Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Confidence Games

I just watched Mr. Ignatieff's interview with Peter Mansbridge, and would say it's a fair bet that his comments on coalitions and how our system of government works will get most of the air time. However, in listening to his comments it occurred to me that over the past 2 years we have allowed rhetoric and spin to obscure our view of how one forms a government.

One's ability to govern flows from one's ability to hold the confidence of the House of Commons. That's it. The election simply populates that House with MPs representing parties - we elect MPs from which a government is formed.

After the election, the party with the most seats will be given an opportunity to form a government. They will do this by demonstrating to the Governor-General that they can obtain the confidence of the House. If they have 155 seats or more, this is easy - it's a majority government. If they have fewer, it becomes more complicated. Doable, but more difficult. That's the minority government.

The scenario being discussed now is what happens if Mr. Harper forms another minority government and at some point - perhaps on a budget - it is defeated. Such a defeat would indicate that the government no longer has the confidence of the House; that the majority of the elected officials did not agree with the proposals put before them.

The question put to Mr. Igantieff is whether at that point, would he try to form a government. Would he propose that he could maintain the confidence of a majority of MPs.

Here's the thing - there is nothing wrong with this scenario. This is how the system is supposed to work. Yes, the viability of his option is something that should be considered. The steps he would need to take to establish and maintain confidence would need to be understood for the Governor-General to offer him the opportunity.

But aside from that, this is the way our Parliamentary democracy works. Unfortunately our 2-year fascination with the word coalition has pushed this simple fact to the back pages. We have allowed what is appropriate and legitimate to be characterized as dangerous and illegitimate.

Now I fully expect that the spin machines will seize on Mr. Igantieff's remarks; that they will try suggest that it is he who has a "hidden agenda." This is unfortunate.

As voters, we should possess an understanding of our system and how it works. By informing ourselves we can take a step away from spin and towards engagement.


  1. I have never understood the distaste for coalitions. There shouldn't be anything bad about getting along and working together.

    I was for the Dion coalition attempt and I would have been for an Ignatieff coalition. I was disappointed that he was pressured into ruling it out from the start.

    Until the debates I just thought Harper was spewing rhetoric. After the debate, I'm wondering if he actually fundamentally does not understand our system.

    Harper and his famous statements about forming government with socialists and separatists is beyond annoying. Despite what you might think of the NDP and Bloc, people did vote for them, they represent a certain portion of the population. You cannot just shrug them off as being illegitimate.

    That's my rant.

  2. I do not like coalitions, do not agree with them at all. To Michael Ignatieff defence he is in trouble no matter what he says, because he did signed that agreement in 2008 so we know he can change his mind even if he said he wont form a coalition, he would be a terrible leader if all the starts were align and he did not take advantage of it. He is not in a win-win situation at all.

    And then let`s add the Bloc to the mix, even though it is legitimate for them but the Bloc is not party like the others, if it were, then Gilles Duceppe would be a legitimate choice for PM. But a party DEVOTED to the destruction of a country cannot also expect to govern it. Any self-respecting country has to draw the line somewhere that is, if it believes in its own right to exist.

    And then let`s add to the mix the possibility of 3rd referendum in Quebec and if MI chooses to work with the Bloc, oh man I don`t even want to think of the consequences of that.

    I`d love to believe that a minority government will be able to work fine but is not going to happen, they will defeat Harper as soon as possible.

    And personally I cannot support a Liberal government at this point, this is the second time I will vote for Harper, I believe Ignatieff is a terrible politician (Dion had a problem because of his speech and lack of commanding presence but it was 1000 better politician than Ignatieff) I much rather see Jack as PM, whether I agree with his politics or not he has a vision, instincts and it is a good politician.

  3. Thank-you both for your comments. From my perspective, the challenge with coalitions is that you need an engaged and informed citizenry to make them work. I am not sure we have consistently demonstrated that we have such a citizenry in Canada.

    Inherent in the notion of a coalition is compromise. Our recent experience has demonsrated that a commitment to compromise is lacking from our politics.

    Ironically, the ability to broker and compromise are ideals we hold up as Canadian - it is often how we like to portray Canada to the world. Sadly, we are less able to demonstrate it to one another in our politics.

  4. Claudia,

    Re. your comment about not liking coalitions. I am curious, is the prospect of them that you don't like, or the prospect of one with the current slate of players that is the problem?


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