Anti coalition fear mongering shows ignorance of Canadian history

There is a lot of loose diatribe and fear mongering among politicians , journalists and citizens about the danger of coalition government that reveals an appalling ignorance of Canadian political history and parliamentary government. The only criterion for becoming the government is that the party or group of parties commands the support of the majority of Members of Parliament. Coalitions have been a part of Canadian politics for a long time. Robert Borden governed after the 1917 election with a coalition of  Liberals and Conservatives. Mackenzie -King governed after 1926 with a coalition of Liberals and Progressives and his cabinet included a prominent Progressive. Bob Rae as a New Democrat participated in a quasi coalition government with Liberal David Peterson in the 1980s in Ontario.

Coalitions are often an alternative where there is no clear majority elected in Parliament.Think of the following plausible outcome in an election . The largest party wins 34 % of the vote and  gets 138 seats. But 154 plus is needed for a majority. The opposition vote is split among four parties. One gets 26 % and 80 seats, the third gets 23 % and 40 seats, the third receives 10 % but because it concentrates its vote it collects 48 seats and the last party 7 % and two seats. The largest party which is quite rigid in its outlook expects the Governor General to call upon its leader to serve as a prime minister. He or she agrees but because of ideology and rigid thinking is unable to recruit any members of the opposition to his/her  side. Parliament meets, the throne speech is read and a budget submitted but the opposition parties reject the contents of the budget and defeats it in a non confidence vote. The leader of the largest party seeks an immediate election.

But note the election which has taken place only six weeks earlier has delivered 66% of the vote to the four opposition parties and only 34% to the now defeated largest party. Let us further assume that these four parties and their leaders have agreed to co-operate on a common program in the public interest as they understand it and are willing to offer a stable government through the device of a coalition by emphasizing cooperation, grass roots communication and feedback and dialogue. Should we really expect the Governor general to overlook them and insist on dissolving Parliament and calling a new election. It would be outrageous if he were to do so, for in so doing he would be rejecting the expressed vote of almost two thirds of the electorate.If he did so he would be placing a greater value on the views and preferences of 34 % of the electorate than on the clear majority of 66 % . It would be politically very odd arithmetic for a democracy.


About haroldchorneyeconomist

I am Professor of political economy at Concordia university in Montréal, Québec, Canada. I received my B.A.Hons (econ.&poli sci) from the University of Manitoba. I also completed my M.A. degree in economics there. Went on to spend two years at the London School of Economics as a Ph.D. student in economics and then completed my Ph.D. in political economy at the University of Toronto. Was named a John W.Dafoe fellow, a CMHC fellow and a Canada Council fellow. I also was named a Woodrow Wilson fellow in 1968 after completing my first class honours undergraduate degree. Worked as an economist in the area of education, labour economics and as the senior economist with the Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation for the Government of Manitoba from 1972 to 1978. I also have worked as an economic consultant for MDT socio-economic consultants and have been consulted on urban planning, health policy, linguistic duality and public sector finance questions by the governments of Manitoba, Saskatchewan,the cities of Regina and Saskatoon, Ontario and the Federal government of Canada. I have also been consulted by senior leaders of the British Labour party, MPs from the Progressive Conservative party, the Liberal party and the New Democrats on economic policy questions. Members of the Government of France under the Presidency of Francois Mitterand discussed my work on public sector deficits. I have also run for elected office at the municipal level. I first began to write about quantitative easing as a useful policy option during the early 1980s.
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