Crowdsourced punditry - hung parliament edition -

Crowdsourced punditry – hung parliament edition


Is Canada broken? Observing that we might be headed for our fourth federal election in under six years, John Ibbitson wondered if this instability is the sort of dysfunction that could “break a country.” In today’s Globe, Gordon Gibson says that parliament is “poisoned” and we need an election, followed by a majority, to set things aright.

One under-analysed angle to all this is that the situation is not entirely unprecedented. We had federal elections in 1957, 58, 62, 63, 65, and 68 — which means that there were two spans in which we had four elections in six years.

The current near-consensus on that period is that it was an effective and productive time for the federal government and that all the parties were able to make parliament work in a way they can’t today. But I’d be delighted in knowing what the pundits were saying about parliament at the time, whether the instability was seen as a temporary abberation, or whether there were concerns that parliament had become permanently hung. Any historically-minded political scientists out there?

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Crowdsourced punditry – hung parliament edition

  1. Such short memories we poltical junkees have. I can remember quite clearly the howls of despair from the 4 th estate at Mulroneys ' Dictatorship ' ' Tyranny ' etc etc and then again Chretiens ad nauseum – the going rage then was let's have minority gov'ts as after all they lead to cooperation and consensus! Which of course is total bunk as the Westminister System is not and never will provide suc h. It is by design a war of ideas and choices. In point of fact the worst thing that our system can do is to have all the parties get together and provide consensus except for an occasional single issue as invariably this disaster provides another form of tyranny because when they all agree, it ususally means another way of grabbing a great deal of money from the voter for something the voter really doesn't want., a sort of political derivative if you will spreading the risk around. The present state we are in is what Canadians want obviously so how many times do we the voter have to prove this?

    • Yes I remember when the worst thing about Candian democracy was that people only got a say every 4 years. Sigh.

  2. Well, according to my dog-eared copy of The Distemper of Our Times, it was a real nasty period in terms of politics. Sixty Days of Decision. The flag debate. Gerda Munsinger. Lucien Rivard. Personal reputations were torn asunder. Cabinet ministers were barred from appearing on TV. And every federal-provincial conference ended up with PM Pearson being pantsed by one or more of the premiers (although it was usually Jean Lesage).

    Why do you ask?

  3. Sir Francis from Dred Tory would be the man to take this on, I'd wager.

  4. I suspect that the problem isn’t so much the elections, but the lack of governing between them.

    • And what exactly constitutes "governing" in your view? The government still tables budgets and proposes legislation. The minority aspect of their government requires them to be constantly ready for an election which raises partisanship since it creates uncertainty but they're still governing the country.

      • Depends what you mean by "government." Politicians come and go; it's the public servants who stick around and keep the machine humming. The only thing that an election would prevent is funding announcements.

      • I would define governing as effecting change on substantive, non-trivial issues that face the country. We still do not have anything resembling a plan for GHG emissions, a plan to address lagging productivity (though I will give credit for the plan to reduce corporate tax rates), the refugee and immigration system, any movement at all on electoral reform. On and on. The only action we see from our government is gimmicky policies that don’t help anything and often harm (I’m thinking of most of the recent justice changes).

        When you compare this to what happened in the ’60s, it’s pretty clear that there is difference in the amount of substantial change produced by these governments.

        • The CPC is working on electoral reform, i.e. as a defendant in court on its In&Out scheme.

        • The CPC is working on electoral reform, i.e. as a defendant in court for its In&Out scheme.

      • The minority aspect of their government requires them to constantly work to gain the confidence of the house, which *should* reduce partisanship creating certainty that they're governing the country according to the will of Parliament.

        • Why should it reduce partisanship? The government (as well as the opposition) are still trying to swing public opinion with their favour but now the date of the next election is uncertain. That will always increase partisanship.

          • Theoretically, why must it increase?

          • In general, public opinion drives the behaviour of the political parties and that leads with each party trying to state why its position is right and the position of the other parties is wrong. It's a partisan conflict by nature. This gets heightened in a minority where an election is allways considered imminent. While the government still have to end up getting support from one of the opposition parties to support a confidence bill, they don't necessarily need to co-operate with them. By becoming hyper-partisan, they can shift public opinion against one party and force them to roll over. The NDP is contemplating supporting the Conservatives not because they necessarily believe in the bill they are supporting, but because public opinion has turned against their party. You are right that the governing party can choose to co-operate, but when it is in a position of relative strength it's not really in their interest to do so.

          • "Thanks, dad. I guess I understand civil government. I guess I just don't understand uncivil government."

            "That's the way the game is played, son."

  5. Too bad Doug Fisher isn't around to answer – he had the dual perspective of being an MP and long time journalist.

    I find it hard to believe that there was more goodwill or cooperation in those days. My guess is that they had yet to cross the invisible line of conventions against intellectual and outright dishonesty. They had 2 english language national news channels. They had competing newspapers (remember them? They sometimes even came out twice a day) who actually reported on the news, rather than trying to fabricate it. The instant messaging, twittering, blackberrying, online chatting, blogging partisans had yet to be born, for the most part.

    In short, McLuhan hs come home to rest.

  6. It doesn't help to have a two-faced PM who constantly plays chicken with opposition parties, leading a party that doesn't have any clear goals besides winning the next election. In the grand scheme of things, however, our democracy is relatively stable.

  7. If my memory is correct what made the minority governments function as productively as they did was the degree of cooperation achieved between the Liberals and the NDP. There was a fair degree of consensus about the big issues of the day between these two parties. Remember that the NDP were called, "Liberals in a hurry." I suspect the 1960s wouldn't be thought of as a kind of 'golden age' of minority governments if it had been the Progressive Conservatives in power.

    • At least on a Liberal slanted politcal comments board.

  8. I'm no expert on Political Science is there is such a thing, but I remember the feeling that the Liberals took the level of debate to a new low withJudy LaMarsh's "Truth Squad" that trailed Dief around, and silly tricks such as printing so called Diefendollars worth I can't remember what. The sheer hatred between Dief and Pearson and total lack of respect for each other was commented on as well.
    So think it was a lot like today.
    Trudeau, Stanfield, Turner, Mulroney Broadbent etc were all people with a sense of humour who tried to see that there were things more important in life than the daily victories or defeats in the political wars.

  9. Maybe half the change is the weakening of the Red Tory brand. As much as (in my teenage years) I despised the Mulroney Tories, I can also remember that ideologically they weren't terribly far from the Liberals. But the rise of the Reform Party and its current dominance over the conservative spectrum of politics has opened up a bigger chasm between the parties, maybe?

    • I expect that you're on to something here. Something that generally folks don't like to acknowledge. Harper's party is certainly not the progressive conservatives of yesteryear.

    • I think you're right. Even if, in the Mulroney years, you didn't like the leader himself, you could still find members of the caucus who were worthy of admiration for their integrity and reasonableness. If there are such people in the caucus of the current Conservatvie party, they don't seem to be given much of a public voice.

      • You are correct, twice: There are people of integrity and reasonableness in the CPC, and they aren't given much of a public voice.

  10. All the media histrionics and lofty and ponderous punditing is a just a way of avoiding talking about what's really broken: Our news media..

    It's becoming almost pitiable.

    • To add…

      But I'd be delighted in knowing what the pundits were saying about parliament at the time, whether the instability was seen as a temporary abberation, or whether there were concerns that parliament had become permanently hung. Any historically-minded political scientists out there?

      Doesn't Maclean's provide you with access to news and academic databases?

      Oh right. "Crowdsourcing." Just another way to phone it in.

      • The irony is rather amusing!

      • Actually, no they don’t.

        • here it is, I thought this was deleted. This came as a shock to me, I guess I don't understand journalism well enough yet.

  11. It's not directly related to what you are looking for but 'Lament for a Nation' was published in 1965.

      • oops. I had no idea you wrote the intro to the 40th anniversary. That's a much cooler cover than the copy I have with the cover of Grant and Peggy's Cove.

        For the record, I was trying to connect the dots to those usual columns of 'Canada is broken' and the relation to minority governments by pointing out Lament was written during the last period of 'hung parliament'. It could however, I might add, be a coincidence that it was written during that period.

        • I would agree with the 'coincidence' take. Lament could have easily been title 'Lament for British Toryism'. Its focus on philosophical questions does not provide many answers to questions of electoral systems.

      • Just a little, thanks for the laugh. -and a very fine introduction, I would add.

        • Why thank you. Writing that intro was the product of my year working with Daniel Weinstock at CREUM — the most intellectually stimulating environment I’ve ever been in.

          • What was/is the least intellectually stimulating environment?

      • And on that point, is Mike inadvertently a throw-back to uncle George with his newest foray toward embracing Asia in the avoid-American-hegemony camp?

  12. This crowd is source-a-licious!

  13. Potter; what you said in the deleted comment, was crazy. I hope that is not the norm across outlets.

  14. I’ll make a prediction that if SH gets his majority his govt will in fact become yet more partisan. I don’t say this out of any particular partisanship of my own, but rather, has been pointed out, this is not the old PC’s. These guys don’t just wanta beat ya – they want to hurt ya! The game has changed, as have the times. My understanding was that despite the fact that Dief and Pearson despised one another, others from within their respective parties found a way to work together and obviously were successful. Can anyone really see any of these guys really woking together, notwithstanding their rhetoric?