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The Madness: Democrats vs Parliamentarians


 

As we lead up to the return of the House, battle lines are being drawn over the legitimacy of the forgotten-but-not-dead coalition. Two clear positions have emerged: On the one side, there is a group we can call the Democrats. The Democrats believe that while the coalition may be constitutionally  ok in a narrow, legal sense, it violates basic principles of democratic legitimacy. Two prominent Democrats are Michael Bliss and Norman Spector.

On the other side are the Parliamentarians. This group — which includes almost every academic in the country — points out that we elected a parliament, not a party or a president; that parliamentary coalitions are unremarkable in all sorts of civilied countries; and that Harper’s Conservatives had clearly lost the confidence of the House, with a stable government waiting to take over.

At the start, I was a staunch Parliamentarian, and I took Harper to task for claiming that the coalition was an attempt to overturn the results of the last election. I believed the coalition was politically a Bad Idea, but both constitutionally sound and democratically legitimate. I have changed my mind. I am now a Democrat; I have become persuaded by the arguments of men like Professor Bliss — whose piece on the Madness was the best thing he’s written in years — and finally of Richard Van Loon, who has a finely argued piece in today’s OC. Here’s the best part:

So what really makes a coalition legitimate?

International precedents suggest three conditions. One is that the country faces a compelling national emergency, usually a major war. A second, broadly applicable in less troubled times, is that voters must know in advance that they are voting for potential members of a coalition, one which will govern if its members can claim a majority of seats in the legislature immediately after the election. A third is that a party with a plurality, already in government or immediately after an election, forms the coalition and immediately seeks support of the legislature. But as the New Zealand experience in the late 1990s suggests the latter is not always a successful strategy. Stable coalitions in peacetime are virtually always underpinned by the results of an election in which voters were aware of the possibility of their formation.

The current coalition agreement in Canada does not meet any of these tests…

My interview with Peter Russell, who disagrees with me on this, will appear soon.


 

The Madness: Democrats vs Parliamentarians

  1. So much moralizing about power. It’s funny, really.

    Let’s just hand the whole damn thing over to the Boy Scouts and be done with it.

    • Being a leader within Scouts Canada, I must say that while we have a really good program for boys and girls, I can’t say with confidence that we can run the federal government, nor do we want to.

      Don’t forget, the vast, vast majority of us are volunteers. :P

      • LOL! but I must say…

        “…I can’t say with confidence that we can run the federal government…”

        doesn’t make you any different from anyone else we’re stuck with. Admitting it only puts you a leg up in the race so be warned.

    • I agree that Michael Bliss’s article was superb. Everyone should go and read it.

      The most important thing though is this: the Coalition is political poison in English Canada.

      Say it after me: P-o-l-i-t-i-c-a-l P-o-i-s-o-n. Whether it is constitutional or politically legitimate if a trifle in comparaison. That the Liberal Party of Canada would offer political power to the Bloc Qubecois who wish to destroy Canada is as low as it gets for a federal political party. I’m sure Duceppe fell off his chair when he got the call – but he was licking his lips immediately thereafter.

      The Liberals did well to get rid of Dion since this political atrocity happened under his watch. But why is Mr. Ignatieff still pussy-footing with the Separatists. For Shame! For Shame!

      Mr. Ignatieff, Mr. Ignatieff, tear up that agreement with the Separatists or you will share the fate of your hapless predecessor, and deservedly so!

  2. The current coalition agreement in Canada does not meet any of these tests…

    Invent a test and then declare the something doesn’t pass it: what a neat trick. It’s great to be an academic.

    There isn’t much to argue here. What is constitutionally acceptable and democratically legitimate is as far as we can all go, since that is all that’s require to satisfy the legal and moral requirements of our brand of representative democracy.

    I’d argue that a coalition of parliamentarians representing a majority of seats and the popular vote is more legitimate than a minority. And once again, the only thing Canadians vote for individually is an MP and collectively elect a Parliament.

    The pointy-headed are over-thinking this. But they’re only talking to each other anyway, so it hardly matters.

    • “Invent a test and then declare the something doesn’t pass it: what a neat trick. It’s great to be an academic.”

      I believe that Mr. Potter stated that the Parliamentarian position is supported by nearly every academic in the country. They didn’t invent the test. Fortunately, Mr. Bliss is not representative of the majority of academics in this country.

    • Ti guy, the coalition does not pass the test of common sense. Gilles Duceppe would have been co-prime minister. He may not have sat in cabinet but everything the coalition govt wanted to do would have required his ok. Duceppe and the Bloc are separatists. The separatists have demonstrated their seriousness through two referendums on secession. They do not want to be a part of this country, have no interest in its governance, they do not see people outside Quebec as fellow citizens. I do not trust such people, I do not want them having a hand in governing the country. We’ve demonstrated our respect for Quebecers’ democratic rights in allowing the two referendums whereas most countries would have sent in the army. All I am asking for in return is fairness and respect for my own rights. One such right is to have people in government that want to be part of this country and see me as a fellow citizen. Is such a right in the Charter? Does it matter? What matters is the legitimacy of the government in the eyes of the people it governs. Including separatists impairs that legitimacy.

  3. Invent a test and then declare the something doesn’t pass it: what a neat trick. It’s great to be an academic.

    or a practitioner of common law.

    • But this isn’t a court case…yet. If the coalition ever came to pass and a legal challenge was mounted and ran all the way up to the Supreme Court, the arguable issues we have before us would be settled only then. If we imagine the SCC devised the same test and decided that the coalition didn’t meet it, only then would I accept it because this is a matter of law, not some inescapable reality.

  4. Good post Andrew, and an excellent, well thought out article that you linked to. A perfect summation of why I find this idea of the coalition wrestling power from the Conservatives without an election “undemocratic”.

    If, however, another election were to be held, with the full knowledge of Canadians that anything short of a CPC majority would mean Harper would not get confidence of the House, and a coalition government led by the Liberals and including the BQ would take power, that would for me settle any questions of democratic legitimacy once and for all.

    • Fortunately, legal democratic legitimacy isn’t a function of your (or my) satisfaction.

    • That wouldn’t be an election. If framed like that, it’s more like a referendum, since the outcome is predefined in a yes-no context on a single issue.

  5. I am definitely a Democrat when it comes to this issue. I think the Coalition was dubious, at best, when it come to the question of being legal because there are no other instances in Westminster history of a Coalition with less seats than the party they are usurping.

    Most of the precedents and conventions that our pols follow are unwritten but they are supposed to obey them regardless. These clowns decided the rules didn’t apply to them so they made a grab for power and were thoroughly spanked for it.

    And a good way to destroy the legitimacy of Parliament is to behave in ways that people don’t approve of. Parliamentarians can cry all they want about how the Coalition was technically legal but Parliament would quickly lose legitimacy if it doesn’t follow accepted standards and behaviours.

    • Can you in good conscience assert to us all here today that you would have rejected SHPM if he had been successful when it was PMPM?

      • Yes. I am conservative/libertarian and my con beliefs are focused mainly on how important institutions are to the fabric of society. My main objection to Coalition, or the governance agreement as Jennings likes to refer to it, was that it was going against the will of the people and that wouldn’t change no matter which party/PM tried to usurp power.

        Geiseric TL

        Give me one example from any country using Westminster style of government where Coalition with less seats took over governing from party with more seats.

        • The coalition would have 163 seats, 20 more than the Conservatives.

          Your request is irrelavent.

          • Don’t know where you get that number from since BQ were not part of the Coalition.

          • “Don’t know where you get that number from since BQ were not part of the Coalition.”

            That’s where you’re wrong. The Bloc wouldn’t be part of government. As long as they keep their word they’re part of the coalition.

            That’s their choice.
            No law against that.

            All the wordplay in the world won’t change the true balance of power.

          • Geiseric – ???. You are saying that the BQ are part of the coalition, whose sole intent is to form the government, yet the BQ will not have any role in the government. And in return for not being part of the government, the BQ would donate their seats to the government.

            I’ve seen people argue that the BQ were in it, and others argue that the BQ were not in it, yet you are the first I’ve seen to argue both at the same time.

    • “there are no other instances in Westminster history of a Coalition with less seats than the party they are usurping”

      hogwash. The coalition has the seats it needs to carry a majority. That “the party they are usurping” (belch) would have more seats than that defies logic. How the coalition chooses to form Cabinet is their business.

    • So… would you be OK if the NDP and BQ, en masse, crossed the floor to join the Liberal party?

      How is that any more or less legitimate than a coalition of the parties?

      • Well, for starters, if they were one party, then they would have one leader and one platform, rather than 3 leaders and 3 platforms. And they would actually agree with each other a lot of the time.

        You know what, why on earth has nobody thought of this before – all four parties could join into one party. They would have 100% of the seats and they would all be in the government. There would be no losers: only winners. What a brilliant idea. And democratically legitimate.

    • Liar. Ontario. 80’s

      • If that’s directed to me, are you referring to Lib/NDP coalition with 73 seats against Cons with 52?

  6. I don’t think there was any question whether it was legal. Whether it was reflective of the democratically expressed will of the people is another question (which I don’t think is so easy). While I think that a coalition probably wouldn’t work out all that well, it has been more than useful enough just to make Harper and his crew a bit more humble so they can stop acting like a bunch of stupid frat boys.

    • Jack Layton is a frat boy. Literally:

      Sigma Chi Fraternity, Beta Omega (Ryerson/U of T) Chapter ’68.

      I’m a ‘frat boy’ as well (in the same fraternity in fact), and I take offence to that last remark of yours. I think movies and pop culture in general have irreversibly coloured the judgements people cast over fraternities as a whole. I don’t think that participating in Meals on Wheels, fundraising for the Children’s Miracle Network and supporting our local youth centre qualifies as ‘stupid’.
      Granted, there are bad apples in our midst and they receive the majority of the attention in the press, but that doesn’t make it permissible to cast judgment over the entire social group. I hear it’s called a ‘stereotype’ in some circles.
      I know this was a bit of a non-sequitur rant… In any case, I’m in the democrat camp.

      • Vince L, I believe Andrew qualified it and said ‘stupid’ frat boys.

        Perhaps you were not one of them.

      • Get off the cross, Jesus. Or, go pull a bus or something. Those frat stereotypes from movies are exactly the ‘stupid frat boys’ I was referring to. In my experience in real life, frats tend to be filled with overweening egomaniacs who want to be prime minister one day–I wonder if people like Pollievre or Baird were ever members of a fraternity.

        • I think that having ambition and a sense of direction in life can be a good thing, provided you’re not overzealous about it, which might have been the case with the people that you’ve met. Which, I think in a broad sense validates what I was saying above (and is also really unfortunate.)
          Anyway, not really here nor there, these comments are kind of off topic hehe.

          P.S. You’ll have to forgive my ignorance, but I don’t get the “go pull a bus” thing. Never heard it before.

          • It’s an event I’ve known frats to run to raise money for charity. It symbolizes to me how the point of the endeavour is not to help anyone else, but rather stroke one’s own ego.

  7. Well, I guess if Himself didn’t cut-and-run in a dubiously legitimate manner we’d all be in a position to know rather than opionate and speculate.

  8. I’ll respectfully disagree with your framing of the debate as between “democrats” and “parliamentarians,” on two grounds.

    First, in my opinion, it is strikingly inconsistent for the “democrat” opponents of the proposed coalition to rely on a convention of parliamentary democracy – specifically, that the party with a plurality in parliament necessarily has prior claim to form a government – to bolster their argument that the proposed coalition lacked democratic legitmacy. Would this argument have held water amongst the “democrats” if, as our electoral system allows, the Tories had obtained their plurality in Parliament with fewer votes than the Liberals? This is not a trivial point: you may recall that in the 1998 provincial election we in Quebec were subjected to five additional years of PQ majority rule even though the Libs beat the PQ in the popular vote.

    Second, it is entirely arguable that the proposed coalition did/does have “democratic legitimacy” inasmuch as its members represented the democratic will of 43% or so of the popular vote, as versus 37% for the Tories. It is quite true that no Canadian voted specifically for the proposed coalition government, or for the precise grab bag of policies that made up its proposed policy agenda. It is also true that nobody voted specifically for the precise grab bag of policies that was contained in Minister Flaherty’s Fall economic statement, or for the as-yet-unveiled grab bag of policies that will make up the Jan. 27 budget.

    In other words, this isn’t a debate between democrats and parliamentarians. We’re all democrats, and we’re all cafeteria Parliamentarians. Perhaps it’s somewhat more realistic to say that the debate is between a strict Schumpeterian model of democracy-as-marketplace-for-selection-of-ruling-elites (which I have always found to be distasteful), and a more classical, Aristotelian view of democracy-as-deliberation-of-common-good. But frankly I’m not even sure that one holds up, as in both the media and the House the public “debate” (I use that word with tongue in cheek) centred on whether Canada should be allowed to be ruled by a coalition of “separatists and socialists” (that the proposed coalition was demonstrably neither separatist nor socialist is another matter…), thus reflecting a concern for the common good at least as much as concern for leadership.

    Bottom line, framing this as a debate between democrats and parliamentarians doesn’t hold up. It also implicitly posits that coalition supporters are anti-democratic, which is both untrue and unfair.

    Please try again.

    • AMEN to that.

  9. What the Van Loon article does not speak to, and I do not know the answer to, is how many countries where coalitions are more clearly on the landscape, were they the first time a coalition took power (e.g., did the first NZ coalition party to take power make explicit that it would do so prior to the immediate previous election?). This is an important point. If not, this criteria is overstated. Though an argument could be made it already is given, as others have pointed out it is an arbitrary condition added after the fact and that given that coalitions fall well within the parameters of the Westminster system, and that there are international precedents in Westminster and other parliamentary systems, voters should have been aware coalitions are implicitly a possibility. Ignorance of the law is not a defense in any other facet of our society.

    More broadly I have real concern that people are trying to carve out a second level of legitimacy on this that goes beyond the actual rules. Andrew this goes back to your argument distinguishing input and output legitimacy. You argued “…I’m inclined to think that output legitimacy has priority. That is, a certain institutional design will only be (input) legitimate to the extent to which it tends on the whole (note the hedging here) to produce acceptable (that is, output-legitimate) outcomes.”

    As i posted then, and still believe, the natural extension of this thinking is that the rules apply if we like the outcome and they don’t when we don’t get our way. Does anything go as long as the outcome is acceptable? How quickly can the rules be dropped? Are there any situations where the rules can’t be dropped even if don’t like the outcome? How do we distinguish? Who gets to pick?

    Of course a system where we do everything by the ‘institution’ and that system consistently or exclusively produces undesirable results is unattractive. But, should we not be oft the mind that purposeful evolution is important rather then ‘cherry picking’ results we like?

    • Hear hear! You’ve succinctly summed up my discomfort with the argument that the coalition should not be allowed by the GG, etc.

      • ditto

  10. For all its worth, we might as well argue that the election itself was illegal, since there was a law (admittedly, a constitutionally incoherent one that is now invalid) in place that should have prevented it in the first place.

  11. “One is that the country faces a compelling national emergency, usually a major war…

    The current coalition agreement in Canada does not meet any of these tests…”

    I might qualify the current economic disaster as a national emergency.

    • As in, “you can pass some of the tests all of the time, and all of the tests some of the time, but you cannot pass all of the tests all of the time?”

  12. I would add one more condition – no talk of a coaltion immediately after an election which after all only displays the parties unwillingness to listen to the voters. It is a form of highstakes strategy only and has nothing whatsoever to do with confidence in the gov’t or anything else except political advantage. This idea was and is clearly rejected by more than one poll of canadians who saw it for what it was. The real reason for caution is investigating the history of them in Canada (not other countries as such examples never work and are never accurate) check out BC as one example and I would bet my next paycheque that anyone with the memory of any sense at all would see clearly that we BC’ers are still paying the consequences of our terrible experience with such an idea. Strangely enough though the party that starts the coaltion always seems to end up disappearing not long after – which I think is the real reason you will see slow and steady retreat from such a ridiculous xconcept. Because folks ask yourself this if I were an NDP, LPC or BQ and all of a sudden all were in agreement then = what the hell is the point of separate parties? Why not just fold 2 of them up and admit that the parties obvioulsy never stood for anything to begin with – nope I am afraid such an idea is a form of mental myopia!

    • As in the PC-Reform merger?

    • What?

    • “I would add one more condition – no talk of a coaltion immediately after an election which after all only displays the parties unwillingness to listen to the voters.”

      This position essentially gives a government carte blanche to do whatever it wants to do immediately after an election, regardless of how deplorable the action might be, whether it made clear its intentions in the election or not, or any other consideration that we might want parliament to contemplate in holding a government to account.

    • “I would add one more condition – no talk of a coaltion immediately after an election which after all only displays the parties unwillingness to listen to the voters.”

      Wayne, you might want to rethink that one since your own party TWICE attempted to do that very thing.

  13. Just like the Ontario Liberal and NDP parties merged shortly after their experience with coalition government. Oh, wait–all three parties have held government since that time.

  14. a few notes:
    – while the argument could be made that previously misunderstandings and confusions as to how our parliamentary system works meant there was a conflict between the prospect of a coalition government and the will of the electorate, this argument is increasingly unavailable as Canadians learn about our system of parliamentary democracy.
    – while the polling coming out of this drama indicated strong support for the government’s positions, I don’t think this trend can be maintained as it was contingent on a situation that is no longer the case (a state of confusion and misunderstanding regarding how parliamentary democracy works).
    – the anti-coalition/conservative rallies managed to successfully disguise the partisan nature of the dispute by framing the discussion in terms of regional antagonism and mistrust. This was accomplished with little difficulty precisely because the two sets of positions, conservative partisanism and conservative regionalism, are essentially compatible in Canada, where, as you well know, the overwhelming majority of the conservative movement is based in the West.
    -the coverage of the anti-coalition rallies was perhaps somewhat misleading because a vast majority of those in attendance at these events were hyper partisan conservative members, who had been called up and organized by their local cheerleaders. The optic of the event was of spontaneous outbusts of concerned Canadians speaking out against the silencing of their democratic voice. It took very little scratching beneath the surface to see the true blue color beneath this sentiment, but a superficial viewing of this media coverage could well miss this. I doubt I am the only one who found the construction of this optic audacious to the extent that a formula became clear, essentially equating membership in the conservative party with legitimate patriotism.
    – As for the notion that there are democrats (concerned with protecting the democratic will of the people) and parliamentarians (concerned with conforming to a system of government) I can’t swallow it, frankly, without wincing. I can’t swallow this argument any more than I could swallow the argument that ‘the true and spontaneous canadian grassroots sentiment’ happened to confirm the conservative position entirely. I would wager that this distinction, between democrats (looking out for the public interest) and parliamentarians (trying to play the system against the democratic will of the people), would be warmly recieved and agreed upon as a valid characterization of the dispute at the anti-coalition rallies, but the support would be much more soft and mixed elsewhere and at the pro-coalition rallies. To be fair, the above referenced article is far more subtle than simply reflecting the imposition of an interpretation from one side in this, but let’s not overstate the subtlety. The fundamental distinction it makes conforms more to the understandings and narrratives of one clearly identifiable side in all this. It is entirely unremarkable to me, then, that the author concludes his argument by saying the coalition proposal lacked legitimacy.

    • I have to agree that it is the nature of the expression of democratic process within systems of government that is really the issue. To label yourself ‘Democrat’ you must first be a ‘Parliamentarian’ or ‘Board Member’ or ‘Unionist’, etc. To say that democratic process by itself can reform the structures within which it operates sets up a strawman argument that makes the Democrat position indefensible. Either we see voter apathy as the ‘one vote’ of the individual takes on it’s true character of meaninglessness or we see Dogma stepped up to control democratic expression within political parties or boards.

  15. Andrew leans heavily on Richard Van Loon’s absorbing piece in today’s Ottawa Citizen. I take Van Loon’s main point to be this: for a coalition to be legitimate, voters need to know at election time that the parties they are voting for might enter into one.

    It’s a reasonable test in a democracy, and one the Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition clearly fails. But the discussion can’t end there. To take this as the last word would be to suggest that the opposition parties must act responsibly, within the bounds of tradition, but the governing party need not.

    Follow Van Loon’s logic. He doesn’t contend that cooking up a coalition after an election isn’t allowed in our parliamentary system. There’s no rule against it. It’s only by surveying what normally happens in democracies that he arrives at the sensible conclusion that this sort of ad hoc, post-election coalition-forming just isn’t done.

    Yet isn’t there an equally strong tradition about how minority governments must act? They must propose legislation that stands a reasonable chance of being supported by enough opposition MPs to pass. Again, there’s no rule against behaving otherwise. It’s just that looking at the history of minorities teaches us they must behave this way.

    What happens when a minority proposes actions it knows no opposition party supports? Normally that government expects to be defeated and thrown into an election. That’s the way our Parliament normally works. In the case of the fall economic update statement, however, the Conservatives were neither genuinely willing to either face voters again so soon after the Oct. 14 election, nor prepared to try persuading enough opposition MPs to their point of view to pass the proposed measures.

    Instead, the Tories were betting that the opposition parties would bow to their will, rather than plunge the country into yet another costly, untimely, unwelcome campaign. In doing so, the government ignored the traditions and arithmetic realities that must guide minority rule, all on the basis of a rather crass calculation that its rivals wouldn’t dare force an election.

    I leave it to others to argue about whether the coalition was the appropriate response to this provocation. But let’s keep in mind that this episode did not begin with the opposition parties trying to defy the will of the voters. It started when the Conservatives did so by recklessly ignoring the limitations any minority government must accept as a reflection of its true level of electoral support.

    • I agree with you up to a point but you leave out the fact that Cons withdrew the offending measures, after the oppo made their objections clear, but Coalition decided to go ahead with their attempt at usurpation of power regardless.

      • The stripped-down Fiscal Update that may as well have been written on toilet paper so it had a use. They made the right choice.

      • From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of Usurp:

        1 a: to seize and hold (as office, place, or powers) in possession by force or without right b: to take or make use of without right 2: to take the place of by or as if by force

        There was nothing usurpatious about this. Using that word is simply provocative.

        • Provocative?

  16. The “Democrats” are actually advocating a version of a Presidential system, or perhaps more accurately Semi-Presidential in which the leader of the party with the most seats becomes “President” and names the cabinet. Parliament as a whole can dismiss the cabinet but this then must force an election.
    This however is not the Westminster system and just as the NDP and Liberals did not run as a coalition, Harper did not run as a President.
    I would happily agree that the coalition has issues with Parliamentary precedent and norms. However, the Harper government also played fast and loose with these same established norms in terms of tying inappropriate legislation to money bills, behaviour in committees etc. So we had a government that rendered itself democratically illegitimate through its actions, leading to a response from the opposition that was also democratically illegitimate.
    This is likely to be an increasing problem in the Canadian system with one party that is explicitly regional, 3 significant other parties with regional strengths and gaps, and with a 5th party that is truly national but too weak to elect any members. As a result, in the current situation majority governments are likely to be rare. An important component of the answer to making Parliament work with the current reality has to be to strengthen and improve the roles of individual members of Parliament, and codify those improvements to prevent cabinet from running roughshod over them.

  17. Perhaps in the context of this piece the GG HAS already ruled on the legitimacy of the coalition and just maybe her decision will turn out to be the wisest course after all. Can’t say, as others have already have, i like the dems vs parls demarcation, just too convenient and distasteful- we’re all democrates. Back to the GG. If she made it clear to the PM – no election, go and regain he confidence of the house or else. [ enter coalition centre stage ] Then she will have effectively solved this legality/ legitimacy dilemma. The rest is up to the politicians [ the weakest part of my arguement, but you gotta work with what you got eh! ] And to think i use to be in favour of getting rid of our share of the monarchy as a way of bringing Quebec on board that didn’t involve any money changing hands. Still if she and i are wrong we may need to do that anyway.

  18. I’m a staunch Parliamentarian, seeing as how we live in a parliamentary democracy. The rules, as they currently stand, do not include any of Bliss’s tests. The only test worth considering is “Does the Governor General think this is better for the country?”

    Now, that being said, Potter’s original argument in favor of the coalition was poorly made. In particular he is using a false premise with this: “Harper’s Conservatives had clearly lost the confidence of the House, with a stable government waiting to take over.”
    The coalition was in no way going to be “stable”. The fact that it apparently imploded over Christmas holidays makes this pretty clear.
    Also, I would argue that the Conservatives had not lost the confidence of the House. Rather, we now know that Layton was planning a coalition when the opportunity arose, and this seemed like the right moment to pull the trigger. It had nothing to do with confidence, and everything to do with timing.

    The argument against the coalition is not based on what the voters did or did not think when we cast our ballots: if we voted in ignorance of our own system then we get what we deserve. The argument, rather, is based on whether the coalition is in fact stable, and is in fact a reflection of loss of confidence within the House. And only the Governor General can make the call on these.

  19. Too bad Mr. Van Loon never heard of the Anybody But Conservatives movement, for whom which a coalition was certainly considered as a possibility of what their voting outcomes might engender, and a desirable one at that.

    So unless Mr. Van Loon is arguing that in order to pass the first test every single voter must be aware of the possibility of coalition, the coalition passes that test.

    The second test, of a national emergency, is passed if one considers the collapse of the economy of our largest trading partner in a time of economic recession to be of the character of a national emergency. Quite a few people do seem to think these times are worthy of “emergency” behavior.

    So that’s two of the three tests met already. The third one is exactly what will happen, except that it doesn’t involve any single party with a plurality, but rather the cooperation of three parties.. the essence of parliamentary democracy.

    • “Too bad Mr. Van Loon never heard of the Anybody But Conservatives movement”

      That’s just weak. Perhaps voters actually took Dion at his word when he said no to the idea of a coalition during the election. Afterall, isn’t it the Conservatives who are supposed to have the hidden agenda?

    • I’m sorry, but a recession is not a national emergency. Get a grip.

      The “Anybody But Conservatives” was a movement? I think it was a bunch of people in a garage. There was one blow-hard and one web site, resulting in the loss of 3 seats. You call that a movement?

  20. Whether a coalition is legitimate or not is something that is decided at election time by the people of Canada. That’s the beauty of our system, representative democracy: no one can flout the People’s Will with impunity because they know they will be held accountable, i.e. no one wants to commit political suicide. But it’s up to our elected representatives to decide what’s what, for the common good and more particularly for their own good, in the interim. Academics’ and pundits’ opinions may alter public perception of legitimacy (marginally, in my view), but they have no power to determine it. That happens during elections.

  21. “One [test for coalition legitimacy] is that the country faces a compelling national emergency, usually a major war.”

    This is utterly specious, because we are not talking about a coalition between the two major governing parties. Such coalitions are only used in national emergencies because they cancel a fundamental aspect of our system: opposition criticism. In the case of this proposed coalition, the NDP is not one of the two major parties: as the Tories are never tired of repeating, they would, as Opposition, have a plurality of seats in the House.

    • “as the Tories are never tired of repeating, they would, as Opposition, have a plurality of seats in the House.”

      so?

      • So the fundamental principle of Opposition criticism would not be violated — it wouldn’t be a coalition in the sense of a wartime coalition in which the major parties all gang up to save the nation etc. etc. Thus there is no need for an extreme situation to justify coalition government. Van Loon’s schtick, as quoted by Potter, is very wide of the mark.

        • The only fundamental principle that matters is if you carry the majority of votes in the house you keep power.

          everything else is bullshit.

          • Well, that’s the most important one, but I think it’s an important convention that there should be a Government on one side of the House and a Loyal Opposition on the other. Balfour, for instance, declined to form a coalition government with the British Liberals at the outbreak of WWI on those grounds.

          • “there should be a Government on one side of the House and a Loyal Opposition on the other”

            OIC. On that point I’ve no argument.

            afa having a plurality goes, convention is that gives you dibs, not keepsies.

          • Oh, I quite agree. I just meant that there’s no question of the Tories being a major party in the House, what with their seat-count. In 1993 it would have been different, I suppose.

          • “In 1993 it would have been different, I suppose.”

            At which point, if I recall, they could have been usurped by a tandem bicycle with a child seat.

  22. Doesn’t your entire argument assume that I elected my MP to be in Opposition and not in gvernment? I didn’t.
    I voted for my MP to send her to Parliament to govern. Whether she does so with the support of 20, 50, or 200 of her coleagues is irrelevant to me as long it has the support of Parliament and is legally valid. Whether that pursuit of power compromises the principles she ran on, or is stupid, or unpopular, or subsequently not to my liking is something I can express my opinion on afterwards, either directly, publicly, or at the ballot box next time around.

    In a 308 seat Parliament, what makes a government caucus of 153 any less legitimate than a government of 175, as long as it is getting the support of 154 MPs on its Bills, etc. And if a government of 153 is legitimate (which it is) than so is a government of 120, or for that matter a government of 112, etc. provided it is always obtaining the support of 154 votes (a majority) in the House.

  23. Mr. Potter, can you put me in a third pigeon-hole, please? The one labelled “Parliamentary Democrat.” The one that says that a stupid idea like this example of a coalition is nonetheless legitimate, because it is not illegal. After all, it is a collection of legitimately elected MPs hatching it. I don’t happen to like it because I don’t find it a reasonable collection of MPs to attempt to govern. But my mistrust of this collection cannot overrule its obvious legitimacy.

    A governing party in a minority Parliament can lose the confidence of the House. Cool. The GG can ask an alternate assemblage of MPs to govern if they can secure confidence. Cool. The twisted knickers of the party with the plurality is irrelevant. The outrage of Canadians is irrelevant. If this beast secures confidence, it governs. Canadians only get to “punish” this monstrosity at the next election. Dem’s de rules.

    And if we don’t like that our Constitution legitimizes something that is bad for the country, we have a way to fix that.

    So I can thoroughly detest something while defending its legitimacy. Will you open up this lonely third category, please? Many thanks.

    • And can I sit with him? I’ll be alone on the TGV home afterward, though.

    • You’ve been reading Voltaire. Anyway i’m pretty much with you. It’s no secret i despise SH and all who sail in him but i’m not much found of suicide either.[ political or otherwise] I’m not a politician so ican’t for the life of me understand why H didn’t throw up his hands and say, ” she’s all yours boys, i’ll see you larer at the polls when i pick up my majority”

      • “ican’t for the life of me understand why H didn’t throw up his hands and say, ” she’s all yours boys, i’ll see you larer at the polls when i pick up my majority”

        That’s a good point if you assume he assumed 18 months of coalition would work in his favour.

        • C’mon he was facing Dion, why wouldn’t it. Still a week is…

          • “why wouldn’t it”

            ooh

            umm

            hmmm

            I’m stumped

            you’ll have to ask Harper that one.

            fwiw, my take on the whole thing generally ends with a “they can if she lets them but they better know what they’re doing”.

      • Because he didn’t want the books opened.

        • I’ll second that notion

    • Wow, maybe we need a little more room in this pigeon-hole. Welcome, friends.

      And I just read Mr. Wherry quoting the honourable Daryl Kamp with not-too-dissimilar thoughts.

      I better offer to buy the first round before it gets too crowded.

    • Add me, I think.

    • Slot me in under that third category, svp.

    • a little late, but I’ll go with this option too.

      and nothing to do with someone offering to buy drinks, not that I’d turn one down rightaboutnow.

      • You must admit it’s amazing what happens when someone offers to shout a round? Now where is that bugger gone to?

    • I’m close to this “Parliamentary Democrat.” position, with one caveat.I think it would have been a legitimate coalition if Duceppe had put his signature on the document going before the GG, and if there was one agreement, not a Lib-NDP agreement along with a Lib-BQ agreement. I also share the disgust at the thought of such a government.

  24. I think these tests are useful to set guidelines for the next election. It is clear that successive minority governments have forever changed the nature of Parliament so these musings by academics are quite helpful while writers such as Potter here adjust to the new Canada. It is undoutable that Canada will have a coalition government after the next election.

    The thing to remember about change is that hindsight is 20/20. So taking one of the tests, the first, allow me to prove it ahead of time!

    1) The country faces a compelling national emergency.

    Poverty is the compelling national emergency facing Canada. The threats of it are whispered in the media yet the power brokers who play the political trends know the threat is real.

    Evidence:
    Flaherty’s enticements to the banks to lend.
    Mounting home foreclosures in Canada.
    Instability of the manufacturing sector.
    Instability of our dollar beside US dollar.
    Zero gains in the average wage for 25 years.
    Uncontrolled price inflation of staple goods like food.
    Layton’s promise of 5000 family doctors
    Lib/NDP promises to adjust the primary tax base away from income to a carbon/green model.
    Mounting social deficits due to the failures of social spending (education, health, aboriginal success).
    Unprecedented bounty offered to Charity organizations this year.

    The value of this exercise is to show the trends leading up to the threat of the coalition government. While impossible to justisfy academically right now, these same trends will play out in the next election. The media have to be very savvy to show the true national emergency in it’s true colours, to voters. Crisis might ensue if Poverty is talked about openly as the threat to our countrie’s stability.

  25. Ti Guy says: “And once again, the only thing Canadians vote for individually is an MP and collectively elect a Parliament.”

    Really? I doubt it…I would wager that somewhere north of 90% of Canadians vote for a party, based on who they want to be the Prime Minister.

    The whole “vote for an MP” thing is a bit amusing actually…particularly considering most Canadians couldn’t name their MP…I hardly even looked at their names on the ballot.

    Also, someone stopped by my office during the ‘madness’ and started a sentence with “In the history of Canada…” Interesting I told him…what you say is accurate, but consider this, we don’t live in the history of Canada, we live in 2008..er 9..(dammit!)

    “The past is a foreign country..they do things differently there.” – someone smarter than me said that.

    Count me a Democrat.

    • considering most Canadians couldn’t name their MP…I hardly even looked at their names on the ballot.

      So you’re lazy then. Parties mean squat. They’re a short-hand for the lazy — and in many ways the antithesis of representative democracy. That most Canadians may do it doesn’t necessarily make it the correct thing. Hell, I’m hopeful this coalition will spark a rennaisance of people actually examining their local candidates — if only so that Rob Anders stops getting elected.

      • I think it’s a little snarky to say lazy…no?

        I researched the party platforms (really), watched the debates in both languages, and not the translations, and read the news pretty carefully, considering more than one source.

        In truth, I can name my MP, because I did know who it was before, and watched the returns on election day.

        I’m not lazy.

        That being said, given the relative powers of the PM, and the average backbench MP in a whipped parliament, well, why waste all the time researching your individual MP candidates views on thousands of issues (and how would we expect them to coherently formulate them)? I think I remember some guy saying that the average MP is a nobody some number of feet off Parliament Hill (metres surely?)

        Parties certainly don’t mean squat…that’s just foolish, and I suspect you’re smart enough to know it. They are not the antithesis of representative democracy..in fact, it’s probably the only way it will actually work…that’s most governments tend toward them. In what way can you envision a functioning executive (PMO + cabinet) without parties? – real ways, not pie-in-the-sky rainbows and ponies ways.

        By the way, I’d check the temperature of your coalition…I think rigor may be setting in.

    • KW – there’s a difference between who you voted for and who or what you based your vote upon. I could just as easily suggest that most people voted for an unrecognizable Conservative candidate as their MP on the basis that Laureen Harper cares for kittens. That doesn’t bestow nor remove legitimacy from our Parliamentary system.

      I’m a democrat and a parliamentarian. I voted for my MP, and if my democratically elected MP has enough support to get stuff passed in Parliament, then so be it.

      • You certainly could suggest that, except you’d be wrong. I expect you’d find that I’m not.

        Think of election time, ask your buddy the question “Who do you think will win?” (because it would be gauche to ask who they are going to vote for) what’s the answer? It’s “Harper” or, uhhh, “Dion”…I would bet that no one has ever had the following conversation:

        “Who do you think will win”

        “In the federal election? Well, I believe that in the riding of Backwater-Snowyville-Middle-of-Nowhere the winner will be Jo Blough”

        “Huh? What party is he?”

        “He’s a she…anyway, what difference what party she is? As long as she has enough support to get things passed…”

        “….” (The person that asked the original question has now moved away from the other person)

        • In my riding, lots of people were having that conversation, except it went a little more like this:

          “Who do you think will win?”

          “Well, I hope Linda Duncan will win, because she’s smart and motivated at the very least, whereas Rahim Jaffer’s a lazy ass who’s done sfa for this riding in the ten years he’s represented it.”

          “Yeah, me too. And it picks my ass that he’s hardly bothered to campaign this time around, like he thinks he’s entitled to the job or something.”

          “Yeah, or something. But Duncan’s NDP, isn’t she? Are you worried about that?”

          “I don’t think so, are you? Especially not when it’s a choice between that and some order-following Con-bot. I hate that crap.”

          “Yeah, really. Hey, as adult Canadians, let’s go somewhere and hoist one to parliamentary democracy.”

          “Yeah, republics can suck it! Let’s go!”

          • I would guess, from my door-knocking for Linda Duncan, that there were also a lot of conversations in Edmonton Strathcona that went like this:

            “Who do you think will win?”

            “There’s an election? I guess I’ll go vote for the Conservative then. Who is that, anyway? I’ll have another beer.”

      • Hey, don’t sweat it, folks who voted for party or leader instead of candidate. If some among us can actually declare with straight faces that their sole motivation to vote was so that their X determined which party gets a couple bucks per year…

    • I’d prefer to count you as an ignorant. And proud of it, by the looks of it.

      Lordy. A “democrat” who doesn’t even know the name of the candidate he’s voting for. We are truly screwed.

      • For the record, I knew who I was voting for…it was a bit of license.

        Nonetheless, the message remains the same.

        We are truly screwed?

        Here’s the truth my idealistic friends – in macro-political terms, the personal identity of a backbench MP is much less important than their party affiliation!!

        It’s a whipped parliament!

        Someone who believes that their MP is individually considering each vote based on their own personal platform is the one who’s ignorant…come on, seriously.

        I’m going to search for the actual quote..

        Here it is: “…when they are fifty yards from Parliament Hill, they are no longer honourable members – they are just nobodies..”

        Who was this ignoramus? I’ll leave it to you to guess.

        Cripes!

        I can just imagine you guys, standing around the watercooler during the campaign studiously avoiding talking about parties or ‘whichever random MP the GG may or may not select to be the Prime Minister’

        C’mon and join us here in the 21st century…the water’s fine.

        • The point is who has the authority to do what, KW, not who you may or may not or then again may well have thought you might have been voting for, all things considered, after consulting your buddy.

          • I think your keyboard is stuck.

            I may, or may not, but then again may (maybe not though) have any clue what you may or maybe not, but maybe did or may not have been trying to say.

          • The point is that it doesn’t matter if you thought you were voting for an extraterrestrial, a mermaid, or whatever, it’s what you were actually doing that counts. Even if you were conscientious as all hell about researching party platforms and doing 10 pushups on election day and whatnot.

      • By the way, disagreeing with you seriously does not equal ignorant.

        I say this having read lots of your previous posts…so I’m fairly informed on this.

        • I think Ti-Guy was saying that if you didn’t know who you voted for that would mean you’re ignorant… sounds about right to me.

          • Indeed I was. I’m not labouring under any idealistic delusions about how Parliament and political parties operate, but when it comes down to novel situations/crises like this past one, fundamental concepts and strictly legal definitions are what count.

        • Sure, granted. But the key thing is, what were you actually doing in the voting booth? You were choosing an MP. In the pre-minority era, that may have equated automatically to voting for a party, but these days the local representative nature of our system is to the fore.

          Anyway, if you voted Tory and the guy got in, there’s no problem. If you voted Tory and the Tory didn’t win, well, complain to your fellow electors. If you voted Liberal or NDP and the riding went Liberal or NDP but you didn’t plan for your chosen MP to be part of the government, the joke’s on you. Pick one.

          • Everyone!

            For the last time, yes, I know who I voted for.

            But, I live in Quebec. My options are: The separatist, or whoever is most likely to beat the separatist. So I consider the vote totals from the last election or two to see what party that is, and then DECIDE IF I WANT THAT PARTY TO FORM THE NEXT GOVERNMENT.

            If the answer is that I would not want that party under any circumstances, then I vote for the one I would rather have, even if that means the separatist is more likely to win.

            If I can accept the possibility of that party forming a government, then I vote to try an unseat the BQ candidate.

            It never happens anyway. It’s not even close.

            I think that the scenario above, which includes checking the platforms etc as noted, is hardly irresponsible, or ignorant, or lazy.

            I believe that it is a practical way to make a decision, given the circumstances. Agree? Good, now note – the names of the candidates does not appear in my scenario. Sure, there are some great constituency MPs, and I truly believe most MPs work much harder than people give them credit for, then there are cabinet ministers etc, who have name recognition.

            In the course of my work, I sometimes drive past a lonely sign bearing the name of the poor candidate in Lasalle. His name was apparently Stephane Dion. Does anyone believe he was running simply to be the MP from Lasalle? Would anyone say that by virtue of being returned to the house as the MP for Lasalle that Mr. Dion, uh, won? I rather think not.

            Be honest with yourself. Yes, the names of your local MPs are on the individual ballots…but people vote for PM…they just do.

            Wishing, or being conversant in constitutional arcana doesn’t change that fact. The polls ‘post-coalition’ bear out this truth, as does the GG’s decision to prorouge.

          • Well, a federalist in a non-federalist Quebec riding is a particular set of circumstances that not all of us are faced with.

          • I’m sure we’re all very sorry that you live in a BQ riding, but it’s honestly not our fault that your vote counts for nothing, KW. You could always move.

          • It’s a fine place to live, and on a daily basis, the party affliation of my parliamentary representatives doesn’t come up too much…(at least that I’ve noticed). There are Liberal (provincial, not federal) ridings nearby, and the schools/roads don’t seem any nicer…

            Anyway, I don’t remember complaining about the value of my vote, and doubt it’s reason enough to sell the house in this economic climate anyway…”Hey honey, we’re moving out, my vote’s worthless!” KOOONNNGGG! [that’s what I imagine the word is for the sound of a frying pan hitting my head]. All that to say, it’s all good.

            I will say this, that by virtue of the fact that I wasn’t further mercilously pounced on, you sort of grudgingly kind of admit that I at least may or may not (but then again may) be lazy and ignorant…hmm?

            Quick: Name the PM!

            Now name your MP!

            /You had to think about the second one, didn’tcha? Just a bit?
            //Yes you did…

          • I don’t think you’re lazy and ignorant at all, just that you want to have your cake and eat it too. You’re blurring the reasons you voted the way you did with the power you actually had in voting. That’s not ignorance, it’s sophistry.

  26. A few points in response to Rick’s piece on the Coalition in thee Ottawa Citizen:

    Germans did not vote for the current Christian Democrat/ Social Democrat “grand” coalition. Nor did the Belgians know what sort of coalition they might get when they went to the polls. In fact, during the life of a single Belgian parliament, coalitions tend to shift and change. There are many other examples, in many countries, of parties coalescing after an election without having promised to do so prior to the election.

    Plus, notwithstanding the factual accuracy or inaccuracy of the argument, I would note that the true measure of a coalition’s democratic legitimacy is not whether voters knew what political/structural arrangement they might be voting for. It is what policies citizens believed were voting for, or voting against.

    In that sense, the current putative Canadian coalition is proposing a policy suite that is perfectly consistent with the electoral platforms of the member parties.

    The Liberals have dropped their Green Shift and the NDPers their proposed corporate tax-cut rollbacks. But neither party has agreed to accept any measures that are in contradiction with the platforms on which they campaigned during the election campaign.

    In their November Fiscal Update, on the other hand, the Conservatives proposed all kinds of measures about which they uttered not a word during the campaign (eliminating the public sector right to strike, for instance). Now, the Conservatives are preparing to abandon all of those never-promised initiatives and will propose a whole new series of measures — again, most of which did not form part of their electoral program.

    Given that factual background, if the Government were to fall toward the end of January/early February, why would the Governor-General not look beyond a Prime Ministerial request for dissolution and another election? Even if public opinion were whipped up over a so-called “alliance with the separatists” and polls showed that many voters would be opposed to a coalition government — should a GG be governed by opinion polls?

    It seems to me that the more important determining factors would be:

    1) The amount of Parliamentary time elapsed ( If the government falls sometime shortly after the 26th of January Parliament will have only sat for about two weeks, maybe three);

    2) Is there a viable alternative government? (With the coalition arrangement the answer is yes);

    3) Which option, i.e., coalition government versus election, would likely cause the least harm? (A coalition could act on the economy right away — after an already unacceptable, government-forced prorogation delay. An election would delay action by at least another six weeks!)

    In addition, there is ample precedence in our Westminster system (at both the Canadian federal and provincial levels and in other countries, such as Australia) for a GG to refuse a Prime Minister’s request for dissolution, and to call on opposition parties to form a new Government when Parliament loses confidence in a Government.

    • Do you still, in your heart, believe that the coalition is still a viable alternative in government? – a stable alternative?

      Considering Mr. Dion didn’t last a fortnight beyond the famous ‘signing ceremony’ intended to make him Prime Minister, I wonder.

      Mr. Ignatieff has made noises about hoping the stimulus budget is good enough for him to support.

      He has a leadership convention coming up in May, and the Liberals, along with the NDP, are bankrupt (no?)

      Give me a couple of your ample examples of a *Canadian* precedent (we don’t live in Australia), at the federal level, of the GG’s refusal to dissolve…degree of difficulty – not King-Byng, because it ended badly…now throw into the mix the facts above, and simmer.

      Add as a garnish – the current government expanded its seat total in the recent election, are only 12 short of a majority, and polls show that those pesky plebes are heartily against the usurpers.

      And yes, I do believe that the Crown should be at least a little concerned with the overwhelming wishes of the people. I believe the function of the Crown should be at least in part to enforce the will of the people despite the actions of parliament when necessary, no? – and don’t give me the legalese, this is a practical matter.

  27. Go back to the parliamentarian side, Andrew. Van Loon’s “democratic” argument is based on describing a limited number of phenomena in the category of coalitions, and deriving criteria for all coalitions from this limited phenomenology. For instance, where is the consideration of coalitions where parties change partners without benefit of going back to their electorate for legitimacy for such a move, as in Germany in 1982?

    Poor metaphysics, and even worse as political science now pretending to be definitive and prescriptive.

    • KW
      If wishes were fishes… People may “think” they vote for their Pm, but that doesn’t change the “fact” that they don’t. They just don’t know it, most of them anyway.

      • Come now, it fundamentally changes the “fact”.

        Politicians who ignore that fact do so at their peril…they may well just educate the public enough to remember to vote “them” out of “office” at the next “opportunity” because they don’t like people who game the system to suddenly win something everyone was pretty certain they’d lost.

        Yes, yes, everyone should be more aware of the constitutional underpinnings of the parliamentary system, yes, yes, the words “Prime Minister” do not appear in the constitution, we get all that.

        But, what people “think” they’re doing absolutely matters. It’s the difference between de jure and de facto…ask a criminal lawyer about the importance of intent.

        Explain to a town hall meeting of angry voters in the next election that they may have thought they elected a Harper government, but actually what they’d done, see, is, er, elected a Dion/Layton government.

        It may be legal, but it doen’t pass the stink test.

        Voter intent matters…legitimacy: it’s one of those things I guess, hard to define, but you know it when you see it.

        • “Explain to a town hall meeting of angry voters”

          Conservatives are always angry. I really don’t care anymore.

        • OK, so we’ll take it as given that most people think they’re voting for the PM, and it’s the individual votes of the citizenry that matter, not the legal result (ie, which MP gets a plurality or majority in which riding.)

          Most people did not vote for the Conservative choice for PM.

          Hence, Mr. Harper has no legitimacy? Is that the result of your argument?

          • No….you’re going to feel silly in a second.

            There are more than two candidates for the job, right? (first past the post…)

            Here’s a list of Canadian Prime Ministers elected with less than 50.0% of the popular vote, results from http://www.nodice.ca

            McDonald (the guy on the purple money)
            Laurier (the guy on the blue money)
            Meighen
            King (the guy on the red money)
            Bennett
            Diefenbaker
            Pearson (the airport guy)
            Trudeau (another airport guy)
            Clark (chocolate bar guy? – oh, and shoes)
            Mulroney (also shoes…but in a different, less whimsical way)
            Chrétien
            Martin
            Harper

            NB – That’s about half of ’em…some not on the list were never elected, Campbell, Turner…some actually got majority votes, Tupper, Bowell, Borden (yeah, the brown money guy), etc.

            So, you were saying?

  28. I am sure it is a misprint. It must be Republicans vs. Parliamentarians, surely?

    • Greg, I think Potter was deliberate in using the term “democrats” and not “republicans.” If he admits that this position is in fact that of a “republican” and that “parliamentarians” are, by definition, also democrats, his entire argument goes out the window.

      This coalition is legitimate, legal and democratic. The leader of a Minority government MUST maintain the confidence of the House. The minute he loses it, it is the DUTY of the Opposition parties to form a coalition and replace it.

      Only a “republican” would think otherwise. Even Harper doesn’t believe this coalition to be illegitimate since he himself has attempted to form one in the past.

  29. Andrew,

    In addition to making the case (on cbc.ca) that the proposed coalition would lack democratic legitimacy, I’ve argued in the Globe and Mail that the opposition parties are on shaky constitutional grounds in proposing that the GG refuse a request for dissolution and hand the government over to them without an election.

    Norman

    • Well, that settles it, then.

    • OK, I tried to find the article, but couldn’t. A link would have helped, or a synopsis. Specifically, what “constitutional” grounds would apply? Conventions, maybe, but those same conventions would make room for grey areas.

      If the confidence vote had happend in December, how could she not at least give the coalition an opportunity to demonstrate it could carry the confidence of the House? I believe it is now argualble that enough time has passed and enough public opinion expressed and advice taken that she might come to a differnet conclusin, equally validly. But at the time, what possible constitutional reason could exist to support such a position?

      • It might be arguable that enough time has passed, but the time passed because of the prorogation delaying tactic, so I would say we’re back where we were a month ago in terms of the no-election handover clock, i.e. the prorogation “time out” shouldn’t count, constitutionally speaking. Of course, from the POV of public acceptance that Harper won the last election, every delay helps, a side benefit (for Harper) of the prorogation.

    • “democratic legitimacy”

      Not that I’m always that quick at picking up on the latest in catch phrases and all they connote in the minds of the better informed, but a party legally mustering the numbers it needs to best forward its agenda sounds pretty damn democratically legitimate to me.

      • If we elect a majority government let’s say in a regular vanilla-type election, and two weeks later the PM walks up to the scrum and says: ‘We’re going to invade Finland,’ then by the test of simply ‘having the numbers’ you would be OK with that? (for simplicity’s sake, assume the majority party is sufficiently wrangled.)

        Is that democratically legitimate? Or, would the voters be fair in saying – hey wait a minute, we didn’t elect you to do that!

        I think we’d have a right to expect someone (the Crown?) to put a stop to something like that, without having to wait 4-5 years to throw the bums out, no?

        Now OK, OK, it’s a silly scenario that would never happen for loads of reasons, but I think it’s still instructive. No laws or rules are broken in the situation, but there’s clearly something wrong with it. That’s the legitimacy thing, as far I’m concerned.

        M. Dion, in the case of the 2008 election ‘lost’ badly enough on election night that he was forced to announce he would be resigning his position. I don’t remember anyone objecting at the time, talking about parliamentary rules, etc. or feeling that he could or should be given a shot at forming a government…his own party was clamouring to be rid of him…(this of course says nothing about his character, which seems exemplary).

        Scant weeks later, we’re told that ‘well actually, it seems he’s sort of won, and could legitimately govern.’ *Days* later, he is essentially marched-out the door…yeesh.

        • Re: invading Finland, yes it would be democratically legitimate, and no there is no one who could help you (esp. not the Crown). What you could do is inform the government, by protesting in the streets and/or emailing your MP, that they are committing political suicide. In short, voting is a serious business, not a popularity contest.

          • You could go to court.

            The GG could dissolve parliament or refuse royal assent to any spending bills to fund the action.

            But I think option 1 is the easier, faster, and not so nutty a course of action.

            Why is it political suicide? (Well, it’s nuts for one) ..because the government didn’t seek a mandate for the action…it doesn’t have the legitimacy, one might say.

            Anyway, I suspect you know this, and are debating for sport.

  30. One more thing…

    I’ve said in this discussion that I believe that most Canadians are actually voting for PM when they cast their ballots. I’ve subsequently been cast as ‘proud[ly] ignorant’ and lazy.

    People yammer on about electing MPs, not parties, ‘any group of members with enough support’ etc…these folks are clearly supporters of the coalition.

    I wonder, harkening back to the heady days of the Sponsorship Scandal, how many of those folks would have been heard to advocate for the re-election of the LPC (with Paul Martin at its head), noting –

    ‘but..but..Paul Martin was out of the loop!’

    When it’s Harper, it’s all parliamentary rules and constitutional arcana…when it’s the Liberals, (no wait, wasn’t it Team Paul Martin?) it’s another story entirely.

    Glad I remembered that.

    • It’s a common error, thinking that “against the Conservatives” means “in support of the Liberals”, especially among Conservatives who have difficulties dealing with more than two possibilities at a time.

      That said, I didn’t support Martin in general, but after the Sponsorship thing, I was actually somewhat in favor of him. He was the first politician I’ve ever seen who came right out and said “We screwed up. I screwed up. We’re doing what we can to fix it.” How effective that was remains to be answered, but no matter how much I dislike Martin in general, he got large kudos from me for that simple admission.

      • How big of him, to go right on ahead and admit the GLARINGLY OBVIOUS.

        Courage personified.

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