Let’s try to follow Harper’s thinking, why not - Macleans.ca

Let’s try to follow Harper’s thinking, why not


At last we have clarity on Stephen Harper’s position regarding a potential coalition government. It came last night during the Prime Minister’s interview with Peter Mansbridge.

Harper said: “I think the next time our party will either form a majority or I think we’ll see a coalition of the other parties. That’s my belief. Everything I see points to that.”

Great. That’s as clear as can be. If Harper wins a majority, he continues to govern. If he wins more seats than anyone else – but falls short of a majority – it leads in his mind to a likely coalition government. Got it. Now we can all move on and–

“I of course,” Harper added, still talking for some reason, “will always be happy to see if the people of Canada elect a Conservative minority, I’d be happy to do that.”

Wait, what? But you just said…

Let us dare to venture together into the realm of prime ministerial logic. Please hold tight to the railings. It gets slippery in here.

Harper states clearly that the choice in the next election will be between a Conservative majority and a coalition… UNLESS, of course, the vote winds up pointing to a Conservative minority, which happens to be the only circumstance under which a coalition would ever come together. In Harper’s mind, then, the coalition could totally take power except for not being able to ever take power.

/ stuffs escaping brain back into head

We can all agree on one thing: our Prime Minister has not one cell within his body that would voluntarily cede power to a coalition of opposition parties. You enjoyed Harper’s “first prorogation” (2008) and his “second prorogation” (2009)? You’re going to love his “building a fort in his Centre Block office and refusing to leave” (2011-2018).

But rhetorically, strategically, he loves the concept of a coalition. The Conservative party has done a terrific job of demonizing a constitutionally legitimate notion – the coming together of opposition parties to win the confidence of the House of Commons. So Harper wants to keep alive the idea of a coalition, the threat of it, because it makes us think of Stephane Dion and Gilles Duceppe exchanging effete handshakes and Jack Layton getting that weird, Gollumy look in his eye at the thought of joining cabinet.

Harper wants to perpetuate the notion of either/or, when so far as he’s concerned it’s actually either/either: a Conservative majority or a Conservative minority. To paraphrase Mackenzie King: not necessarily a coalition, but not necessarily a coalition.

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Let’s try to follow Harper’s thinking, why not

  1. We're still trapped in a 20th century paradigm, where words are supposed to have meaning, and to keep the same meaning a split second after theya re spoken. Harper's outpacing us all with his new approach to language.

  2. Translation: Any coalition Libs/NDP might form is bad and evil, and not allowable.

    Any coalition Harper might have to form to stay in power is good, enlightened, has lots of precedents….and is indeed akin to the Second Coming.

    • LOL Emily….right on the mark with that comment.

  3. Scotty,

    List an example in Canadian history of the largest party being excluded from government in Canada by a coalition propped up by separatists. Good luck

    Only example that is remote is Israel. (Only problem is they regularly have coalitions) Canada does NOT.

    Nothing wrong with cheering for the Liberals and hoping they don't lose another one or two per cent when the writ is dropped.

    Keep plugging away the coalition of losers is what Canadians want. Details to follow….

    • CanadianSense-y,

      No, YOU list an example of Canadian history of a PM perpetuating the myth that it's illegitimate for the House to give its confidence to whomever it wants to sit as PM.

    • Ontario's government in 1985 was formed by an accord between the 2nd and 3rd place parties. No separatists were involved, but dreaded socialists were.

      • Yeah, and the Libs were only 4 seats shy of the PC's, and had actually won the popular vote. I think that qualifies as FAR different.

        • Moving goalposts?

          • Um, no, just my opinion of what type of coalition gov't would be politically legitimate in Canada. Of course any coalition gov't that is able to gain majority support in the legislature is CONSTITUTIONALLY legitimate and possible. But there's a big difference between being constitutionally legitimate and politically legitimate. The problem with post-election coalitions is that the politically legitimacy question is not resolved until the NEXT election.

          • "The problem with post-election coalitions is that the politically legitimacy question is not resolved until the NEXT election."


            [ as W would say] :)

        • every different situation is different. the challenge wasn't to find a situation that was identical, though I notice that CanadianSense is now moving the goalposts accross the street…

      • Details and context is missing.

        The PC party lost 25.7% of the pop and had been in power for 42 years. Did the Federal Conservatives gain or lose seats or pop?

        Did the provincial Liberals suffer the worst pop since confederation? Did the Governing party increase or lose a large number of seats?

        Liberals 37.9 pop and NDP 23.8% both gained seats and popular vote. 41% and 19%. (We call that a Teutonic shift?) Four seats separated the PC from the Liberals.

        The comparison is not similar and did not require a fourth party intent in destroying Ontario to defeat the government.

        Most of us have NO problem is the Liberals and NDP winning more seats than the CPC and vote non-confidence. It is and was the Bloc participation.

        We would like Democratic Reform to add seats to BC, AB and Ontario to counter the over representation in Atlantic Canada.

        • "Most of us have NO problem is the Liberals and NDP winning more seats than the CPC and vote non-confidence. It is and was the Bloc participation." that's not really what you said above.

          • Take a look at the Federal Political ridings from 2000-2008. The WEST would have been decimated if the coalition took over. Review the pop per province for the CPC. It makes little sense to exclude them after they gained seats.

            If you add the combined seats in BC, AB, MB, SK they don't beat the CPC. In Ontario it was 51 CPC vs 55 (Lib+NDP) we are missing thirty seats?

            The Ontario 1985 example was supportable. It was not similar to 2008 in Ottawa.

            No rallies, no swing in public support for PC party remaining the Gov't or having another election.

            If I was unclear, my apologies. Most of us don't see the end of Canada if the Liberals recover. ( I don't think it is realistic given their leadership, fundraising, messaging.)

            If the CPC fall behind the Liberals in popular support and the seat count is close, a coalition with the NDP would not be seen as undemocratic.

            The problem is the Bloc. I would imagine those voters West of Ontario are getting tired of Ont-QC holding down their economies.

          • Not sure how Ontario has held back the West since for the last two decades before this recession we've poured money out of this province to the rest of the country.

          • Should have been Ottawa (Federal Government) . Lion share of seats in Ontario-QC and lack of democratic reform by Ottawa.

            The West is heavy reliant on North South not east west trade for it's standard of living. The population and markets out west are too small for local consumption.

            (Expanding on Western alienation or neglect)

            Ottawa needs to remove the obstacles for the West/North/Rural economies to the developing markets.

          • Being forced to dole out billions hasn't held us back? Have you been paying attention to the state of health care in Alberta? Some of those billions could have been spent here, no?

    • Israel is a bad example, b/c both "leading" parties each had barely a quarter of the seats! It's obvious there that a coalition will have to be cobbled together from many disparate parties. In the 2008 election, the Conservatives won 46.5% of the seats, while the second placed Liberals only won 25%. Anyone who thinks it's advisable for that 2nd placed party to topple the first party, bringing in partners they had only just disavowed as potential partners not less than 8 wks before, is smoking something.

      The Coalition could've taken power in January of 2009 … I think the public would've regarded them as politically illegitimate, and there would be a hefty electoral price to be paid by them in the following election.

      • Agreed. Harper did the opposition parties an immeasurable favour in this regard.

      • I agree with your post. I have asked for examples of coalitions in Western style democracies. I am told by the left this is not unusual for them to take out the government.

        I have had three examples raised in defence by them and they don't match up well.
        Ontario 1985, Cameron PC + Lib, Israel.

        It is funny when we go into context and review how they don't match up their talking points.

        • Ontario 1985 is really the only similar example, as the PC gov't continued after the election until it was defeated on its Throne Speech. In the other two examples, the government saw the writing on the wall, resigned, and a new gov't was installed before the opening of their parliaments.

          Newfoundland had a situation where the top two parties tied in seats, etc. Neither party could elect a Speaker (b/c to do so would cede the seat advantage to the other party), so a new election was called.

  4. Why isn't Iggy talking up the potential for a Conservative-Liberal coalition? Assuming the layout of the House of Commons is similar to the way it is now after the next election, wouldn't a Conservative-Liberal coalition government be the most accurate reflection of the overall will of the electorate?

    • Strangely enough, they're also the two parties with the most similar platforms. And Canadians would be more likely to trust a Conservative government that couldn't make a move without Liberal support.

      • The Conservatives are always talking about the 'need for stability'. Next to a majority government, a Con-Lib coalition government would be extremely stable, I would think.

    • It's an interesting point, but, first, I'm not sure that I agree that (as Mike wrote below) the platforms are the most similar. I think on economic issues that may be true, except that two parties are opposed to the corporate tax cut at this time. But on social issues, I think the Liberal position is closer to the NDP. Second, I think we do have to do a little bit of reading beyond just what's in the platforms; the same way the Cons make stuff up about things Iggy's "going to do" that he's said he never would, Liberals don't trust Harper as far as they can throw him to stick to his platform.

    • Why hasn't he? Isn't it obvious? Because they spent so much time demonizing him from before the election of 2004 (remember those pre-election ads?), thru the 2004 election (the Lib ads shooting a gun at the screen, a desperate women rocking back ‘n' forth presumably in an abortion clinic, the Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, etc.), thru the 2006 election (Soldiers in the Streets; “Seriously, he said that … we're not making this up” (they were –ed), etc.), thru 2008 and beyond. They have so whipped up the unhinged and delirious section of their party supporters to absolutely hate Stephen Harper that to propose during an election campaign ever forming a coalition with him would be political suicide for the party. They themselves have made that option extremely difficult for themselves, and it has come back to hurt their party more than anyone else.

      • Whoa, whoa, whoa. I'm sorry, but the Liberal Party did not whip up its membership into unhinged and delerious hatred of PMSH. There was also the extreme leftist media and their cronies in academia, too. They did a lot of the whipping. Regardless, it had nothing to do with PMSH's own actions as prime minister.

      • I had another thought. Do you think the hyper-partisanship you speak of that would preclude the Liberals from ever working with PMSH — and just for argument's sake, I'll assume that there's no such thing as a hyper-partisan in the Conservative Party — should hold sway? Shouldn't the leadership of both parties take a stand to put co-operation ahead of hyper-partisanship? Wouldn't that be what most Canadians want? Seems to me that's what they want, since they keep electing minority governments. After all, as PMSH, the country needs stability. A Con-Lib coalition would provide stability. The only reasons why this wouldn't work are short-sighted partisan reasons.

        • Actually, as Michael Ignatieff reminded us on Sunday, we Liberals have political opponents. What we don't have are political ENEMIES. Because we are all Canadians, and even the most partisan (while still sane) Liberal believes that Conservatives genuinely want what is best for the country. We just disagree a lot on what that is.

    • And now the Liberals have the temerity to slam Harper for questioning Ignatieff's loyalty to the country? Does anyone remember when Harper was asked if he actually loved the country or not by a parliamentary press reporter?!?! What an absolutely idiotic question to ask!!! Yeah, I'm taking all this abuse from you guys and them over there b/c I despise the country! C'mon!!! There's a lot of blame to go around for why many people have such a knee-jerk hatred for our PM … they've been so manipulated and conditioned to hate him, that they are now too far gone from being able to have any sort of reasonable debate or discussion about the man and/or his government's policies.

      • Does anyone remember when Harper was asked if he actually loved the country or not by a parliamentary press reporter?!?!

        I remember that.

        If I'm not mistaken, the reporter is still waiting for an answer…

        • That the question was even asked just shows how petty, immature, and not serious our Parliamentary Press Gallery is.

          Hmm, I distinctly remember Harper saying that he loved the country, of course. The government and the country are two largely different things.

          Then there was another idiotic question asking him what sort of fruit he would be, if he could be one? I could understand if it was Rick Mercer asking that, but it was some supposedly serious reporter!!! RIDICULOUS!

          Time for Canada to become the serious country it can and should be.

        • Yes, I believe some of the more hysterical commenters around here answer that question every day.
          They believe Harper wants to destroy the country.
          Meanwhile, out in the real world, life goes on.

      • Does anyone remember when Harper was asked if he actually loved the country or not by a parliamentary press reporter?!?!

        I remember that… I think the answer was along the lines of "Canada's really nice and has a great sense of humour."

  5. This comment was deleted.

    • I'm no expert, but I don't think what I wrote is satire. Stephen Harper's position, however – now THAT is satire.

      • Thanks Scott. I know it's highly unseemly to be criticizing a humour column(ist) in this way. I wouldn't be commenting at all if it didn't seem like a pattern.

        Sometimes it just doesn't sound like humour. And, if you're right about Harper, he's about to put you out of a job, again! (sorry, couldn't resist).

        • If everyone (or anyone) assigned meaning to the words of the prime minister, we would all become satirists.

        • Plain Old Anon……..don't forget.

          Scott Feschuk is one half of Feschuk/Reid. The Reid portion being a Liberal strategist. One should not be surprised Feshuk write the way he does. It's not about humour, it's about the next campaign….and all the increased business the new company will realize if Iggy becomes the PM.

          As usual……it's not as much about "art" as it is about future earnings.

      • I don't see how one can not find the "building a fort" joke funny.

        • Why not? Maybe b/c it's so lazy a jab at the PM as to be far lacking in the funny department. It is neither clever or witty, just there.

          • what? building a fort is always either awesome, funny, or both.

    • Thought the " Jack Layton getting that weird, Gollumy look in his eye at the thought of joining cabinet" was pretty good, lol!!!

      • Funny because it’s true.

  6. I think the underlying logic is this: Harper will be stepping down shortly after the next election unless he gets a majority, which he doubts he will get, so any logic about what happens to Canada once he has departed is of no concern.

    What happens after he leaves is that he'll then be in Washington starting out his post-PM career as an eminent conservative, heading up a think tank, appearing as a regular Fox panelist, and serving as a lobbyist for the tar sands.

    Canada will be just a fading memory.

    • Stay informed, because you are way off!

    • Do you mean to say that he's just visiting?

    • Sorry Passing by…….but methinks you are mistaking Iggy for Harper.

      Iggy's the Yank-wannabe….not Harper. Besides, I'm sure Iggy has already submitted his resume in the hopes of getting back to his cushy Harvard position.

  7. The Prime Minister doesn't make any sense at all.

  8. The first prorogation Scott was actually in 2007. Check it out.

    And don't be ridiculous … if Harper is beaten, he will leave gracefully. If he falls far short of a majority, but still has the most seats, and the Liberals are close in number to him (needs all three factors), then I doubt we will see the Conservatives complain if they're bounced out. If say the Conservatives get less than 120 seats, then they're likely out, although I think to seem legitimate the Liberals would have to be within 20 seats of their number (the closer the better). When Peterson displaced Miller in Ontario, it was 52 PC's against 48 Liberals, and the Liberals had beaten the PC's in the popular vote.

    The last coalition attempt was just pure stupidity … 66 less seats than the largest party, 29 seats less than the Conservatives when you combined the proposed government caucuses (Lib + NDP), and setting up a continuing parliamentary situation where that coalition gov't would be dependent for its ongoing survival solely on the Bloc Quebecois!!! It boggles the mind today that such a thing was even contemplated just over two years ago!

    (cont'd …)

    • (cont'd from above)

      When Harper says he would gladly accept continuing as a minority gov't if that was what the election offered up, I suppose he's holding out hope that the opposition parties could be forced – by the public – to disavow the notion of forming any sort of coalition gov't that goes against the basic results of the federal election.

      If we had the same result as last time, and the Liberals (assuming they're 2nd) take a stand that the Conservatives either allow them into government in coalition with the CPC, or that they'll be replaced, then I think the Conservatives would be open to forming a coalition gov't with the Liberals, with the trade-off being that such a coalition would ensure a strong, stable majority gov't for a full parliamentary term. Basically Canada's answer to Germany's Grand Coalition of 2005-09.

    • and setting up a continuing parliamentary situation where that coalition gov't would be dependent for its ongoing survival solely on the Bloc Quebecois!!!

      You realize that this is only true if the TORIES refuse to support any legislation coming from said Liberal-NDP Coalition. If the Liberals and NDP were as stringent about not working with the current Tory government as the Tories are about not working with a future Liberal-NDP government then the current Tories would be 100% reliant on the Bloc too.

      • You are forgetting the fact that if the tories are in opposition, they believe it is their job to oppose absolutely everything, whether they would otherwise agree with it or not, if it doesn't originate with them. Which makes their entire position about everything the other parties don't support them on laughably hypocritical, except that I don't find it funny.

        • Yup – witness the tactics of the Republican party in the US Senate, filibustering nearly every single piece of legislation and blocking nearly every federal nomination since they lost control. Would anybody expect anything different from the Cons if they lose power?

      • Exactly.

        For the "separatist" boogey man to have any teeth, it would require the defacto support of the Conservatives.

        But then they don't expect or want people to think that carefully or look too closely at their nonsense claim.

        The only way the "separatists" have any power is if the Liberals and Conservatives TOGETHER give it to them.

        End of story.

    • To LKO: If they had just been supplanted by The Coalition, why on earth would the Tories vote to support that government in any way, shape or form? They would want an election right away. Now I suppose it is possible that the Lib-NDP gov't could be wildly popular, and the Tories could sink in polling support, and then they might do as the Liberals have done over the past 5 years, which is to vote support for the gov't to keep them from falling. But does anyone really believe that The Coalition would turn out to be wildly popular?!?! Yeah, me neither, and so the Tories would be voting against them at every turn.

    • As for your other point, if the Libs and NDP today were as stringent about working with the Tory government as what I said the Tories would've been in the event of a Lib-NDP coalition, the result is not that they would be 100% reliant on the Bloc. THEY WOULD GO TO THE ELECTORATE! Harper's ability to survive so long as a minority PM is all down to the fact that he is governing in a fashion whereby the biggest bloc of voters agree with his policies and the government's direction. The Libs and NDP and Bloc can say “well, but we outnumber you” all they want … but those numbers are just representative of the electorate's views on Oct. 14th, 2008. Harper instead, as head of the most popular party, can always say “deal with us and be reasonable, or we go to the people”.

      • "… the result is not that they would be 100% reliant on the Bloc. THEY WOULD GO TO THE ELECTORATE"

        Sorry, but that's not the case. Harper was perfectly willing to rely on the Bloq in his first term. Admittedly it wasn't permanently a 100% dependence – as you say he could always rely on one or other of the parties to support him eventually. It might be said the opposition parties have to shoulder some of the blame for this situation since they never seem to be able to make up their minds: who do i dislike/not want to work with the most – my opposition colleagues or the PM. They have the numbers in the final analysis. Too much looking at the polling numbers, or lack of conviction/nerve???

    • I've never understood this logic. Party size deltas are fundamentally irrelevant. Legislatures are very straight forward institutions. Majority rules. Full stop.

      If a majority of MPs don't like Harper, then they shouldn't vote for him as PM. Anything else is an abdication of their primary duty. An abdication of their only meaningfully duty given the current dominance of the executive.

      Given their political beliefs it's an obvious no-brainer for the NDP and Bloc to support the Liberals over the Tories. At least as long as the Liberals promise to implement some of there more leftish policy ideas.

      What really pisses me of though are the Liberals. They are in a perfect position now to negotiate a coalition with either the Conservatives or NDP+Bloc. And to demand policy concessions from their preferred partner. But the Liberals have done neither. It's pure cowardice. They've let the Tories completely dominate the government while criticizing everything they do.

      • Well the Tories ARE the government, and opposition is supposed to oppose.

        • See my comment above. The Liberals aren't opposing the government. They are a de facto part of an informal Conservative-Liberal coalition. They have by far the best bargaining position of any of the parties, based on their position on the political spectrum. And have completely failed to use it.

          • That's my feeling too – what happened to the old libs? Trudeau would have nothing but contempt for these guys. Of course the national coalition that supported the libs for so many years is gone the way of the dodo now, which explains alot. Still, Trudeau would have been every bit as ruthless as Harper in pursuing a new one.

  9. "Gollumy"!!!!! Loves it!

  10. Not sure I really buy that. It's true there are a lot of customs on who gets to try first to be PM. But order shouldn't really make any difference. Just because the existing PM gets the first chance to form government, doesn't mean anyone has to vote for him/her. I suspect these customs are merely meant to save time.

    I do think we have to clean up the procedures a bit. They seem optimized for majority governments and theoretically allow the GG to interfere. And of course there is prorogation…

    But the only real thing keeping Harper as PM is the Liberals being unwilling to alienate either wing of their party by working with either the NDP or the Tories. I would respect them more if the could take a stand. Any stand.

    • Just because the existing PM gets the first chance to form government, doesn't mean anyone has to vote for him/her

      My point was simply that no one votes for Prime Minister at all, ever. No such vote has ever taken place. What you're presumably talking about are the votes on Throne speeches, but even the most unpopular of PM's could write a throne speech that no opposition party would dare vote against. My point was just that if our system ever allowed for a straight-up "Should Stephen Harper be Prime Minister?" vote, that Harper would lose that vote. That would also be a major change to how we govern ourselves, but I'm not sure there's any way that Harper could win that vote (and, of course, none of the other party leaders could win that vote either!).

  11. He doesn't make any sense at all

  12. I'm amazed at how many people have glossed over Scott's central observation: Harper's key and most often repeated position, makes absolutely no logical sense.

    He presents a false dichotomy and then immediately contradicts it.

    "…next time our party will either form a majority or I think we'll see a coalition of the other parties…"

    "…I of course… will always be happy to see if the people of Canada elect a Conservative minority…"

    This makes as much sense as saying: "it seems certain that we'll have either beef or chicken for dinner…. unless we have pork."

    So in otherwords he's admitting that's it's not either beef or chicken at all, though he still wants you to believe that, while admitting its bunk.

    Talk about political double speak! Sheesh!

    • While it is certainly a bizarre statement [ good spotting SF] i'd invoke Occam's razor here. It might simply be that Harper was being too clever by half [ a reoccurring fault wth him] Having set up the and or false choice he wanted to not appear too arrogant and so he winded up appearing a totally opportunitic, grasping pol, which he is. Unfortunately not many viewers are likely to have picked up on this.

  13. Or, it could be that since Harper has no use for people with thoughts or opinions of their own, he'd like to stick with the bootlicking crew he already has under his thumb (since we're talking in ugly partisan stereotypes and generalities).

    • No Gottabesaid…..Denis Coderre is one of the most sleazy politicians of any party. ONe simply has to listen to this blowhard to know that.

      Joe Volpe – illegal campaign donations from 12 year old kids…in amounts exceeding $10,000. He said the kids liked his ideas? Sheesh.

      Those are just two example. We could also add Hedy Fry, or Marlene Jennings. Two more useless MP's if ever there were.

  14. Everything the Prime Minister says or does is calculated to have it both ways. If that means speaking to two separate audiences in the same breath, so be it. If that means saying one thing and doing something else, so be it. It that means creating a paradox that destroys time/space as we know it – fire up the flux capacitor.

  15. This is why Feschuk is sucessful as a humorist and not a political commentator. Here he makes a good point without being terribly funny and is therefore quite forgettable. Good analysis but boring. We have Wherry for this!

    • I suspect lots of folks found it funny – i did.

  16. Lorraine Lamontagne wrote:
    “The Prime Minister doesn’t make any sense at all.”

    Lorraine, perhaps you can write to the Prime Minister and ask him to use smaller words, and less complicated sentences. That may help you better understand his comments.

    • Or, perhaps simply ask that if the PM plans to contradict himself in an interview that he leave a little more space between the first statement and the second one which contradicts it, rather than contradicting his first statement in THE VERY NEXT SENTENCE.

  17. A coalition is already running this country. The PC's. Reform and Alliance formed the coalition.