2008-12-05

Grow Up Canada!

Get over it Canada. The proposed coalition solution in Ottawa is not a political “crisis”, but a long-overdue evolution of Canadian democracy. It represents something that up until now has been almost completely foreign to Canadian politics: cooperation.

First of all, these amazing events are not an illegal power grab by a political fringe. It is an entirely legitimate and unprecedented level of cooperation among four of Canada’s five political parties that represent fully 62% of the popular vote in the last election.

Yet many seem startled that former bitter foes are somehow coming together in a new and unusual way. What’s the catch? Where is the hidden agenda?

Like all political parties, these players are motivated simply by the opportunity to govern. There is nothing wrong with that. The currency of commerce is money; the currency of politics is power. It is that powerful imperative that will hold these disparate parties together as they move forward to govern our nation.

Of course there will be tensions and disagreements between the three signatories to the coalition agreement. But all know very well that if they allow their short term partisan differences get the better of them, they will face another election and likely a Stephen Harper majority. That is motivation enough for hoary political pragmatists of all stripes to toe the line in cooperation with their former adversaries, whether they like it or not.

All this means that for the first time in living memory, Canadian politics has become interesting. Our parliamentary system was designed to test the legitimacy of governing parties by holding them to the daily scrutiny by the opposition. The Harper government has clearly failed that test in a way not yet experienced in the history of Canada.

The coalition government as proposed by Dion, Layton and Duceppe is entirely consistent with our constitution, and far more desirable than forcing Canadians to trudge to the polls in another divisive and unwanted election.

However, the main obstacle to co-operative governance in Canada is not legal or political, it is the widely held and entirely backwater belief that coalition governments are somehow radical or undesirable.

If fact, virtually every government in Europe now uses some form of coalition rule, which typically results in representative, accountable and stable governments as a matter of course. Switzerland has had the same coalition government arrangement since 1959. Germany, Sweden, The Netherlands are all routinely governed by coalitions.

Because different parties know that they have to work together or loose power, the public debate tends to be more respectful than the embarrassing spectacles for which Ottawa has become infamous. Coalitions also mean that governments are more accountable to the people between elections – not just on voting day.

Yet many Canadians (and of course all politicians) still yearn for the so-called “stability” of majority governments. To those puzzling souls, I can only suggest casting your mind back to the dark days of trough wallowing under the Mulroney Conservatives. Let’s also not forget the Versailles-like arrogance of the Chretien government and the abundant political rot that inevitably followed.

Such “majorities” are also a misnomer. Since 1921, Canada has had 15 “majority” governments of which only 4 garnered more than 50% of the popular vote. In all other cases over 50% of Canadians who bothered to vote, voted against whatever government enjoyed virtual dictatorial powers during their “majority” rule.

Those voices now howling against our budding parliamentary cooperation seem rooted in nothing more principled than pure political bigotry.

Harper rails against governing with “socialists” and “separatists” in a bid to save his political hide. Those die-hards on the left indignantly sniff at the idea of cooperating with their former foes the Liberals. I’m sure Gilles Duceppe is now fending off attacks from those in his ranks that would rather cling to rigid ideology than engage in hard work of seeking accommodation with other viewpoints.

The simple truth is that every member of the house has earned the mandate to represent the people of Canada, whether you agree with them or not. For far too long our political process has been hobbled by cartoonish simplifications of the Canadian political landscape, and imprisoned by outdated and self-serving partisan politics.

Canadians are sick of it and clearly voted with their backsides in the last election, producing the lowest voter turnout since confederation. It is time for this country to grow up.

Canada stands at a crossroads. We can continue with the divisive politics that everyone is so clearly weary of. Or we can try something new that is clearly within our parliamentary system and national character: cooperation and accommodation.

Courage, Canada. You can do it.

1 comment:

john said...

Beautifully articulated Mitchell, this will be forwarded flagrantly.