Still talking about the Madness


 

My review of Parliamentary Democracy in Crisis is in the current issue of the LRC, on newstands everywhere. Christopher Moore has a note about the review on his blog, and for the most part he gets what I was trying to do with the review.

At the same time though, I think it is important to stress that my beef with the book goes beyond the fact that the essays are completely one-sided in favour of the parliamentarian viewpoint. In a comment on one of my earlier blog posts on this, one reader argued that balance for the sake of showing both sides is no virtue when one side is obviously in the wrong. I actually agree with that argument — I think the idea that you should ‘teach the controversy” is almost always misguided, and I’ve occasionally turned down requests to do panels or radio phone-ins for precisely that reason. There’s no point in debating someone who has bad ideas, it only kicks up sand and makes it harder to see.

The reason why I think an exception has to be made in the case of last fall’s Madness is because the fact that there was a controversy is precisely the issue that needs exploring. It is just not acceptable for a crew of academics to take turns berating Canadians for not knowing how their constitution works and the prime minister for exploiting that ignorance for partisan gain.

I go back to a distinction I’ve found helpful in this, between input and output legitimacy — any  stable democratic institution needs both types. First, it needs to operate according to popularly accepted principles and rules. But it also needs to give outcomes that the people, on the whole, find acceptable, and if a system gives widely unacceptable output, that is a prima facie argument against the legitimacy of the inputs. So my concern throughout all of this is not that Canadians didn’t understand how their system works; it is that a large number of Canadians saw how their system works and recoiled in horror. That is the force of what I’ve called the “democratic” challenge to the orthodox parliamentarian viewpoint; a book of essays that gives no credit to output legitimacy has simply failed in its intellectual responsibility to properly explore the issues and to edify the public.

Anyway, I’m sure we’ll talk more about this soon enough. I’m told that Sossin and Russell will be penning a reply to my review for a forthcoming LRC.


 
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Still talking about the Madness

  1. "There's no point in debating someone who has bad ideas, it only kicks up sand and makes it harder to see."

    The problem with this attitude is that it assumes omniscience with respect to judging the worth of ideas. I have many times thought an idea was ludicrous until I debated it, at which point I discovered that it made a lot more sense than I thought. In some cases one discovers that one's own idea was the bad one.

    A truly open-minded intellectual accepts debate on anything, as long as the opponent is willing to provide arguments rather than rants or insults. This is the only reliable way to filter good ideas from bad ones.

  2. "There's no point in debating someone who has bad ideas, it only kicks up sand and makes it harder to see."

    The problem with this attitude is that it assumes omniscience with respect to judging the worth of ideas. I have many times thought an idea was ludicrous until I debated it, at which point I discovered that it made a lot more sense than I thought. In some cases one discovers that one's own idea is the bad one.

    A truly open-minded intellectual accepts debate on anything, as long as the opponent is willing to provide arguments rather than rants or insults. This is the only reliable way to filter good ideas from bad.

    • Debate is not the first step to determining the worth of ideas. The first step is education. Most credible intellectuals who arrive at the debate stage already have a pretty good idea of what ideas are not worth entertaining.

  3. I'm going to have to go out and buy this issue. I'm looking forward to reading your review.

  4. Hmmm … let me see if I get this straight : there is no point in debate if one side is obviously wrong? .. tell me something Andrew who decides? You?

    • Come now, surely we can agree that it's possible to be objectively wrong in certain debates. If you were to argue that the speed limit of a road actually is 30 km/h lower than the legal limit, you are objectively wrong. Likewise, if you were to argue that the potential coalition was illegal, you would be objectively wrong.

      • Sure, it's possible to be objectively wrong. The problem is determining which ideas fit that description.
        It's a common problem for nearly everyone to think an idea is objectively wrong. For example, Copernicus was initially derided for suggesting that the earth goes around the sun. What idiocy! Everyone can see the sun moves across the sky!

        Dismissing an idea without debate is a bad idea. And yet, I debate it; after all I could be wrong.

      • Sure, it's possible to be objectively wrong. The problem is determining which ideas fit that description.
        It's a common problem for nearly everyone to think a good idea is objectively stupid. For example, Copernicus was initially derided for suggesting that the earth goes around the sun. What idiocy! Everyone can see the sun moves across the sky!

        Dismissing an idea without debate is a bad idea. And yet, I debate it; after all I could be wrong.

        • I think that's the value in Andrew's argument here: he wants us to throw out the silly arguments–those that are obviously wrong (i.e. the notion that the coalition was illegal or a coup)–and focus on the valuable arguments–is the populace merely undereducated, or does Canada's current system fail to adequately serve the population? The former arguments can be easily proven to be objectively wrong, whereas the latter are obviously subjective, and also happen to be much more valuable in terms of discussing the politics of the coalition. There's nothing wrong with ignoring bad arguments–if you are, however, interested in pursuing them for the sake of debate, it might help to work with your opposition to build a stronger argument, one that can be properly debated. And indeed, this is what I imagine Andrew is hoping a book on the Parliamentary Crisis would accomplish.

          • I agree with Gaunilon about the value of debate, since it was best articulated by JSMill and he was smarter than your average guy. I also agree with Potter that focusing on additional facets of the argument has value. Where he errs, I believe, is in equating that with ignoring stupid opinions.

          • Well stated.

    • Who watches the watchmen Andrew!!!!????!?!?! OMG PETER RUSSELL JUST BROKE THROUGH MY WINDOW!!!!

      please.

      I think when every academic in the field agrees, that a pretty strong consensus…. that you're wrong.

      • "I think when every academic in the field agrees, that a pretty strong consensus…. that you're wrong."

        (a) a "strong consensus" of any sort does not amount to objective validity
        (b) "every academic in the field" does not agree with Russell and Sossin
        (c) most of the academics who wrote the book are taking the role of partisan hacks. Some of them are capable of good work, but in this case they're all simply flacks for the close personal friends in the Liberal party. I document this fact in my comment below.

  5. "There's no point in debating someone who has bad ideas, it only kicks up sand and makes it harder to see."

    Congratulations on making the dumbest statement I've seen on the internet this month.

    • Clearly you don't spend much time on the internet.

  6. By using the word "exception", you make it seem like you believe there is no valid controversey yet the book should present the other side anyway. But then your example makes it seem as you believe that there is a valid controversey (ie, that changing the office of Prime Minister without an election (even when the last one was two weeks ago and the current PM cannot win a confidence motion) is so unpalatable it must never be allowed to happen despite rules which say it can.

  7. I think the distinction between legitimacies might be more effectively thought of in technical and political terms. There is absolutely no question that the coallition was technically legitimate i.e. legal. There is also no question that the coallition was widely seen as politically unacceptable. I have serious reservations about raising the "politically unacceptable" to an issue of legitimacy. This is especially true since the Conservatives and some significant fraction of the media muddied the waters by lying about the legalities. Indeed Potter's use of the term output legitimacy continues that process. Many Canadians looking at analyses of the issue continue to believe that it was an illegal attempt to take power especially since writers like Potter describe it as perhaps illegitimate. Since legitimate means in accordance with the law, their confusion is understandable.

    The most compelling argument that the coalition was illegitimate is that it was unexpected. The Conservatives have attempted to frame the issue such that the only coalition with legitimacy would be one announced before an election. This is a completely self-serving construct that runs counter to not only our laws but also our traditions.

    I find it disappointing that most analysts agree that the Canadian parlimentary system has far too much power focused in the PMO. However, the two most successful ways to reduce this power (coalitions for minority parties, floor crossing for individual MPs) are widely denounced as undemocratic. How can things that are fundamentally good for our democracy be undemocratic?

    On a pramatic note, although the coalition was legitimate and legal I was delighted the GG found a way to work through the issue.

    • Legal means in accordance with the law. Legitimate can have lots of meanings.

      • Yes, but the most common connotation of it is "By the rules"

        • hmmm a quick search does seem to indicate that the meaning of legitimate as in allowable by law is far more prevalent than I had at first thought.

          • You do realize that by publicly admitting you might be wrong you are undermining all the traditions of internet debate, don't you?

    • In reply to Stewart Smith, if you actually read the article i question, Potter notes that some pretty substantial people actually do question the legitimacy. One point to note is that, the NDP and the Liberals explicitly made statements against a coalition during the campaign. To narrow the definition of legitimacy to whether it's legal or not, is ridiculous and misses the point.

  8. "It is just not acceptable for a crew of academics to take turns berating Canadians for not knowing how their constitution works and the prime minister for exploiting that ignorance for partisan gain."

    Sounds like profs behaving exactly as they always have, with disdain and arrogance towards the people who pay their salaries and allow them to live pretty comfortable lives. I am definitely on the 'democratic' side of this argument but I am not in the least bit surprised that a bunch of profs got together to inform the rest of us that we are a bit dim and need civics lessons when they should actually be looking in the mirror when deciding who needs remedial classes.

    • But you evidently do need civics lessons. Why should your opinion on our constitution, of which you are evidently quite ignorant, be more valuable than your opinion on nuclear physics?

      • I am 'quite ignorant' because I don't agree with you? You have been well schooled in how to behave like an academic.

        The best argument the Coalition members, and its supporters across Canada, could muster was that it was not illegal. Which is true, I guess. But I focus more on precedent and convention and there is not one example in any country with Westminster Parliament system of a coalition trying to usurp power like those clowns attempted a few months ago. It was a naked power grab by pols who could not get it legitimately and the people saw it for what it was.

          • Give me one example of a coalition with less seats than the party they are trying to replace takes power after being crushed in elections a few weeks earlier.

          • How about the Israeli election that happened JUST FIVE FREAKING MONTHS AGO!

            http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middlee

            Apparently you don't understand the concept of a coalition. If the party that wins the most seats were to automatically form government there would be no point in having coalitions in the first place. The difference between Canada and others countries in simply that our first post the post voting has traditionally made minority parliaments so rare that there is usually no need for the largest party to form a coalition. But in countries with long standing multi-party parliaments it has become routine for whichever block of parties that wins a cumulative majority to form goverment and who "wins the election" is consider a question of which block wins the most seats.

          • If you need another example, take the Republic of Ireland where the largest party, Fianna Fail, has won a plurality of both votes and seats in virtually every election ever held, but the other main party Fine Gael has formed government on a number of occasions because the block of parties/MPs supporting them–or in a coalition with them–formed a majority in the house.

            It is, in fact, routine for Fianna Fail to "win" every election, but they do not form government after every election because it's how many votes you have in parliament that counts.

            If you're looking for a particular blow out, Fianna Fail "won" the 1973 election 47.2% to 37.5% but Fine Gael still formed government.

            And this is just in Westminster countries. There are other countries where there's one dominant party on one side of the political spectrum and several smaller parties on the other side of the spectrum. In these countries who forms government is routinely decided by which coalition has a majority of seats, not which party.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_the_Repu

          • RayK – the problem is the would-be country killing Bloc Quebecois. That is the problem with the Coalition. The only problem, but an INSURMONTABLE one.

          • Well, obviously, the Bloc Quebecois was not part of the coalition. And as for the coalition being dependent on the Bloc's support, the Conservatives formed their initial government after the 2006 election with support from the Bloc and suggested a coalition with the Bloc after the 2004 election.

            In fact, if we accept that the Bloc is the "only problem" with the coalition, then we're left with a perfectly symmetrical where neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal-NDP has enough seats to form a government and either block is dependent on the Bloc for support on their Throne Speech.

            That being said, if you don't like the coalition because it happens to be supported by the Bloc, that's fine, but it doesn't make the coalition "illegitimate" so such as "undesirable" (i.e. one can't easily oppose a coalition on that basis but it's not "illegitimate" in any meaningful sense of the word).

          • I basically follow you. To me the Coalition was always politically illegitimate, not necessarily constitiutionally so, although there is a saying that constitutional law is 50% politics.

        • You don't actually seem to be as ignorant of the constitution, jolyon, as you seem hostile to facts that run up against your opinion of how things should be. And to professors, which suggests again that you might be one who doesn't like to be told things, especially things along the lines of, "You are mistaken."

          • The problem is that the profs are behaving like there is one correct answer, theirs, and everyone who disagrees with them can eat cake but it's not that simple because there were other scholars who came out in favour of the 'democratic' side.

            Tho I agree that I have problems with authority figures and being told things.

          • They published a book. Couldn't other scholars who saw things differently also publish a book? Didn't PMSH and his party behave like there was one correct answer, theirs, and everyone else was a committing treason?

      • Coalition with a party wanting to destroy Canada. Canadians smelled it , and thought it stank to the high heavens.

        And Canadians were right to think it.

        You don't invite a fox to run the henhouse. And you don't need a bunch of academic essays to show you why. It's sort of self-evident.

    • If that's how you feel about profs, then I'm truly sorry for the terrible post-secondary experience you must have had. You may, however, want to remember that Andrew Potter himself was once a prof, and as such reevaluate your statement.

  9. It was only after I started learning about the P-system decades ago that I realized it was not a real democracy – but what the Harperites have done is what could be termed treasonous – a total destruction of any and all of the entirely too weak and mild checks and balances currently in the system.

    I agree with and have practiced the idea that one does not engage with specious arguments and when confronted with it, I usually do not respond to stated nonsense, I pursue my talking points and disregard the spin-master trying to obscure reality.

    I agree whole-heartedly and certainly has written so here and elsewhere over the years.

    "There's no point in debating someone who has bad ideas, it only kicks up sand and makes it harder to see."
    Agreed, see graph 2 of this comment.

    Those saying otherwise do not maybe realize that the idea was debated and found to be correct on one side already – it's not like no debate has occurred at all. The facts have come out or are obvious to all but those who stand to gain from repeating the false arguments.

  10. Legitmacy, like most polisci abstractions, gets really problematic the more you try and pin it down. For the same reason Rousseau's general will is really useful, true legitimacy can never really be defined. Surely legitimacy means something more than the various static opinion polls taken during the crisis? If not… well the consequences would be pretty scary.

    The reason being, that opinions are fluid. Polls change quite a bit depending on how the question is phrased, given context, what the respondee ate for breakfast, etc. If you sat 2000 canadians down and had an adult discussion about parliamentary democracy and THEN polled them…. (citizen panel?) that would be a good start. This doesn't happen, because political parties put alot of energy ensuring that no such discussion occurs. Instead, citizens get bombarded with sound bites from Communication staffers. And Canadians, being apathetic and ignorant, imbibe every last bit.

    Maybe we should stop elections all together and just release one giant collective Tweet everytime something important flits across our minds….

  11. Excellent piece, as always with Mr. Potter's LRC essays. A couple of points:

    "my concern throughout all of this is not that Canadians didn't understand how their system works; it is that a large number of Canadians saw how their system works and recoiled in horror."

    Generally, those who recoiled in horror were those who did not know how the system worked beforehand: their first exposure to their own constitution was this wild and crazy episode. So naturally they were shocked, but the shock was in large part the result of the sudden end of ignorance. Thus ignorance was the problem. The solution would be to educate Canadians about what their constitution currently is, so that they can decide if they like it or not in the abstract. That is surely the purpose of this book.

    As to legitimacy, it is vital that it not be confused with popularity. They are two fundamentally different things. Mulroney's government was incredibly unpopular in 1992, but it was not thereby illegitimate. We delegate the responsibility of governing to our Members of Parliament so as to avoid the chaos of government by referendum; so that the government can (ideally) sometimes make unpopular decisions for the common good. (Note that "the common good" is thus not synonymous with "what the people want." The people may want stimulus, say, up the ying-yang, so to speak, but it is up to the government to weigh the people's will — with their power to vote the government out at election time — against the common good.) If the people are deeply upset at what their MP's are doing, they have every right to vote them out at election time — and they will; it is up to the MP's to decide if a common-good policy is worth incurring the people's ire. That is the principle governing all government, the principle of representative democracy, and it applies just as much when MP's are choosing a Cabinet as when they are choosing, say, an environmental policy. That is the risk we take when we vote, and if we don't have the courage to take it, or the wisdom to choose MP's who we think are reliable, it is our own damn fault if we get upset at what they do.

  12. A facet of the debate not apparently contemplated by Mr. Potter is the value to be placed on a clear system founded in law and the understanding citizens have of that system.

    Legisitmacy – as JM points out above – isn't just what is popular. If popularity begats legitimacy, then opion polls tell us, ostensibly, that all forms of governance are illegitimate due to their low level of esteem.

    Knowing in our souls that, like it or not, the current regime is in place by law, under law, is the core of domestic peace.

  13. Addendum: Mr. Potter is of course entirely right that the controversy was in itself illuminating, and that the Coalition was perceived (especially by CPC supporters) as democratically illegitimate. But the problem really is Canadians' ignorance, not just of their constitution but of their history, politics, etc. I don't know what the solution to the problem of Canadians' ignorance is, but surely we can agree that, in principle, flattering ignorance is not the way to go. So we can either move to a more traditional socio-political model in which the masses defer to the elites (neither desirable nor feasible), try to correct Canadians' ignorance (a long road), or radically change both the written and unwritten Constitution (a recipe for utter chaos and almost certainly the end of the country). Choose wisely.

  14. Potter's position on this changes every time he addresses it. He took a position last year that was simply wrong and cannot seem to come to terms with that.

      • Anon/Ti-G*y asserts, mostly without evidence, like the true left/wing ideologue he is.

  15. The precedents and conventions are based on the . . . principle of . . . representative . . . oh what's the use.

    • LOL!!! My thoughts exactly…

  16. Maybe we should remember that for the "Rallies for Canada" were conservative events, not spontaneous demonstrations or any sort of simple reflection of a general public will. I know many who were running around in a sort of frenzy getting their lists all called and people organized. There was, by all accounts, a lot of hype and excitement from the conservatives who organized these events. We should also remember that it was always a conservative who would stand at the podium to make the speech. And then they did the big trick: they sang O Canada, as though this were the most ESSENTIALLY CANADIAN AND PATRIOTIC GATHERING EVER (times infinity, squared).

  17. Maybe we should remember that for the "Rallies for Canada" were conservative events, not spontaneous demonstrations or any sort of simple reflection of a general public will. I know many who were running around in a sort of frenzy getting their lists all called and people organized. There was, by all accounts, a lot of hype and excitement from the conservative who organized these events. We should also remember that it was always a conservative who would stand at the podium to make the speech. And then they did the big trick: they sang O Canada, as though this were the most ESSENTIALLY CANADIAN AND PATRIOTIC GATHERING EVER (times infinity, squared).

  18. One further thought. Based on Mr. Potter's review, it does not seem that the essays really tackle why Canadians are so ignorant of their constitution. On one level, it is because they do not take Bagehot to bed with them; but that is not really an acceptable answer. It seems plain to me that the reason Canadians do not perceive that the House of Commons, composed of MP's like their own, chooses the Government is that the role of the MP has been reduced to the point that MP's are mere cyphers. Fundamentally, when it comes to how they vote, they no longer count as individuals and are merely water-carriers for their party. Thus Canadians have gradually come to think that they vote only for the party and that the election itself, not the House of Commons, will be the mechanism for selecting the Government. In other words, the immense power of the Party Leader — that ultimate elitist — has eclipsed the constitution itself, and what we saw during the FUFU was the conflict of those two visions of how power should be apportioned: the so-called "democrats" (populists would be a more neutral term) want power to be concentrated in one man (as populists always end up wanting, despite their Everyman rhetoric), whereas "parliamentarians" want power to be more diffuse. This enemy of dictatorship prefers the latter, even though we live in an age of petty Party Leader tyrants; but, by the bones of my ancestors, I hate the idea that tyranny should ever be legitimate, whether the people wish it or not.

    • " It seems plain to me that the reason Canadians do not perceive that the House of Commons, composed of MP's like their own, chooses the Government is that the role of the MP has been reduced to the point that MP's are mere cyphers."

      Jack, I think it's more simple than that. The problem is the "West Wing"effect or, if you prefer, the United States' cultural influence on our views of politics. It should come as no surprise when one is neighbour to a behemoth of culture like that of the Yanks.

      • To be honest, PJunk, in my opinion JM isn't wrong. MPs have zero leverage over their parties or over their caucus leadership. The 'nobody' effect predated West Wing, as did the media focus on the leadership.

        I can see the staffers deluding themselves that they are caught up in West Wing drama of governance – they were all watching it as their favourite show while in high school 6 years ago. But the truth of the american system is that congressmen and women have far more independence and profile than their canadian counterparts.

    • "… why are Canadians so ignorant of their constitution"?

      Because there's a hockey game on.

  19. "Generally, those who recoiled in horror were those who did not know how the system worked beforehand: their first exposure to their own constitution was this wild and crazy episode. So naturally they were shocked, but the shock was in large part the result of the sudden end of ignorance. Thus ignorance was the problem. The solution would be to educate Canadians about what their constitution currently is, so that they can decide if they like it or not in the abstract."

    Wholeheartedly agree!

  20. It seems to me that your thesis statement–that the problem is not a lack of undertsanding of how the system works, but that “a large number of Canadians saw how their system works and recoiled in horror”–is fundamentally flawed.

    Maybe Canadians reacted poorly to the coalition BECAUSE they didn't understand how the parliamentary system works.

    The coalition fight was essentially a debate between two competing principles: “we won the election” versus “majority rules”. These are both fundamental democratic principles–that I think Canadians consider legitmate–but in the coalition debate they weren't presented on an equal footing.

    Canadians were told on election night that the Conservatives had won the election and that they would form another minority government; in contrast Canadians had never seen a set of circumstances under which parties were forced to form a coalition in order to ensure that the newly elected government would have majority support in the House of Commons.

    In short, the coalition was presented as if it was an effort to take power through a technically. That's what books like this one are meant to address.

  21. Furthermore, there's no evidence that Canadians “recoiled in horror” at the prospect of a coalition. After the coalition was formed, the Conservative Party's polling numbers went from 37.5% of the vote on election day to 43 or 44% in horserace polls. That represents a shift of 5 to 7% of the vote, not the mass of public opinion recoiling in horror.

    Most other polls on the question of the coalition itself did split 55-45% percent in favour of a new election if the government fell, but the rare poll that asked the constitutionally relevant question of whether one preferred the coalition to a Conservative government split 55-45 the other way. Incidentally, that 55-45 was also in keeping with the horserace polls.

    I would argue that the perception that the coalition was deeply unpopular came more from the fact that 43% of the vote would have been enough for the Conservatives to win a majority had there been a new election than any mass movement in public opinion.

    • I'd bet you the favourable / unfavourable ratings of the Coalitions broke down almost completely along party lines. That 7% swing probably represents mainly Liberal voters who are anti-NDP.

  22. I also concur. People didn't understand what the frack was going on; they thought the coalition was trying to exploit some kind of technically (see my comment below).

    I actually think the coverage around the coalition did a lot to correct this problem, but people's opinion of the Dion-NDP coalition was set in stone by that point. Hopefully seeing the results of having a government that does not have the support of the House of Commons–i.e. Ignatieff dancing around his support for the Conservatives–will also help people understand that in a multi-party system it's just not feasible to take whichever wins the most seats and make them government regardless of will of parliament.

    • It was also that the election itself was a kind of referendum on Dion and the Green Shift, and the general opinion was deeply unfavourable: my impression was that people voted Liberal mainly because they didn't like Harper (and were willing to tolerate Dion) or voted Conservative not because they liked Harper but because they couldn't take Dion seriously. Thus when this particular Coalition looked to be about to install Dion as PM, it appeared to be that the very heart of the election — the people's rejection of / distaste for Dion — was about to be reversed. Had the Liberals had another leader who would have been PM-in-waiting, popular confusion would have greatly diminished.

    • It was also that the election itself was a kind of referendum on Dion and the Green Shift, and the general opinion was deeply unfavourable: my impression was that people voted Liberal mainly because they didn't like Harper (and were willing to tolerate Dion) or voted Conservative not because they liked Harper but because they couldn't take Dion seriously. Thus when this particular Coalition looked to be about to install Dion as PM, it appeared to be that the very heart of the election — the people's rejection of / distaste for Dion — was about to be reversed. Had the Liberals had another, less disliked leader as their PM-in-waiting, popular confusion would have greatly diminished.

    • It was also that the election itself was a kind of referendum on Dion and the Green Shift, and the general opinion was deeply unfavourable: my impression was that people voted Liberal mainly because they didn't like Harper (and were willing to tolerate Dion) or voted Conservative not because they liked Harper but because they couldn't take Dion seriously. Thus when this particular Coalition looked to be about to install Dion as PM, it appeared to be that the very heart of the election — the people's rejection of / distaste for Dion — was about to be reversed. Had the Liberals had another, less disliked leader as their PM-in-waiting, popular confusion would have been greatly diminished.

      • Indeed.

        To take this idea further, for some opposition to the coalition wasn't even a question of legitimacy. The vast majority of people who opposed the coalition supported the Conservatives to begin with–and the rest were split between several groups.

        Yes, some of those thought the coalition was illegitimate–either on the merits, because they didn't understand the system, or because they thoguht the election had been a clear repudiation of Dion–but others simply didn't like the make up of this particular coalition. The latter group included right leaning Liberals that would prefer the Conservatives to a coalition with the NDP, populist New Democrats who would prefer the Conservatives to a coalition with the Liberals and Westerns who were convinced that the Bloc Quebecois was somehow a part of the coalition.

        • Excellent catalogue, I completely agree. Goes to show that Canadians are generally voting against a particular party more than for any particular platform. Which, I suppose, is why we can dispense with platforms and reduce politics to no more than negative advertising. When the weather is warm and the rain plentiful, the rabbits grow fat.

        • RayK and Jack, excellent comments as usual!

        • RayK and Jack, excellent comments, as usual!

  23. I think Stewart – you are making the distinction between the letter and the spirit of the law when you play with "output legitimacy"…
    In the case of the coalition – I believe it satisfied both. It was legal – according to the letter of the law. More important, the spirit is that the Prime minister and his government are held accountable to be pragmatic – where they do not have the seats / votes to ramrod THEIR preference through.
    Harper has governed as though he had a majority throughout – when it was very clear from the Canadian public's lukewarm commitment of seats to him that they didn't trust him to rule with an absolute majority.

    • with all the gain in seats ythe CPC got last election you call it lukewarm – ROFL LMAO – PUHLeeease! what a master of understatement becuase as it stands right now only 12 seats more make a majority – one big stupid liberal move which is about what they do every 3 or 4 months and presto a majority – heck Stevie could probably do it with bi-elections if a few MP's decide an early exit is in order either voluntarily or involuntarily – Keep on dreaming if it makes you feel better.

      • Let's be truly honest, Wayne.

        Harper's party had a united right, more funds available, the choice of the election timing, a left split three or four ways depending on your province, Stephane Dion proposing a carbon tax that he wasn't able to explain clearly, and the Canadian media lined up against him (as nearly every paper and station endorsing Harper shows) to the point where the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council said that journalistic ethics were violated (http://www.canada.com/News/slapped+broadcasting+D

        Under those circumstances, to say that anything less than a decisive majority is a "lukewarm" reception is, if anything, overstating how welcome Harper was.

      • Let's be truly honest, Wayne.

        Harper's party had a united right, more funds available, the choice of the election timing, a left split three or four ways depending on your province, Stephane Dion proposing a carbon tax that he wasn't able to explain clearly, and the Canadian media lined up against him (as nearly every paper and station endorsing Harper shows) to the point where the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council said that journalistic ethics were violated (<A href="http://www.canada.com/News/slapped+broadcasting+Dion+outtakes/1636198/story.html&quot; target="_blank"><a href="http://www.canada.com/News/slapped+broadcasting+D…” target=”_blank”>http://www.canada.com/News/slapped+broadcasting+D

        Under those circumstances, to say that anything less than a decisive majority is a "lukewarm" reception is, if anything, overstating how welcome Harper was.

      • Let's be truly honest, Wayne.

        Harper's party had a united right, more funds available, the choice of the election timing, a left split three or four ways depending on your province, Stephane Dion proposing a carbon tax that he wasn't able to explain clearly, and the Canadian media lined up against him (as nearly every paper and station endorsing Harper shows) to the point where the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council said that journalistic ethics were violated (see: http://www.canada.com/News/slapped+broadcasting+D… ).

        Under those circumstances, to say that anything less than a decisive majority is a "lukewarm" reception is, if anything, overstating how welcome Harper was.

  24. Meant to write "perfectly symmetrical SITUATION".

  25. I've said this before about this book, but it can never be said enough:

    The book is based on an event that was held at the University of Toronto Law School in December 2008 with many of the contributors, which was a great educational experience in one way: it showed you what the inside of a Liberal caucus would sound like. Same type of authors in this book: Bob Rae's good friend David Cameron; Lorraine Weinrib, who doesn't publish scholarly articles, because she's too busy giving media interviews explaining the evvvvvvvil of conservatives all the time (nothing like a spousal-hire to tell you about how bad Harper is for feminism); Lorne Sossin, who published an article comparing Stephen Harper to Robert Mugabe months before the alleged parliamentary crisis; Michael Ignatieff publicist Michael Valpy; Stephane Dion's fishing buddy Peter Russell… and so on. As for these academics attitude toward the general public: try to find a webcast of the Liberal rally (sorry "panel") on which this book was based. At one point in the Q&A they were asked about recently released polls showing widespread opposition to the coalition, a dramatic upsurge in Tory support, etc. Almost all of the panelists ignored the question – finally, Bob Rae responded by saying something too evasive to quote (this was when he was still claiming to be in "fight on" mode – the next day he conceded to Iggy!), then David Cameron said something to the effect of "well, people just don't know what's good for them". That was interesting, because Cameron and Rae took us down that path before: the Charlottetown Accord, which Cameron and his buddies helped put together, and then had his buddy Rae, then the Ontario premier, become the main P.R. guy for (if Canada doesn't accept the Accord, the country will fall apart, etc.). So these guys are old hands at giving the finger to public opinion when they think they've got a country to save. But you know what, guys? We didn't need Charlottetown, and we don't need Stephane Dion either.

    • You receive the award for longest, most gossipy, worst argued, and most cross-posted comment.