Wednesday, November 30, 2005

To The Polls We Go!

Well folks, it has finally happened. The Liberal Government has folded like the house of cards it always was, imploding from an abundance of corruption the likes of which have only been observed in, well, most other governments.

It’s big news, too. The “Daily Show with John Stewart” led with the story last night, and dedicated a whole 5 minutes to a Bob and Doug McKenzie style Canadian roast. They called Paul Martin a hoser, and got a Canadian to say “out” and “about”. Man, that gag never gets old, does it? Even CNN had a 20 second spot on the Canadian political turmoil. They had it sandwiched between two other newsworthy topics; something about a heroic cat that helped its obese owner to escape a burning apartment, and an informative look at the upcoming season of The Apprentice (this time it’s filmed in LA!).

It’s true that the Liberals have been in power for so long that their flippancy resembles that of an African tin pot dictator dressing up as a woman to avoid being busted at a hotel, but in reality they’re no more corrupt than governments in other countries. For example, while I was working on a job in Panama during the Florida Election Scandal (round 1), the Panamanians expressed disbelief in America’s apparent shock at the shenanigans. “In Panama, we simply accept that all politicians are crooks. That way we’re never disappointed, and it’s an unending source of amusement!” They even offered to send a team of election observers to the US to ensure that true democracy was upheld.

However, there’s perhaps more to this story than just the collapse of a minority government in Canada. The pollsters are already predicting that in January Canadians will elect yet another minority government, and I think we may as well get used to it. Here’s why. We’ve got a lot of federal political parties in Canada, with four legitimate parties leading the way, a couple of potential contenders close on their heels, and scores of others trying to achieve official political party status. With the varied interests of the provinces and territories across Canada, it’s doubtful that we could all agree on one party.

Take a quick glance at the typical distribution of votes for the top four, and you’ll see what I mean. Ontario has the most seats in the nation, and they tend to vote for whatever party promises to wring lots of taxpayer dollars out of the other Provinces and build freeway extensions around Toronto and Ottawa. That party is the Liberal Party. Quebec, and their ridiculous number of seats (considering their decreasing population), will always vote for The Bloc. It’s never enough seats to win a majority, but it’s enough to occasionally be anointed as the official opposition. Imagine that, a federal political party whose only real mandate is to separate the Province of Quebec from the Country of Canada. How that is even legal is beyond me. So, the rest of Canada is forced to fend for itself and vote for whoever Ontario doesn’t, and that leaves the Conservative Party and the NDP. Those parties bicker among themselves and more or less split the votes west of Ontario. Occasionally, they even win the odd seat in Ontario. The Atlantic Provinces don’t count. Sorry.

What does this all mean? It means that I’d be amazed if we ever see a majority government in Canada again. There are other parties gaining momentum as well, such as the Green Party and the Party of Yogic Flyers. As those parties become mainstays of the Canadian political scene, the votes will become spread out even further. The chances of one party being elected with a clear majority may very well be a thing of the past.

But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Look at Europe, and some of the election patterns that have occurred there for many years. The Italians haven’t had a majority government for decades. The “winning” political party rarely receives more than 30% of the vote, and the governing body usually consists of a rag-tag coalition of sorts. Now, Italian politicians can hardly be help up as pillars of their vocation, but coalition governments do tend to have one thing going for them – they keep the government honest. I know, I know, calling an Italian government honest is a contradiction in terms, but just imagine if one party actually won an election in Italy. The resulting payola would make the sponsorship scandal and the gun registry look like the change jar on grandma’s bedside table.

Coalition governments can also result in strange bedfellows, like the current situation in Germany. The coalition parties may not like each other very much, but to remain in power, they have to cooperate. This often results in less extreme government.

What do all these countries, including Canada, have in common? They have more than two official federal political parties. The two party system is a topic for another day, but let me leave you with this. In the US, most of the big corporations make large campaign contributions to both parties. So, when either party is elected, and it will by definition be a majority victory, who is really calling the shots? Perhaps if the voters had more options, and the nation spent a few terms with coalitions formed by parties representing more diverse interests, the corporate stranglehold would be loosened. Perhaps.


Brock said...

I like the topic Dave. There is nothing like an election to liven up things north of the 49.

While I do agree that we may have a minority government this time around I do not agree that it is spells the end of majority governments. (There is also the question of whether a coalition government is minority or majority, given that the coalition is formed pre-election.) The main reason I do not see a minority government functioning long term is stasis.

The NDP has an inferiority complex, which means they are continuely looking for greener grass; effectively stabbing a fellow partner in the back. The Conservatives remain divided between traditional Tories who favour smaller government and fiscal restraint and the original Canadian Alliance people in favour of a marriage between church and state. The Liberals have turned middle of the road politics into an art form while making the road twelve lanes. I believe traditional Tories such as Stronach will continue to defect to the Liberal party as the Liberals exhibit some very Conservative-party traits, especially on fiscal policy.

I think that Canadians were hoping for the political parties to form a workable minority government this time around. All three parties failed – the NDP especially so. The NDP lost several seats in SK and MB to the Conservatives this past election, but somehow did not receive the message that people were expecting something different. Instead Layton decided to go first-class on a power trip after some initial successes. The Conservatives, or rather their leader, are an exercise in idiocy. Once Klein retires from Alberta I am uncertain they will retain that province as a stronghold. Harper’s religious bent is sad and embarrassing. His rare displays of intelligence are overshadowed by his inability to divorce personal belief with political duty. Finally, the Liberals’ complacency or arrogance developed over their time in power means that they do not have the compromising demeanor necessary for a minority government to function. All in all I do not know that these parties have the ability, especially with present leaders, to form a minority government.

My hope is that next election, if not this one, Canadians will nominate one party with a clear majority to move the country forward. As for minority governments providing honesty in government: what the hell is the opposition party for? Moreover, exactly why didn’t the opposition party spot the sponsorship program? It’s not like $250MM is a small number in Canadian politics.