Tag Archives: coalitions

The Democratic Rebirth of Canada

With less than a dozen days left in the federal election, I am prepared to call it…there is a democratic rebirth in this country. But I have one warning about reading too much into high turnouts in advance polls this weekend.

With Egypt capturing our hearts, and Tunisia, and Libya and a dozen other places in Africa and the Middle East seeking democracy, and the anti-neoliberal people’s movements against worker bashing by the hyper-rich in Wisconsin and Ohio and dozens of other places in the world, I feared Canada would be passed over.

Not so.

We had a contempt of parliament vote in the House effectively firing the contemptuous Stephen Harper.

We have seen an election campaign with a consistently contemptuous ex-prime minister not even remotely trying to hide his disdain for democracy or applying for his old job again.

We have seen vote mobs, a stunning embrace of the NDP not as a radical new party, but a party whose policies have always resonated with millions of working Canadians, but now we see that after seven years of minority government that has enhanced democratic potential in Canada, the old tired binary choice of Liberal or Conservative is appearing increasingly obsolete.

That perception of obsolescence got a boost with the Conservative-Liberal passive coalition created when the Liberals decided to only sort of vote against Conservative policies. The Liberals ensured they passed by not allowing enough of Liberals MPs to attend the vote to stop bad policies.

Another boost came from Michael Ignatieff living down to expectations of his utter lack of charisma as a compelling leader with a vision. He kept up Liberal traditions of stealing progressive NDP policies, but we have seen him support Harper so much that he has already proven he’ll campaign from the left but govern from the right. In this case he helped Harper govern from the radical right and now he campaigns from the left. Because this all happened backwards from normal, we are all seeing through it.

That is why the NDP is polling ahead of the Liberals. That is also why Jack Layton is considered by far the most desirable prime minister. And it may come from his successful presentation in the debates. And this is why analysis of one recent poll inside the NDP surge this week shows the NDP poised to win 60 seats.

That is also why in exploring the credibility of Jack Layton as prime minister, after a few more days of the NDP surge past the Liberals, another scenario for Layton to become prime minister is for the NDP to simply win more seats than the Liberals: reflecting a significant party implosion of credibility. This would allow the NDP to explore a coalition or voting arrangement and further erode Ignatieff’s chances of remaining Liberal leader, making Layton the only viable prime minister.

Since the Liberals lost their majority 7 years ago, they have hung on as official opposition. But the electorate has grown weary of their inability to provide a compelling message to resonate enough with voters to supplant the increasingly contemptuous Conservative party. The NDP has been the de facto opposition to this horrible government and the Liberals show no sign of caring to diverge from their passive support of the government. The public appears to be rewarding the NDP.

But the NDP support is soft, with a significant percentage of supporting voters not firmly committed to voting NDP. This may mean they may shift back to the Liberals at the last minute. That has happened in the past. The vote parking with the NDP may also result in strategic voting against Harper. Regardless, the surge we are seeing now has helped the Liberal party realize they lack the progressive credibility they have been promoting about themselves. That belongs to Jack Layton and the NDP team and the impressive BC caucus of the party.

We have seen the Canadian electorate brutally punish a political party once before in recent memory. During the era of majority governments in Canada, the voters revoked 167/169 seats from the Progressive Conservative party in 1993. In our post-majority era now, Ignatieff’s weak campaign leads to a credible possibility that when they finish counting the votes in BC, where we will determine the result of the election, we could have another Conservative minority with fewer seats than in the last parliament, and an NDP opposition with more seats than the Liberals.

And since parliament just recently fired Harper, I see only one way for an opposition party to give Harper a chance to form a government before Layton does: if the Liberal party formalizes is previously passive coalition with Harper. Or Harper’s successor, and Ignatieff’s successor since Harper’s third failure to get a majority and Ignatieff’s loss of official opposition would end their era as party leaders.

But a warning:

Yesterday we saw spectacular turnouts and long lines at many advance polls across the country. We also saw some low turnout at some polls. I am eager to interpret that as another signal of this democratic rebirth in the nation that I so desire, but I’ve been burned by this once already.

Before the 2009 election in BC I optimistically but incorrectly interpreted seriously high turnout in advanced polls as both a resurgence in democratic participation because of almost a decade of anti-social abuse by the BC Liberal government and a connected rejection of that abuse setting up an NDP win. That didn’t happen. In fact, voter turnout hit a record low in 2009 for a BC election.

And while Werner Heisenberg may have noted that the high turnout may have led to some complacency among progressive voters leading to them not showing up to vote on election day, that is not much to embrace for much credibility.

So my warning is that regardless of how advanced polls have high turnouts or not, we cannot allow ourselves to read anything into it as a predictor of May 2’s results. We still need to get out the vote. All we may be able to conclude from any high turnouts in advanced polls is that lots of people want to vote early.

So advanced polls opened yesterday, they open again today and Monday. We can vote on election day on May 2, but we can also vote any day at our riding’s returning office until Tuesday. Check Elections Canada for locations.

And regardless of how the polling goes for the next several days, do your job of looking for more evidence of a rebirth of democratic participation in Canada, and if you live in a riding where a candidate refuses to show up to an all-candidates meeting, punish their contempt for democracy by voting against them.

Prime Minister Layton

Jack Layton at the start of the 2011 campaign in Surrey, BC.

This is an astonishing election campaign and there are still 11 days left.

The Conservative and Liberal blue/red door alternative spin is weak these days. Jack Layton is by far the most respected federal leader. This week polling has the NDP in the 20s, with Layton the majority preference for the position of prime minister in a coalition with the Liberals.

Jack Layton is peaking right now in his entire political career. He resonates with the majority Canadians who do most of the living, working, struggling, celebrating and aging in our society, except notably for the hyper-rich and corporate elite. NDP policies address the circumstances of the majority of Canadians in a way that the Conservatives are incapable of imagining because their constituency is the rich or those who deem themselves elite.

The very first and still dominant campaign issue for Stephen Harper has been to scare Canadians about a coalition. He is bright. He knows that is his greatest threat, not primarily to his majority government, but his job because failing three times to gain a majority will lead to his forced resignation as leader. He has even misrepresented our constitutional provisions by encouraging the public to believe that anything other than what he wants is some kind of a coup.

Beyond the polling earlier this week, last night some polls were indicating not only that the NDP are tied with the Liberals nationally, but that they are ahead of every other party in Quebec, including the Bloc, which shares many of the NDP’s progressive policy agenda.

But before exploring the credibilty of Jack Layton being our next prime minister, we should explore the unique situation that is Canadian politics today.

  1. By May 2, 2011 we will have lived with minority governments in Ottawa for 57 days less than seven years. We have not slid off the continent or into domestic instability, terrorism and anarchy. We have a stable parliament, aggravated mostly by a destabilizing Conservative government that lives and breathes contempt for democracy.
  2. We have been free from the tyranny of the de facto absolute power of majority governments for these seven years. We have seen House of Commons committees dominated by opposition parties that were elected by the 62.35% of Canadians who did not vote for the Conservatives. These committees are doing the heavy lifting of democracy because a majority government cannot arbitrarily control their deliberations.
  3. The authentic debate and dialogue of a democracy that the prime minister called “bickering” in the English language debate last week is an example of the credible operation of government.
  4. The often reluctant cooperation that the four parties have shown in justifying their jobs by keeping parliament operating to avoid losing their jobs and having to run over and over in frequent elections has been credible. I have disliked the agreements at times, which is healthy, but I know that every resolution is a symbol of a parliament that can work without the whipped voting by majority blocks that are limited only by what the governing caucus will allow their leader to do.
  5. We have seen necessary but extremely uncomfortable growing pains as politicians, the media, the academics and the public learn what they forgot in Social Studies in grade 10: the operation of the House, the Senate, the cabinet, the role of the governor-general, the difference between adjournment and dissolution and proroguement, and previously arcane committee procedure.
  6. We have also seen this year another example of blatant manipulation of the Senate to affect House legislation, the first time since the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement in the 1980s, which while constitutionally valid has a political price to pay. Mulroney added senators to keep the Liberal-dominated Senate from killing the FTA. This year, Harper used his appointed majority in the Senate to kill the opposition climate bill. Mulroney’s government lost 167/169 seats in the 1993 election. A similar political judgement potentially awaits Stephen Harper.
  7. We have also witnessed a new event in the world’s history of parliamentary governments: the firing of a government as the majority of the House found the government to be in contempt of parliament.
  8. This is not a minority government aberration of the 1960s or 1979. This is Canada in the 21st century when the compelling, credible and legitimate power of the dozens of Bloc Quebecois MPs prevents any party from forming a majority government without a practically inconceivable sweep of English Canada.
  9. This is a Canada that is more than a century older than when the first-past-the-post system, a relic of the 19th century, was a useful electoral system in a land of two national parties. Canada allows more than white men to vote now. It is a pluralistic society which demands a more representative electoral system. But we don’t have it yet. Instead we are left with the crumbling decay of majority parliamentary rule on our way to the broad realization that electoral reform is the only common sense solution now.
  10. Canada exists in 2011 within a global context of democratic revolutions in Africa and the Middle East, anti-neoliberal protests in North America and Europe, spontaneous vote mobs, spontaneous movements against prorogation, fierce and stimulating debate about strategic voting as a valid tactic in an illegitimate electoral system, and the stunning awareness that if we let our voter turnout sink below our historic low from last time, then we will somehow be insulting the Africans murdered by their despots as they seek the end to their tyranny.

In this context, we have Jack Layton’s NDP as the only party that seems to have the clarity to navigate the post-majority parliamentary world. The NDP has tabled climate and national housing legislation, for instance, that could have been passed by the House and enacted by the government if all parties respected the credibility of the process. But the Conservatives and Liberals continue to campaign as if they can achieve a majority and that this minority thing will eventually pass.

They operate as relics of the last two centuries.

Last night at home we finished watching the West Wing again. I watched a president walking with a cane who had battled a degenerative disease while trying to maintain the integrity to rule. In Canada today, we have a national party leader fighting cancer and recovering from hip surgery. He uses a cane sometimes. We can relate to that. We can’t relate to a constantly irritated prime minister who goes to great length to express his disdain for democracy by answering no more than 5 questions each day when he’s is in a 5 week job application process.

In another Aaron Sorkin show, Sports Night, we encountered a clever creed, ostensibly Napoleon’s battle plan: First we show up, then we see what happens. Sure it’s a lark, but in the West Wing we saw Matt Santos become president by running a campaign of integrity that allowed him to retain his self-respect, but partially just by showing up and watching circumstances unfold. First the front-runner for the party nomination was caught in a sex scandal, then the Republican candidate was mired in the political fallout of a nuclear accident.

Beyond the horrifying coincidence of the Fukushima nuclear disaster across the Pacific, we have Jack Layton, an engaging party leader with policies that resonate with millions who has shown up to campaign with integrity in a 5-week election campaign where anything can happen.

Anything like a prime minister campaign through the gritted teeth of contempt and an opposition party whose nasty, neoliberal fiscal policies are aligned with the prime minister’s and whose leader has virtually no mass appeal.

I don’t like the politics of horse races, of personality politics. I much prefer issue-based campaigns and analysis. But in any electoral system, people need to relate to their leaders. We don’t have a policy binder sitting in the prime minister’s office. We have a person.

Our leaders have credibility if we believe and feel they are looking out for us. Not promoting the politics of fear to scare us into following them, but leaders who will inspire us, help us see how they will facilitate the excellence in everyone, help us reach a higher place, a place of greater self-esteem and social esteem.

I once wrote about the possibility of Jack Layton becoming prime minister during Harper’s prorogation insult from 2.5 years ago. The argument was that while constitutionally valid, proroguing parliament to avoid a non-confidence motion on Harper’s budget could have led to a coalition alternative with the NDP and Liberals with voting support from the Bloc. Since the Liberal leadership was in flux then and no one would allow an ostensibly separatist party leader to be prime minister, it could have fallen to Layton as a tolerable compromise. I elaborated on that by suggesting that if in that position he ought to pursue the end of the first-past-the-post system to reflect the post-majority parliamentary system in Canada. My arguments for that are still relevant today.

Remember also that 10 months ago, polling indicated Canadians were getting used to post-majority governments since a Layton-led coalition of NDP and Liberals would defeat the Conservatives 43% to 37% to form a consensus-seeking government.

The ultimate point is that against a dour Harper, a bland Ignatieff and an average, though high-performing Duceppe, Layton is winning this election campaign.

And though the NDP’s support has the lowest percentage of completely firm voting support, meaning some support now may bleed to the Liberals as election day draws near, every day the NDP is polling above 20% with Layton 20% ahead of his competing leaders, is an extra day of credibility for the idea that the NDP is a credible alternative to the blue/red false choices which the Conservative-Liberal coalition wants to spin as the only issue.

This is also why all the reporters wanted to ask Ignatieff yesterday about coalitions and voting arrangements. He gave a good civics lesson, but he is losing this campaign as badly as Harper is. Ignatieff needs a minority government to keep Bob Rae and Gerard Kennedy and probably others from forcing a leadership convention. Harper needs a majority to keep his job. The blue/red door framing has been in both of their best interests, but it is simply becoming less credible and more cynical and contemptuous every day.

And while the NDP polling numbers may decline in the next 11 days, we are seeing in front of us a new way of doing politics, brought to us by the one leader who has demonstrated the integrity to try to make politics work, while Harper prorogues parliament and Ignatieff keeps enough MPs out of House votes to allow Harper’s anti-social economic agenda to continue.

And it is inspiring us. And it is giving us a taste of a democracy that we can be proud of as Canadians.

And I don’t know what will happen in the next 11 days or on the evening of May 2 when BC will determine the final seat count, or May 3, or into the following days of negotiations where leaders will try to wrangle 155 MP votes. But I do know that there are 5 weeks worth of nails in the coffin of majority governments in Canada.

First show up, then see what happens?

Jack Layton has shown up. And we are seeing fate, circumstances and cycles of cynicism run their course.

And we shall all see what happens. And I would not be surprised if a man battling cancer and recovering from hip surgery will walk with a cane into the House of Commons and sit on the speaker’s right side.

The Conservative-Liberal Coalition ALREADY Rules Us

British Columbia has been ruled by a Conservative-Liberal coalition for almost all of living memory. So why are we allowing Stephen Harper to get any traction at all with his coalition fear-mongering? His hypocritical opposition is a stunning continuation of his contempt for legitimate democratic structures.

Harper can bluster on all he likes about the coalition bogeyman. Others can invoke his 2004 coalition work and call him a liar or hypocrite. The truth is that Harper is against the coalition because it is the democratic political structure he fears most in our post-majority world.

But why are we still tolerating it, especially in BC? Harper and Ignatieff/Dion have participated in a passive coalition for years. Harper has played chicken with the Liberals by threatening confidence status of various bills/motions, trusting the Liberals to back down because they weren’t prepared for an election.

Other times, the Liberals have actually agreed with Harper policies, but spend their energy opposing them, only to ensure just enough MPs don’t show up to vote them down.

Harper has also received support from the Bloc on budgets.

Before Harper, Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin had his minority government propped up by reasonable commitments to the NDP that he ignored, dismissively, much like last week’s budget tossed some crumbs towards the NDP policy demands for support of the budget.

And none of this is a constitutional crisis. It is, rather, the nuance of parliamentary democracy that in minority situations, there are structures to facilitate compromise and policies that reflect the majority of voters’ or MPs’ will.

But I cannot understand how when addressing Harper’s anti-coalition rhetoric, media, especially in BC, seem blind to the Conservative-Liberal coalition that has ruled BC for most of our living memory. That coalition has been a backroom arrangement in the Social Credit or Liberal party, not on the floor of the legislature, and has been the core issue in their party leadership race in recent months. And only time will tell if the new flavour of coalition leadership will hold.

This should be a blatantly obvious sign that Conservatives have spent generations in coalitions in various places in Canada, and Harper’s opposition to coalitions is ludicrous.

And yesterday, former Conservative MP John Cummins declared his intention to be leader of the BC Conservative Party. How have former Conservative MPs Stockwell Day and Jay Hill responded to the rebirth of this provincial party? They both characterized the BC Conservative Party activities as threatening to the Conservative-Liberal coalition in the ruling BC Liberal party, with Hill even saying,

hopefully the vast majority of conservatives will stay with the B.C. Liberal Party as the coalition party and reject what John is doing.

The media, in BC and Canada, and the citizens of the country, and especially BC, have ample example of Conservative participation in coalitions. We cannot bestow any legitimacy on Harper’s objections.

And truly, we should not limit our impatience with Harper’s rhetoric. Ignatieff’s federal Liberal party is part of the BC Liberal coalition with the Conservatives. His rejection of a potential coalition is crazy. His party has been as involved in them as the Conservatives, in BC and nationally.

A pox on both houses, if you ask me.

The Corporate Media Ignores Ignatieff Is Already In A Coalition

The corporate media is taking Stephen Harper’s lead in demonizing the opposition coalition possibilities while ignoring that the Conservative-Liberal coalition has been governing Canada for years already.

The only possible way out of this box is for Mr. Ignatieff to say categorically that he will not form a coalition with either the NDP or the Bloc, before or after an election

via Ignatieff needs to rule out coalition.

Most of the focus in corporate media about coalitions is either in the context of the spectre of a coalition government before Harper’s first proroguement two years ago or in a future coalition that will continue to rightly check Harper’s minority government.

The Liberals have been effectively in coalition with the Conservatives by ensuring enough of their MPs do not show up to votes which would threaten the current government. That’s a coalition. A quiet, awkward one, but still a coalition.

We also have another coalition at work in parliament. We saw it defeat the Conservative attempt to kill the long-gun registry and yesterday it started its campaign to reverse the blindly ideological removal of the long-form census.

While coalitions are not proportional representation, they are solid manifestation of more healthy debate in parliament and better representation as the opposition parties, who represent the vast majority of Canadian voters, attempt to pursue policies.

All of this is good.

It is training Canadians in the attractive possibilities of better political behaviour, debate and leadership that can happen when we do not have the tyranny of majority governments that are capable of being elected and whipping legislation through with the support of only 25% of eligible voters.

Politics, Re-Spun on Coop Radio, Labour Day 2010

Imtiaz Popat and I celebrated Labour Day on “The Rational” last night. The video podcast is below.

We discussed:

  • Labour Day
  • my Labour Day article today: “Labour Day, Dignity and Doubling the CPP”
  • volunteer labour
  • dignity for seniors
  • doubling the CPP because $11,000/year is unacceptable
  • BC’s pathetic minimum wage
  • a fall federal election could lead to a Liberal minority government and time to leverage them for economic dignity
  • student poverty is a result of right wing ideological choices: post-secondary education is seen as an income boost and the government wants its cut
  • the government is managing our CPP funds by investing in tar sands and privatized highways
  • BC’s Gateway Project and the North American transportation infrastructure vs. Peak Oil
  • workers and unions need to engage in society by working in coalition with community groups and climate justice
  • corporations and government employers are not taking the lead on greening our society, so workers need to
  • extremism, xenophobia and skapegoating
  • increased corporate profitability, how productivity gains aren’t trickling down to workers: class war
  • all majority governments are bad right now, especially considering how much of the social conservative agenda being introduced by Harper with just a minority government
  • BC Conservative party’s increasing viability, along with the BC Greens means more of a chance of a BC minority government in 2013
  • what will it take for a BC political party to say they’ll actually get rid of the HST?
  • and we would have talked about this intensely if I had read it in time!

The video podcast of the conversation lives at Vista Video.

You can watch it in Miro, the best new open source multimedia viewing software: http://www.miroguide.com/feeds/8832


You can watch it in iTunes: itpc://dgivista.org/pod/Vista_Podcasts.xml


The podcast file is at http://dgivista.org/pod/COOP.Radio.2010.09.06.mov