Thursday, December 04, 2008

Prorogation – Right or Wrong, is it even smart?

I really really have to stop myself from teeing off at length about Stephen Harper's various declared mistruths and fallacies to the Canadian public over the past several months. (To say nothing of anything he actually did before and immediately leading up to this autumn's election.)

I am not happy with him as our Prime Minister. I would not be happy with Stephane Dion as our Prime Minister either. I don't even really consider Jack Layton or Gilles Duceppe as realistic options regardless of my feelings.

Any contention that a coalition is unfair, unjust or (this one really just fucks me off) illegal is either misguided, misinformed or an outright lie.

I don't think a coalition would be particularly functional, but there is only one way to know. Apparently it works really well in Switzerland. So let's assume that it's hasty to assume. One thing that is for certain is that a coalition is perfectly legit. It has been a part of our Parlimentary system from the outset and while it has been nearly 70 years since Canada last operated under one it has been a valid option under every minority government since Confederation.

While I'm on the subject of how our political system works, and before I get to my main point, there is a pair of polemic fallacies that are being lofted by each side. The boiled down version of each are as follows. On the pro-coalition side of the debate: "The majority of Canadians did not vote for Harper." On the anti-coalition side "No one voted for a coalition." Both of these statements are correct on the surface, but the implicit argument of both is utterly false for exactly the same reason. That is because of how our government is elected. This is important and it seems easily overlooked. It appears as though through a combination of common parlance (Eg. "I'm voting for Harper." Or "I voted for Trudeau.") and associative assumptions gleaned from the highly visible elective process of the United States, that people seem to not realise who/what they vote for. Think back to October 14th. On your ballot, did you see any of the following names? Stephane Dion, Steven Harper, Jack Layton, Gilles Duceppe, Elizabeth Green? The answer is "no" (Unless you happen to live in – respectively; Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, Calgary Southwest, Toronto-Danforth, Laurier-Sainte Marie or Central Nova; and even then you only would have had one of them on your ballot.)

We in Canada vote for our local representative in the House of Commons. They (typically) each belong to a party. Collectively they determine who the government is. If there happens to be a majority of one party's representatives (MPs) it's pretty much a given that they will declare that they will declare their party leader as Prime Minister. Otherwise, it is all up for grabs. Under MOST minorities the party with the most seats is able to leverage an agreement with at least one of the lesser represented parties to agree with them in principle and support the leader of the better represented party as Prime Minister. This works under the understanding that more Canadians supported that party's representatives than any other. But this is nothing more than a courtesy. There is NO obligation to do this. It in itself is the simplest form of coalition. There is nothing stopping any other combination of parties – or even individuals if they desire to split from the party lines – who believe that they can collectively act in the best interest of the Canadian public from appointing a Prime Minister from among their ranks (presumably the leader of the largest party group within them) if they have the political will and force of numbers (I.E. a majority) to do so.

So, back to those two statements. "The majority of Canadians did not vote for Harper." True. Of course the only Canadians who could live in Calgary Southwest. But at it's heart, the unspoken premise of this argument is "Canadians did not elect a majority of Conservative MPs." Which is essentially irrelevant. We elect MPs of whatever stripe. THEY determine what the make up of the government is, no matter what constitutional avenue is excercised to do so. On the other side, "No one voted for a coalition." Again, this is technically correct. Put aside all facetious arguments such as "Of course not, 'Coalition' was never on the ballot." (Sorry Mom, I know that particular witticism was yours.) This is a false attempt at attacking a straw man... which I believe makes it a straw man in it's own right. It argues that 'coalition' was never an option. This is, frankly, complete bullshit. Coalition is ALWAYS an option. It just happens to be an option that is not often used in the sense that the people using the argument mean it. It may not be on the ballot, but tacitly it is a standard part of our political process. Furthermore, it is precisely what would allow Harper's minority government to exist – a coalition. Arguably a less stable one than what was planned by the opposition parties this week. Harper's minority government would be operating at the pleasure of the opposing parties, and thus would require agreement from at least one of them on any given vote – a defacto and ever shifting coalition without officially agreed upon terms (unlike the agreement proposed for coalition this past week).

Neither argument is really saying what it actually means. This confuses the issue as such equivocation results in a lot of wasted effort arguing about meaningless frivolities rather than getting to the point.

A coalition, like it or hate it (there doesn't seem to be much 'love' for it) is a valid and legal option. AND... before the anti-coalition side jumps down my throat for apparent non-partizanship... to the best of my understanding, so is proroguing Parliament.

However, I think proroguing Parliament is a worse choice.

For starters, delaying action on the current financial crisis is a mistake. We seem to be one of the countries who are least affected by ('least', not 'un' affected) and we are not only allowing it to gain traction within our borders, but we are losing our advantage without. This is merely my limited perspective. I am no economist, it is also hardly germane to my main point.

From Harper's position, what is he thinking? It strikes me as a singularly cowardly approach. Does he actually expect the other parties to back down in January? It doesn't look good on him, and can only put him in danger of squandering the limited advantage he has. For what? To hold on to his vestige of power another six weeks? If he had simply allowed the coalition to take control, it would have had a limited shelf life. It's inevitable. That would only have made voting for a stonger Conservative government look like a good option to a large number of Canadians. Yet by throwing the equivalent of a political hissy fit, he does nothing to improve his image. (Much to the long term delight of the other parties.) At best he is merely putting off the inevitable and making himself look worse in the eyes of the majority of Canadians who did not vote for him, and alienating the fringe of those who did. By proroguing Parliament he will find himself facing either an election or a coalition in January. The latter will lead to an election in the end too, but his party will be best served in either case to not enter the next election with him at the helm. Again... what was he thinking?

1 comment:

The Vancouverista said...

I have a feeling that Harper is thinking he needs some time to build an appropriate smear campaign against the opposition parties. Propaganda is a viable and valuable tool these days. Obviously he is not concerned with much beyond holding onto his power. Otherwise he would be addressing the issues (namely the economy) in Parliament rather than shutting it down only to return to the inevitable coaltion (and/or election) in January.