ROUSING THE RABBLE: The myth about coalition government

Stephen Harper has been trying to strike fear into the hearts of Canadians since the federal election campaign began.

The prime minister has been saying that a coalition government would be a dangerous proposition for Canada and says that the opposition parties tried it in 2008 and they’ll try it again.

Harper’s claim is simply not true; the facts prove otherwise. Michael Ignatieff, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe did not try to form a coalition in 2008.

The leaders of the Liberal, NDP and Bloc agreed to form a co-operative government led by the Liberals in collaboration with the NDP with the support of the Bloc Quebecois.

Thanks to the CBC TV doing a Reality Check, the agreement that the leaders signed has been made public – it was signed only by Layton and Ignatieff. The Bloc agreed to co-operate with them but there was not a signature.

A Policy Accord to Address the Economic Crisis was the second document signed by the three parties. The Liberal, NDP and Bloc leaders agreed to work together to address the economic crisis that Canada faced in 2008.

In a parliamentary system like Canada’s, a coalition government should not be thought of in Harper’s terms.

Coalition governments exist in Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Finland has been governed by a coalition since 1917 and Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Austria have coalition governments as well.

Harper continues to talk about a “coalition” as though it was the worst thing in the world that could happen in Canada. If coalitions work well in so many other countries, why not in Canada?

David Mitchell, president of the Public Policy Forum based in Ottawa, says that minority governments may be a healthier political option because they prevent a ruling party from pushing through its own agenda. In a coalition, the parties are forced to co-operate with one another.

Mitchell also says that some very creative policies can come out of so-called “hung” parliaments. Lester Pearson’s minority government brought in universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, government loans for university students, the Order of Canada, and the Canadian flag.

He also convened the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. The Liberals worked co-operatively with the New Democratic Party and the Social Credit party to achieve these results.

Harper’s talk about a coalition is clearly intended to raise fear among voters. However, the campaign is well enough along that voters have a got a good idea of what the future will hold if there is another Harper-led government.

The agenda includes the Enbridge pipeline, ongoing subsidization of offshore oil extraction on the West Coast and the oil sands industry in Alberta, a Canada/European trade agreement, water export policies but no action on climate change initiatives.

Leaders of the opposition parties have stated emphatically during this campaign that they will not form a coalition after May 2 should no party elect enough members to have a majority in parliament.

There are important lessons to be learned from observing the traveling circus called “electioneering” that is now entertaining everyone. Examine all party platforms with great care. Challenge what the players are saying. Ask tough questions and demand intelligent answers. Don’t take everything that is said as being truthful.

Meaningless rhetoric will be spoken during the remainder of the campaign and voters who are not careful will be led down the garden path with tantalizing promises. Remember, they are only promises and most will never be more than that.

When it’s all over, everyone will have paid their income taxes and their money will be spent to keep the country running. As stakeholders they can only hope that there is a good return on their investment.

Roy Ronaghan is a columnist for the Grand Forks Gazette