conservatives probably don't like it, either, but they have to pretend they do. Canadian politicians aren't used to minority governments.

Bewildered: What do you mean by 'minority government'?

IP: Well, the Conservatives don't have 50% of the seats on their own, and there's no coalition--

Bewildered: There's no coalition? Why is there no coalition?

IP: Well, um...because...*laughing*...I guess because Canadian politicians aren't used to that. The two big parties both want to think they can get majority governments all on their own. And so--

Bewildered: All on their own? But isn't that a lot of power for one political party to have?

IP: *laughing* Yes. Yes it is. It's not very likely to happen, though, because there are three so-called "smaller" parties that aren't very small anymore. But as long as we don't have proportional representation, the big parties will still think there's at least a chance of getting majority governments on their own. So the Liberals don't want there to be any good legislation that comes out while the Conservatives are in power, because they want their majority, and the Conservatives don't want the Liberals to have anything to do with their accomplishments, because they want their majority. And the NDP has to try to help something reasonable get accomplished without actually making either of the big parties look good, and the Bloc has to make sure people keep hating the both the Conservatives and the Liberals.

Confused: So the politicians are all standing around yelling at each other and not doing anything productive.

IP: Kind of, yeah.

Confused: Are they all stupid?!

IP: *laughing very hard now* Kind of, yeah.

Bewildered: Wait, I still don't understand why there isn't a coalition. Doesn't there have to be a coalition? I mean, how do they get anything done at all?

IP: Well...that's why we don't know whether there's going to be an election this spring or not.

Bewildered: *dumbfounded look*

IP: *cracking up completely* Yeah, I really can't defend this. Sorry.


Anonymous said...


Idealistic Pragmatist said...


The irony of me having to explain this crap to them is lovely, isn't it?

Oh, and I forgot to mention to Confused that she could write a column for the National Post! ;-)

Mike said...

Every time someone wonders why we need electoral reform and PR, I'm pointing them here.

Jen said...

Laughing... or, you know, crying...

West End Bob said...


This is PERFECT!!

It makes the whole system so much more understandable to "rookie" Canadians, of which I aspire to be soon.

This post is going in my bookmarks for whenever I get confused . . .

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

west end bound,

Ha! Well, I'm glad it could help. It actually made me feel kind of...embarrassed. I suppose that means I'm a real Canadian now, eh? I mean, if I think of this wretched electoral system as "mine" to the extent that it embarrasses me... *grin*

That guy said...

This is possibly the best explanation I've ever seen of the strangeness that is Canadian politics.

West End Bob said...

I mean, if I think of this wretched electoral system as "mine" to the extent that it embarrasses me...

Yeah, but in this case the embarrassment is "a good thing" as Martha Stewart would say . . . . Jeez, I can't believe I'm quoting her! But you know what I mean . . . Beats the heck out of explaining why 53 million + US citizens could have two elections that resulted in "w" as President.

Anonymous said...

And the best part of this is that you hadn't even got to the really weird bit, the federal party that wants to split the country in two.

Or the even weirder bit: that the Bloc's agenda -- to me, anyway, but I bet it's the same for most Canadians -- is almost unremarkable, even ordinary, just another part of the political landscape. And I wonder what your German colleagues might think if I said that Gilles Duceppe is actually rather likeable, and could even be a good Prime Minister except for that one little agenda thing.