Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Friday, December 05, 2008

One of several options

Was the Governor-General wrong to prorogue? Hell if I know. It seemed like a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" sort of situation, and there really was no good choice. Harper should not have asked for it, that much is certain. But what's done is done.

One thing that a lot of people--including a lot of people I like and respect--don't seem to be getting right now is that decisions about government on that level aren't about policy. They aren't made based on the idea that a Harper-led government is going to be better on the economy, or a Dion-led government is less likely to cut much-needed social programs. Decisions on that level are about nothing more and nothing less than giving the Canadian people a government that works based on the parliament they voted for. We're not going to get that because our voting system doesn't actually give us the parliament we vote for, but we still have the possibility (and, I would argue, the responsibility) to form as democratic a government as we can based on the parliament we do have.

By that token, I support the proposed minority-coalition-plus-support-agreement not because I think it would enact better policy than a Harper-led government, but because it's an option that would a) reflect more than 50% of the elected parliament, b) be willing to compromise and work together across party lines, and c) be willing to commit to governing for a particular time period, creating more stability than we have had in years. But here's the rub: it's not the only option that could provide those things. The current government has lost the confidence of the House--but they could regain it. They could commit to leading a minority government that governed for a particular length of time, and consulted with at least one other party in the House on every piece of legislation they propose. They could even propose a different coalition, or a minority government that had an agreement with one particular opposition party, with the same kinds of "majority of the House", "compromise", and "durability" terms that the Dion-led coalition would have.

If we're talking about what I personally want, of course I would like to see Harper out of the Prime Minister's chair. I think he's been a terrible prime minister on the democracy end of things, and his policy preferences are not mine, either. But this exercise isn't about what I want, or what you want, or what any one group wants. It's about what Canadians voted for. And there are still several open possibilities that would give us that, or at least something much closer to it than we've had in a very long time.

I've never had a lot of faith that these things will actually work as they're intended to, and I've lost even more of that faith this week. But it would help me regain some of it if we could all put partisanship aside and commit to working toward and supporting the existence of a stable, cooperative government formed from the House we elected. In whatever form that might take.

25 comments:

Ian said...

You really earned the title of "Idealistic Pragmatist" with this post, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Assuming that we somehow avoid an election (although I'm not convinced of Ms. Jean's will against Harper), this turmoil will at least: weaken Harper politically and/or force him to cooperate. Both of which are good for this country.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Ian,

Agreed. It's been hard for me to see the good in any of this through all the bad, but you're right about that.

If we manage to produce a long-term stable, cooperative government out of all this--of any shade or combination of shades--it will have been worth it. If we go to an election this spring, though, I will have a very hard time having faith that the system can ever produce what it's supposed to produce.

Greg said...

But here's the rub: it's not the only option that could provide those things. The current government has lost the confidence of the House--but they could regain it. They could commit to leading a minority government that governed for a particular length of time, and consulted with at least one other party in the House on every piece of legislation they propose. They could even propose a different coalition, or a minority government that had an agreement with one particular opposition party, with the same kinds of "majority of the House", "compromise", and "durability" terms that the Dion-led coalition would have.

I totally agree with this (although like you I would hate the foreign policy direction an Iggy/Harper combo would come up with). If you are a believer in PR, you have to take the chance that your party will not be included in the government coalition. You have to make your case that you have something to contribute and if it doesn't happen so be it.

The big question is can Harper work with people who don't agree with him on every thought that crosses his mind? I haven't seen evidence of that, but I am prepared to be amazed, for the good of the country.

Tyrone said...

The trouble is that Quebec has basically withdrawn from the party system. Without it, it is very hard to assemble a working majority. The Liberal majorities of the 1990s relied on a simultaneously weak NDP and divided right, a combination unlikely to recur.

Had I been a Quebec resident, I'd have voted for the Bloc every year since 1993 - a generally progressive party with a much better shot at seats than the NDP, and its support of sovereignty wasn't really relevant in a federal election. But no more. The Bloc's mere presence forces not only minority Parliaments, but unstable, divisive, ineffective minority Parliaments, since no one can make it even a coalition *supporter* without being demagogued in English Canada.

Canadians might welcome a German-style "grand coalition", which Canada did have in 1917, but the parties will never go for it now (then again, it didn't work well in 1917 either).

Given the Governor General's acquiescence to the PM so far, I think the most likely scenario is for an election to be held in February, in which the Conservatives will win a majority.

Robert Vollman said...

You're right. I'd have respected the Conservatives a lot more if they had shown some willingness to compromise. For instance, if they had taken everything out of their fiscal update that the opposition complained about.

(Wait, what? ... they did what? ... oh then never mind).

Curmudgeon-at-Large said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben (The Tiger) said...

The purist in me opposed prorogation and demanded a snap election.

daveberta said...

Great post, IP. I have to agree with Ian's comment, the pragmatism in this coalition is fascinating. I really wonder how long it can last with Michael Ignatieff now on his way to becoming installed as Liberal leader.

The media portrayed him as cool to the idea of a coalition, but hopefully the spirit of cooperation in the House of Commons won't completely fall apart come January.

locksmith mesa said...

haha..great post!

Ben (The Tiger) said...

We miss you, IP. Post again.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Ben,

I was pretty shaken by finding out back in December just how little Canadians know about what their votes are doing. But nobody wants to read about some half-anonymous blogger's political angst, so I've decided I wouldn't post about Canadian politics until something other than despair or vitriol would flow from my fingers. It hasn't happened yet.

Ben (The Tiger) said...

Oh, when the PM broke 50% in the polls?

Yeah, that was kinda nuts.

Still, there it is. You go into the elections and political crises with the people you have, not necessarily the people you want. :p

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Ben,

Nah, it has nothing to do with the PM's success in the polls, or for that matter with the success/non-success of the proposed coalition.

What matters to me is the polls that showed that a majority (a majority!) of Canadians think they elect the prime minister and his government directly and live in a republic, and the number of people who thought that forming a new government from the same parliament would literally mean "overturning the result of the last election." That's a level of ignorance I wouldn't even have expected from Americans, and it's made me wonder whether I've just been deluding myself all these years that Canadians are more knowledgeable than Americans when it comes to political and government matters. At the moment I couldn't write a blog post without being snide (at best) and despairing (at worst), and that's not the sort of thing people read my blog for. *shrug*

Ben (The Tiger) said...

Oh, every year we see polls from the Dominion Institute that show that less than 10% of Canadians know that the Queen is the head of state.

If they can't even get that one right (I think that most think that the PM is), well, it doesn't bode well for the rest of it...

Tiny Perfect Blog said...

You ever gonna blog again?

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

TPB,

This really is my longest hiatus ever, isn't it? Sorry about that.

I will almost certainly blog again. I don't know for sure that I will ever blog regularly again. That's the best I can do right now.

L-girl said...

I thought there might be a secret blog somewhere that I haven't been invited to. (Moi, paranoid? Nah!)

I miss your thoughts! But I hope you're doing what you want to do.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

L-girl,

Aw, it's nice to be missed!

My thoughts these days are about things other than politics, I'm afraid. But I'm sure I'll be bitten by the bug again someday.

Ian said...

It seems this has become the petition to bring IP back. Well add my name to the list.

Perhaps another familiar contest at home will remind you how much you love to write ;-)

West End Bob said...

You know, IP, we're still missing you.

"Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" . . . .

KevinG said...

Well, pleading is clearly not working. Perhaps we should try baiting: after sober reflection it has become clear that FPTP is a superior voting system ;)

Wilf Day said...

Please, please come back, IP. Blogging from the Netherlands is permitted. ;)

Meanwhile: Tyrone said... "The trouble is that Quebec has basically withdrawn from the party system."

Not so; that's an illusion of our ineffective voting system.

A proportional House of Commons, assuming a regional open-list system, would include seven more Liberal MPs from Quebec regions:

In Quebec City and Eastern Quebec three MPs, not none. Maybe Jean Beaupré and Pauline Côté from the Quebec City region, and Nancy Charest from Matane. (If Liberal voters in that region voted most for those regional candidates on the regional ballot.)

In Montérégie two MPs, not just one. Maybe Roxane Stanners from Saint-Lambert.

In Laurentides--Lanaudière -- West & North Quebec three MPs, not just one. Maybe Pierre Gfeller from Labelle, and Cindy Duncan McMillan or Michel Simard from the Outaouais?

In Estrie--Centre-du-Québec--Mauricie one MP, not none. Maybe Denis Paradis from Brome--Missisquoi.

On the other hand, Liberal voters would have elected four fewer MPs from Montreal where they are now over-represented.

Conservative voters would have elected eight more MPs from Quebec regions where they were unrepresented or under-represented:

In Montreal and Laval three MPs, not none. Maybe Jean-Pierre Bélisle, Rafael Tzoubari and Andrea Paine?

In Montérégie two MPs, not none. Maybe Michael Fortier and Maurice Brossard?

From Estrie--Centre-du-Québec--Mauricie two MPs, not none. Maybe Éric Lefebvre and André Bachand?

From Laurentides--Lanaudière -- West & North Quebec two MPs, not just one. Maybe Claude Carignan from Saint-Eustache or Jean-Maurice Matte from Abitibi?

However, Conservative voters would have elected two fewer MPs from Quebec City and Eastern Quebec where they are now over-represented.

New Democrat voters would have elected eight more MPs from Quebec regions where those voters are unrepresented or under-represented:

In Montreal & Laval three MPs, not just one. Maybe Jean-Claude Rocheleau and Anne Lagacé Dowson?

In Laurentides--Lanaudière -- West & North Quebec two MPs, not none. Maybe Françoise Boivin and Pierre Ducasse?

In Quebec City and East Quebec two MPs, not none. Maybe Anne-Marie Day from Quebec City and Guy Caron from Rimouski?

In Montérégie one MP, not none. Maybe Richard Marois?

In Estrie--Centre-du-Québec--Mauricie one MP, not none. Maybe Annick Corriveau from Drummond?

Green voters would have elected MPs from regions where those voters are unrepresented:

One from Montreal-Laval: maybe Claude Genest?

The Bloc would have 31 MPs, not 49. (I know, it would be 28 under a perfectly proportional province-wide calculation, but for the sake of accountable MPs elected regionally, I can live with three extra Bloc MPs.)

Saskboy said...

James Bow linked here the other day, and I realized it's been aaages since you blogged.

Anonymous said...

C'mon I.P. Time to get back to your mission. End your dormancy!

Beatrix Potts said...

The governor gen eral did thje right thing. It is not within her power to go against the ruling government. The GG is a ceremonial figure and just that.