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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Election 2011 – Winners and Losers

Disclosure: The author is currently an undecided voter, is not affiliated with any political party and has, in the past, voted for candidates of the blue, red and orange stripe.

On Tuesday Canadians were afforded an opportunity to witness a rare event in Canadian politics, a campaigning politician, a party leader no less, being completely factual and honest on the national stage.

For those of you who might have missed this singular event or who were unfortunate enough to have witnessed the political spin that quickly followed, let me bring you up to speed.

During a one on one interview with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff was asked about the possibility that a party forming government without gaining the most seats during an election.

The Liberal leader’s response was a rather lengthy, though timely civics lesson that went something like this.

“… (paraphrasing) The party winning the most seats will have an opportunity to form government and seek the confidence of the House of Commons. If the leader of that party is not able to gain this confidence he must visit the Governor General and, if the GG decides to approach another leader, should it be me, I would be prepared to…”

“ (direct quote) talk to Mr. Layton and or Mr. Duceppe -- or even Mr. Harper -- and say we have an issue and here's the plan that I want to put before Parliament, uh you know, this is the budget I would bring in and then we take it from there."

Mr. Ignatieff went on to affirm his earlier statements that under such circumstances, should he gain the confidence of the House he would not enter into any sort of formal coalition that would see members of another party sitting in government but would instead cooperate with the other parties as necessary going forward.

While potentially damaging for him politically, Mr. Ignatieff deserves a pat on the back for both is honesty and clear understanding of the Canadian Parliament.

This is precisely the way the system, developed over hundreds of years, is designed to work.

Unfortunately the incessant Conservative demonization of the word “coalition” in attack ad after attack ad, and directly by Mr. Harper, has led to self serving and baseless fear among a Canadian public largely ignorant of the rules of their own democracy.

For many months Mr. Harper and his Conservative party have been demonizing all opposition parties and doing a grave disservice to the Canadian public by misleading them about how their government actually functions.

With the campaign steaming ahead Mr. Harper’s latest message seems predicated on the belief that his party must form a majority or, should they gain a minority, it would lead to an “reckless coalition” seizing power in Ottawa. This is a position that flies in the face of a truly democratic process - a government chosen by the majority of a nation’s citizens.

If, as most of us have been taught, that the majority of the people should choose their government then which is more valid, a Conservative government supported by a minority of the voting public or a working cooperative that represents the choice of a majority of Canadians?

It’s an important question to ask considering that after the last election Mr. Harper formed government even though his members captured less than 40% of voter support.

It’s even more to the point when you factor in the reality that with less than 60% of the public going to the polls, in reality he formed government with the direct support of about 22%, or only 1 in 5, eligible voters.

Mr. Harper’s position is not only self serving but more than just a little presumptive.

Yes, the polls currently favor the Conservatives, but no matter what the polls or pundits might say, there is no guarantee that following the election the Conservatives will form a government at all.

During an election almost anything can happen, so why has the media bought into Conservative spin with story after story about coalitions? Why haven’t they instead asked Mr. Harper some very salient questions?

What will he do if his party fails win enough seats to form a minority, much less a majority government?

After the election, if his party fails to capture the most seats, and the Liberals or NDP form a minority government will he allow that party to govern? If not, and the party is unable to win the confidence of the House, would he, Mr. Harper, force another $300 million dollar election on the public or would he try, if asked by the GG, to work with the other parties to form government?

I ask these questions because I’m wondering if the Conservative’s convenient aversion to “coalitions” applies only to others or to themselves as well.

Since Mr. Harper has made this bogyman a central issue of his campaign it’s only reasonable for the public to know what his position is.

I realize the media is limited to 5 questions a day while following Mr. Harper’s campaign but this subject might be a good one to push. Why hasn’t it been?

A large swath of Canada’s electorate is turning away from their political obligation and becoming more apathetic with each passing campaign cycle. There are many reasons for this, but I believe a primary reason is the well founded belief that nobody can trust anything politicians say, especially during an election campaign. With this in mind, it’s truly sad that when a political leader is willing to speak the unvarnished truth, without spinning it for electoral advantage, he’s attacked and vilified.

In reality the only winners in any election are the 308 individual MPs who gain a seat in Parliament. Some of those will come from the Conservative ranks, others from the NDP, Liberal, Bloc and perhaps even the Green Party. The parties themselves do not win government but must seek the confidence of a majority of those 308 separate winners.

The saddest result of this utter disregard for the truth is that while no political party actually wins or loses the Canadian public most surely stands to lose the most.

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