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On the significance of sound and fury.

April 17, 2015

Oh journalists, you love a strong response to an unanswerable question don’t you?

The media are really into nailing down what each party leader thinks about coalitions after the next election at the moment. Case in point, this week’s little drama with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau trying to answer questions about coalitions with the NDP after the election which he shouldn’t be answering:

The CBC even posted a video question on Facebook about: Coalition for Canada?

As someone on that Facebook thread pointed out, the simple story that many are reciting is that Trudeau said he’d be willing to have a coalition if it weren’t for NDP leader Mulcair. All the articles just snap parts of the quote to magnify this context. I can’t find the full interview. But it doesn’t matter because the next day:

Well that’s nice, glad it’s all wrapped up and we know what Canadians want.

This article by John Ibitson has some bluster about the Liberals being closer to the Conservatives than the NDP but is more on target about what the coalition options really are after an election :

I don’t really think Trudeau meant the problem is Mulcair. He said he doesn’t want to talk about it, trying not closing the door entirely and unwisely responded to a ridiculous personality question, and then he closed the door entirely.

But here’s the thing, none of this really matters.

Begin rant

The great thing about democracy is those running for office can propose to do whatever they want and if they can get the voter’s support, then it’s ok (within the bounds of the constitution). That is literally all that there is to it.

So if the NDP and the Liberals can come to a coalition agreement or a non-aggression pact of some kind before the election, the voters will take that into account. If they stay vague, the voters will take that into account. If they don’t say anything either way, then after a hung parliament (because that’s what it really is when no one wins an outright majority of seats, and in the UK they’ll call it that) they can try to work together to form a government…or not.

Whatever they do they will be acting within their mandate because the MPs are elected individually. The parties are merely useful hallucinations which we created to simplify the process of making a hard, unified decision across hundreds of ridings, and of course to make fundraising easier.

Regardless of what approach the MPs take, or what approach their parties decide on and ask their MPs to support, the voters will react and the next election they can make a different decision. In the mean time if the voters are unhappy they can protest, raise funds for other parties, start new parties themselves or run in by-elections to make their unhappiness known.

So should party A and party B agree to form a coalition before the election happens? It doesn’t matter and why would you answer that question? Why tie your hands before you even know voter intentions? Even if they take a stand either way, they don’t need to stick to it. All that matters are what all the voters say in each riding which determines who their empowered elected MPs are. Then it only matters what those MPs decide to do to work together and form a government, in full freedom, on behalf of their ridings.

Our democracy is at once simpler and richer than any of this discussion gives it credit for.

There is nothing illegal, misleading, or dishonest about forming a coalition before the election or forming it afterwards, whether it was planned and discussed or not. It’s just parliamentary democracy in action.

Embrace it.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 18, 2015 7:23 pm

    Jack Layton always said things along the line of “I’m going to trust Canadians to make a decision in the election, and then after the election, we’ll take the House of Commons that the election has produced and try to make Parliament work.” And Mulcair is saying the same thing. Perfectly respectable, constitutionally. Justin Trudeau seems to be running scared of Harper’s insincere anti-coalition rhetoric (when he famously advocated a coalition himself in a 1997 interview with Paul Todd). He should not be scared; the so-called public rejection of the 2008 coalition is a media myth:
    http://wilfday.blogspot.ca/2011/03/canadians-supported-coalition-in.html

  2. April 18, 2015 8:30 pm

    And here’s the Paula Todd interview:

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