Andrew Coyne's Blog, Capital Read - Written by Andrew Coyne on Wednesday, December 3, 2008 12:55 - 62 Comments

Notes on a crisis: the coalition is not illegitimate, just ill-advised

To be clear: there is nothing unconstitutional or illegitimate in the notion of a coalition government, per se. Nor would the Governor General be committing any sin against democracy were she to disregard the prime minister’s advice, following his defeat in a confidence vote, and call upon the coalition to form a government, rather than dissolve Parliament and call new elections. Constitutional scholars are virtually unanimous that she has that option, and only slightly less so that she should in fact exercise it.

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But it is not a slam dunk. She must take into consideration whether the coalition is likely to last, or whether its in-built volatility is such as to condemn Canada to a prolonged period of instability and uncertainty. But even if she does hand them the keys — and that is much the more probable result: whatever misgivings she might have, she would doubtless feel she lacked the legitimacy to exercise such discretion — that doesn’t make it a good idea.

My beef is not with the notion of a coalition, as such. It is with this coalition, at this time. My criticisms are not that it is undemocratic, but that it is unstable; not that it is illegitimate, but that it is misdirected and unjustified. (The opposition is entitled to vote no confidence in the government for any reason it likes — but I am entitled to say that the reasons it offers are humbug.) The policies it pursues are, in my judgement, likely to prove calamitous for the country, and ruinous for the Liberal party. But if that is what the majority of the House decides, that is how our system works.

Up to a point. The public’s views of the result cannot simply be ignored. It may be that the Conservatives are appealing to popular ignorance of parliamentary government, with their demands for an election before any change of government. But it may also be that there is a broader question of legitimacy at play: past a certain point, if a thing is rejected by the public, it becomes illegitimate. This is such a bizarre situation, such an extreme application of the traditional Parliamentary prerogative to choose a government — defeating a government so soon after an election, and propping up such a rickety contraption in its place, even leaving aside the question of the Bloc’s involvement — that the public’s response may well be, like the child in the New Yorker cartoon, “I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.”

MOREOVER: A number of people have written to ask how I could have a problem with the coalition, given my support for proportional representation, with its tendency to produce coalition governments. But the two are entirely separable questions. First, as I say above, I have particular problems with this coalition, as opposed to coalitions in general. But second, and more fundamentally: the present situation is not a template for what would obtain under PR.

A minority government is a very different thing under first-past-the-post than under PR, and so would be the coalitions that arise. There would be different parties, with different bases — less geographical, more ideological — and different incentives: whereas FPTP, with its highly leveraged outcomes — a 2 per cent swing in the popular vote leading to a 60 seat swing in Parliamentary representation — encourages parties to push the button on an election the minute they think they have the upper hand, under PR there is no such payoff — a 2% swing means 2% more seats — and no such incentive. As a result, modern PR systems tend to be more stable, not less, than FPTP. And the coalitions are typically formed before elections, not after: the National Party and the Liberals in Australia run as a ticket, as do the Christian Democrats and the Christian Social Union (and, more often than not, the Free Democrats) in Germany.

Under PR, there would be fewer Bloc seats, and thus less likelihood that it would hold the balance of power. There would be more parties, and thus more possible coalition partners. And there would be much less incentive to partisan rancor: majority governing coalitions would be formed, not by splitting votes, but by combining them.


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Coyne Crisis
Dec 3, 2008 13:01

The first poll out shows that if the vote of non confidence succeeds.37% support the coalition, 7% support and accord, and 32% support an election. That makes 44% for a new government without an election versus 32% for a fresh election. So as of right now, it’s arguable that more Canadians support the opposition taking power than support an election.

Dec 3, 2008 13:04

Andrew, how would the coalition, which has a signed agreement that will last at least 18 months, be any less stable than a government led by Stephen Harper? Harper is very much the author of the crisis, and the most surprising about it is that his attitude and actions haven’t led to such a crisis earlier.

As such, it is the coalition that offers the most stability. That stability may not be strong or long-lasting, but it is far more stable than anything Harper can offer at this juncture.

Geiseric the Lame
Dec 3, 2008 13:04

By way of agreement I’ll point out their respective exit strategies better be good.

risky? absolutely. But any boxer will tell you a right cross is one hell of a commitment, too. Maybe they do believe in themselves too much. Maybe time will tell.

AJ Kingston
Dec 3, 2008 13:05

However, there is nothing to suggest that a new election will provide a stronger government, and every reason to believe that it (an election) would only provide another minority government which would need two parties to work together, something this Conservative government has proven it can not do.

Dec 3, 2008 13:06

>But it may also be that there is a broader question of legitimacy at play: past a certain point, if a thing is rejected by the public, it becomes illegitimate.

Fair enough. But what is that “certain point”? Opinion polls? By-election results? It’s almost as though there needs to be a Clarity Act passed just for this situation.

Again, if this lasts until Iggy takes over - and I have a sneaking suspicion it will, especially if Charest wins a majority in Quebec and the Bloc faces the conclusion that they’re not likely to win much, if any, additional seats by causing a dissolution and putting the province through yet another election - that probably eliminates the stability argument. Right now, the polls look to be a slight plurality in favor of the coalition, so saying the public mood is against it is obviously wrong (that may change if Harper gets out of the way - a good deal of the support for the coalition right now is obviously the result of a hatred of all things SH).

That’s the tricky dividing line - it’s not whether the policies passed by the new government will be unpopular; that’s to be expected in some cases. It’s whether the public judges the system as working or not.

And we won’t know that for a good while to come, especially if your fears of the Bloc ripping up the agreement don’t come to pass.

Dec 3, 2008 13:06

Or, to put it another way 44% suppport handing the government over to the opposition one way or another.

Shawn in Montreal
Dec 3, 2008 13:07

Even as a Liberal, I believe Andrew is raising legitimate points, especially as regards whether we Libs will come to rue the day this coalition was hatched.

No one can say for sure whether the party will emerge out of the Dion fiasco and now this coalition deal as diminished as Andrew believes they might be — but no one can be sure they won’t.

As for me, I believe the Liberals desperately need a popular centrist like Ignatieff to bring this party back to its traditional place in the centre of Canadian political life. Spending as much time as we are boosting the Greens, for one thing — what is it with Dion and May, anyway? Get a room — at the expense of our own party makes zero sense to me.

David Bakody
Dec 3, 2008 13:09

Please Read and pass on if you so wish. If you should disagree please state the laws verse and chapter that does not give the BLOC these rights… they were at one time the Official Opposition of Canada… and did just fine…seems the MSM has forgotten… strange!

PMSH best choose his words wisely to attack the BLOC is most unwise, they are a legal registered party IAW the laws of this land called Canada. When any Prime Minister takes his/her oath of office they do so will the full understanding all peoples of this country are under his care and custody of governance. During England’s Wars Queen Victoria understood this well and when attack was imminent she ordered all prisoners released to join in the fight for England… stating they were also citizens. The GG is fully aware of the legal status of the BLOC and is also well aware that almost 1/3 of the population had their right to choose to cast their vote as did the rest of voters on the ballads that were provided. Should PMSH try and make any suggestion that this coalition removes the rights of any voter he is most definitely wrong. Furthermore if the MSM does not fully understand the rights and freedoms of all Canadians in the political process they should quickly educate themselves.

Sean Stokholm
Dec 3, 2008 13:09

“She must take into consideration whether the coalition is likely to last”

I’m pretty sure you’re wrong about that. It is the job of the GG to respect the will of the house. It is surely not her job to divine if the will of MPs may or may not be sustainable on a given issue (the coalition, in this case) for the long run.

“This is such a bizarre situation, such an extreme application of the traditional Parliamentary prerogative to choose a government — defeating a government so soon after an election, and propping up such a rickety contraption in its place”

Defend your use of the word “rickety”. Seems to me that a majority of MPs in the house have signed on to this deal, which makes it nor more or less stable than any other expression of will, or formation of government. I’m starting to sound tiresome in repeating this, but I really wish people would wrap their heads around the workings of parliamentary democracy, which include individual MPs excercising their judgements in the house.

Dec 3, 2008 13:11

That poll clearly says 40% want the Conservatives out. 60% either want them to stay or have no opinion either way. So, 1) where the hell is the 62% that voted against the Conservatives? Did they actually swing 22% of the population back into the undecided column? and 2) even if you assume all of the 25% undecided support the coalition idea, that is only 24% (37% of 65%) of the population who are behind it. Not exactly the base you want starting out….

TJ Cook
Dec 3, 2008 13:13

Of course, the counter argument goes something like:

The opposition parties weathered the previous Parliament in which the minority gov’t used unprecedented hardball tactics to rule like a majority, followed by a jaw-droppingly nasty political campaign.

When Parliament resumed, they were assured that the minority government would demonstrate a New Spirit of Cooperation with the other parties and take drastic action (per the PM in Peru) to stimulate a failing economy.

Within days, in a single address, it became clear that economic stimulus was off the agenda for at least 4 months, the hardball tactics were being ramped up in a way that would pointedly crush the finances of the opposition and a few Conservative hobby horses were going to be jammed in.

The coalition is not the only possible course of action, and it’s fraught with risk, but the opposition response seems reasonable enough to me.

Oh, and Andrew: “It may be that the Conservatives are appealing to popular ignorance of parliamentary government…”

It may be?!? Cabinet ministers and the PM himself are using phrases like “unconstitutional”, “coup d’etat” and “illegitimate”, and you concede that they may be appealing to Canadians’ ignorance of this entirely constitutional act?

Come over to the reality-based community, Andrew. It’s not as satisfying to the id but you’ll eliminate the cognitive dissonance that must be deafening by now.

Dec 3, 2008 13:13

>Spending as much time as we are boosting the Greens, for one thing — what is it with Dion and May, anyway? Get a room — at the expense of our own party makes zero sense to me.

Agreed. Although the sheer volume of people voting for the Greens out of… well, I’m still not sure why… worries me, it should be a problem left to the NDP to resolve. Stake out a good, moderate position on the environment and be done with it - as it is, that issue’s not going to be on the front burner again for years given the scope of the economic problems.

The question will be whether this coalition will be truly able to govern from the centre or whether it gets dragged left. Personally, the Bloc has never struck me as being altogether left-wing, and as a result I’d wager on the first option.

If the NDP had control of finance, though, this would be an entirely different situation.

Publius Maximus
Dec 3, 2008 13:15

“It might, however, sometimes happen, that appeals would be made under circumstances less adverse to the executive and judiciary departments. The usurpations of the legislature might be so flagrant and so sudden, as to admit of no specious coloring. A strong party among themselves might take side with the other branches. The executive power might be in the hands of a peculiar favorite of the people. In such a posture of things, the public decision might be less swayed by prepossessions in favor of the legislative party. But still it could never be expected to turn on the true merits of the question. It would inevitably be connected with the spirit of pre-existing parties, or of parties springing out of the question itself. It would be connected with persons of distinguished character and extensive influence in the community. It would be pronounced by the very men who had been agents in, or opponents of, the measures to which the decision would relate. The PASSIONS, therefore, not the REASON, of the public would sit in judgment.

But it is the reason, alone, of the public, that ought to control and regulate the government. The passions ought to be controlled and regulated by the government. ”

Federalist No. 49 Alexander Hamilton or John Jay
New York Packet.
Tuesday, February 5, 1788.

Coyne Crisis
Dec 3, 2008 13:15

So, 1) where the hell is the 62% that voted against the Conservatives?

Pete: the 62% would be the 62% that voted for parties other than the Conservative party in the October election. You’re comparing apples to oranges.

even if you assume all of the 25% undecided support the coalition idea, that is only 24% (37% of 65%) of the population who are behind it.

You’re making up numbers. 65%? What?

art williams
Dec 3, 2008 13:15

You are a very smart man, Mr Coyne.

Dec 3, 2008 13:15

Ignatieff a “popular centrist”? Absentrist is more like it. The Liberals made a strategic mistake in not at least trying to include the West in this coalition. Installing Goodale as a caretaker PM would have been an easy way to accomplish this.

Dec 3, 2008 13:18

Stability is a subjective consideration. Is it stable when the business of government is run as if we are permanently in an election campaign? When there are law suits and criminal investigations and filibusters and committee walk outs, and attacks on independent institutions and bureacucratrs?

I agree that it might be ill-advised for the parties in the coalition because I think what Canadians really want (not what I want) is a working, cooperative minority government run by the party that got the most seats, but on a tight leash preventing radical shifts in policy. I don’t think they want hyper partisan Harper and I don’t think they want this coalition; they want all the parties to put aside their bickering and work together. Harper seems incapable of that. The Coalition … well, it remains to be seen.

The Opposition had a great chance on Sunday-Monday to congratulate Harper for backing off the more egregious provocations in the F/U and finally learning that a minority government requires consultation and compromise. They could have stood down with their coalition plan in their back pocket, and served notice that similar behaviour would not be tolerated in the future.

Coyne Crisis
Dec 3, 2008 13:19

Publius Maximus: The Federalist papers? Irrelevant 220 year old propaganda sheets written before the modern Westminster system existed? Are you for real?

Austin So
Dec 3, 2008 13:21


I think this reflects a blind ideological bias more than anything else.

Are you purposely ignoring CPC spending over the past year? How about that $700 million handout to Quebec under the rubric of “fiscal imbalance”?

The CPC was preaching prior to the election that this financial mess we were in now was a mere blip. Either they were willfully misleading the population or they were utterly incompetent. Everyone knew this was coming. And yet Harper actually encouraged people to buy stocks!

Is this the economic stewardship you value? Are you nuts? Just because they have the word “conservative” in their name?

I challenge you, Mr. Coyne, to provide us with one singular act of fiscal prudence or foresight that was made by the current CPC that was not “ill-advised”.

For that very reason, this coalition has greater authority under this time.


Dec 3, 2008 13:21

>That poll clearly says 40% want the Conservatives out. 60% either want them to stay or have no opinion either way.

On the contrary: that poll (which poll, btw? That wasn’t the CTV question) clearly says that 60% either want the Conservatives out or have no opinion, and only 40% want them to stay.

Dec 3, 2008 13:22

“But it is not a slam dunk. She must take into consideration whether the coalition is likely to last, or whether its in-built volatility is such as to condemn Canada to a prolonged period of instability and uncertainty. ”

As opposed to a minority govt who has lost the confidence of the House and is not likely to regain it any time soon?

Should Harper suceed in proroguing this session, what happens when the new throne speech comes up for a vote?

Or perhaps we should just demand that the Opposition prop up Harper’s govt no matter what he throws at them. When they did exactly that in the last Parliament, the punditry had nothing but nice things to say about that one.

Or better yet, let’s plunge the country into an endless cycle of election until someone gets a majority, right?

Anything but this coalition, right Andrew?

Dec 3, 2008 13:25

“Again, if this lasts until Iggy takes over - and I have a sneaking suspicion it will, especially if Charest wins a majority in Quebec and the Bloc faces the conclusion that they’re not likely to win much, if any, additional seats by causing a dissolution and putting the province through yet another election - that probably eliminates the stability argument.”

Well Charest’s majority win is now in jeopardy, thanks to Harper’s antics. The vote is on Monday. If Harper continues his attack on Quebec, that leaves plenty of time for Quebecers - a notoriously volatile electorate - to change their mind.

Since Harper is only concerned with his grasp on power, he could careless about what his attacks on Quebec might do to our national unity.

Dec 3, 2008 13:28

Much better, Mr. Coyne. And more grown up than lots of other media sources are being.

Just a thought, though. Can a Harper minority really be seen as stable, not because he’s insane or anything, but because the opposition parties are saying they absolutely won’t work with him? In the last Parliament he was held up by Liberal abstentions. If the Liberals aren’t going to do that any more… can there be a stable Harper-led government when he has to rely on buying the NDP and the Bloc on a vote-by-vote basis? The only point of agreement is with the Bloc, on stripping the federal government of its powers.

Norm in Vic
Dec 3, 2008 13:29

Think we’re immune from street violence? Are Canadians somehow inoculated from chaos? I doubt it, but I think we’re about to test that assumption.

An anger seems to be sweeping across the Nation. Parizeau and Marois are rubbing their hands together. They are sure that events can’t help but feather their bed. They are right. If the coalition survives, Canadians outside of Quebec will be outraged at the money that flows to that province. If the coalition fails then the sovereignists will rail against an imagined slight to Quebec.

I believe that the hubris and pettiness of Mr. Harper, the man I have voted for in two successive elections, has resulted in actions that, if not halted soon, will result in a nation divided….something we have not seen in our lifetimes. Encouraging people to take to the streets is a risky proposition….one I would avoid were I a Prime Minister…but once politicians get their hands on the reins, they never give them up willingly. There will be no grand gesture….patriotism is dead in that lot. Self interest seems to be the only game in town. And the opposition have blood in their eyes and have nothing to lose.

I am also convinced there is only one way out of this. The GG has to call an election, her higher calling being the need to protect the integrity of the electoral system, rather than any political party….and the truth is there is no precedent….she can pretty much do what she thinks is best for Canada. It will then fall to the Tories and the Liberals to decide who their front man is. If either party misjudges the desire of Canadians to see new faces, they will be punished at the polls. Another 300 million dollar election?…peanuts compared to the costs of the alternative. We need to clean house.

And so…she should give the parties one month to determine who their leader will be and call an election for the end of January. God save Canada.

Dec 3, 2008 13:32

Andrew, your reservations about the coalition are valid to varying degrees, but the bottom line is that this whole mess could have been so easily avoided if Harper had simply followed through on his stated commitment during the election campaign to make Parliament work. But true to form, he started off with the same old same old. The coalition may not be a dream team, and the timing may not be the best, but doing nothing in the face of Harper’s agenda for this session is not an option.

If it achieves nothing else but to inform Harper that there is an alternative to his government that is ready and willing to risk their political futures to put a stop to his arrogant ideological dictatorship, then there’s a possibility that he will think twice before daring them to oppose his wishes.

Davey's Politics
Dec 3, 2008 13:32

Andrew, what else would you have the Liberals do at this point? If they vote in favour of the economic update on Monday and abandon the coalition, wouldn’t that only serve to embolden Harper to continue to bully and push his agenda through more confidence votes? It’s either an election or an attempt at a coalition, and whether the odds favour it or not, circumstances may help the coalition succeed. I disagree that the Liberals are as powerless as you suggest in your last post. With 75% of cabinet I don’t see why they wouldn’t be in the driver’s seat. None of the opposition parties want an election either (mainly because of funding), so I think the NDP and Bloc are more willing to play along than you think.

andrew (not any of them)
Dec 3, 2008 13:35

Wells, Wells! Why hast thou abandoned us in our time of need?

Dec 3, 2008 13:40

In the last election, the combined share of the Liberal, NDP and Green vote was 51% of the electorate.

In a proportional system, those three parties could then combine to form a majority government. It’s basically the same as the current coalition, minus the Bloc.

With that in mind, how can you not support this coalition, since it reflects the will of the people more than the Conservatives do?

If we do get a snap election out of this, it’s likely we’ll see some cooperation between those three parties in order to avoid vote splitting. Using the results of the last election as a template, this would be the result, should the Greens, NDP, and Liberals run a joint candidate in each riding:

bq: 41
con: 89
grn: 2
ind: 2
lib: 128
ndp: 46

The Greens, NDP, and Liberals would easily be able to form a government with 176 seats. Would you support that government?

this is madness
Dec 3, 2008 13:46

This is entirely illegitimate. Entirely. The opposition made no attempt to resolve this. Not once. No offer. No demands. Nothing. They simply stomped their feet, behaved like children, and declared *he’s a bad man so he has to go*. Nonsense.

People can tie themselves into knots debating what’s right or wrong about this …legal or illegal, …constitutional or not. People know in their guts that this is wrong, but since we long ago abandoned right or wrong for legal or illegal, we are simply left with power-hungry losers acting like children.

Dec 3, 2008 13:47

Wells, Wells! Why hast thou abandoned us in our time of need?

Oh, I’m sure he’s around somewhere…under an embargo. This is an event for a political reporter (not pundit) to build a career on.

andrew (not any of them)
Dec 3, 2008 13:48

@ this is madness: People can tie themselves in knots debating whether this is right or wrong, given. But there is absolutely NO QUESTION that this is constitution and legal.

Robert McClelland
Dec 3, 2008 13:48

Here’s my question to you, Mr. Coyne. Why should we give Harper his 3rd election in 3 years? He howled and whined for one until the opposition parties relented and gave him one in 2006. Two and a half years later he decided he wanted another one and broke his own fixed election date to get it. So why should we give him yet another one when he’ll only howl for still another if it doesn’t return the results he desires?

Enough is enough. I for one am tired of Harper dragging us to the polls.

T. Thwim
Dec 3, 2008 13:49

Why should they, this is?
Gaining the confidence of the house is Harper’s job. Giving it to him is not the opposition’s job.

He has made clear, time and time again, that he has no interest in having the House’s confidence, merely their subjugation.

This isn’t just legal, it’s correct. When Canadians voted they voted that *none* of the parties should govern alone. Harper attempted to ignore that, and as such, government will go to the parties that are not attempting to governing alone.

Dec 3, 2008 13:51

Everyone has missed the point.

This is a POLITICAL crisis, not a GOVERNMENTAL crisis. That is to say that Harper made a political error, but he did not govern in appropriately. Exactly the opposite. He proposed some sweeping and harsh (but IMHO resonable) changes to address the financial slow down we are experiencing. When it became clear that the opposition didn’t like that, he listened to them and with drew those changes. That is the right thing to do. The opposition should have been content that the government listened to their concerns.

Just becuase the constitution allows you to do something, that doesn’t mean that you should do it. All this guarantees (should it go ahead) is that Parliment will accomplish nothing for the next year and a half becuase I’m pretty sure that the conservatives will use all the things that the constitution and the rules of parliment allow them to do and fillibuster committees and votes to a stand still. At that point it would be pure hypocracy for the ursurpers to complain about it.

Not that I think that would stop them.

Dec 3, 2008 13:52

MWS said, “Ignatieff a “popular centrist”? Absentrist is more like it. The Liberals made a strategic mistake in not at least trying to include the West in this coalition. Installing Goodale as a caretaker PM would have been an easy way to accomplish this.”

He’ll have more power as finance minister than as temporary leader, I think.

Dec 3, 2008 13:57

Er, I was referring to Goodale in my last post. I’d make Iggy the Minister of Being Iggy.

Dec 3, 2008 13:57

andrew (not any of them)

I would say it is legal but not necessarily constitutional. A significant factor in how thinks work in Parliament is custom and precedents. I have been wondering why the GG can’t say no to coalition because there is no precedent for this. Everybody has to point to European countries with prop-rep to illustrate stable coalition governments but that doesn’t help us.

If what the Coalition is doing is ok, why has no other party/parties tried it before anywhere in a country with Westminster style democracy? The Libs/NDP/BQ are going against hundreds of years of history and are trying to justify by saying it isn’t illegal.

Dec 3, 2008 13:59

I don’t see how we get past the point that Harper can not govern.

Like or dislike the Coalition ( I’m ok with it ), the man has clearly earned the active distrust of all the opposition in a MINORITY parliament. And probably a number of his own party. That’s not going away.

All else is merely rearranging the deck chairs.

Now, I appreciate that Mr. Coyne can not abide the thought of the NDP as part of any government. That’s fine. But his poltico/economic philosophy is that of a tiny minority in this country. And that’s fine too.

Lord Kitchener's Own
Dec 3, 2008 14:04

this is madness,

People can tie themselves into knots debating what’s right or wrong about this …legal or illegal, …constitutional or not.

Well, people could tie themselves in knots over whether this is legal or constitutional, but given that it is obviously both legal and constitutional, why would they bother?

Honestly, the ignorance of parliamentary democracy in this country is staggering.

Andrew makes an entirely legitimate point that he believes this is ill-advised even though it is perfectly legitimate, but given the ignorance of so many people (and, frankly, the outrageous spin and lies being offered by our own government on this issue) we need more posts just talking about the legitimacy and legality of what’s currently going on.

Anyone who can call this situation “illegitimate”, “illegal”, “unconstitutional” or “undemocratic” is either too ignorant of our system of governance to be allowed to lead, or too outright dishonest to be allowed to lead.

Dec 3, 2008 14:06

Andrew,This is why I find this coalition to be illegitimate: it will be led by a man whose party was so decisively defeated two months ago that he immediately resigned. It will be led by the leader of a party with barely half of the seats of the largest party in the House. It’s accord is replete with policy changes that have been rejected by the electorate in previous elections. It provides a veto to a party without representatives in nine out of ten provinces. It was tacked together in a backroom deal, after the election, whereas during the election both leaders vehemently denied interest in a coalition. And unless the coalition gov’t resigns, it will not seek a mandate from the people for at least 18 months. For these reasons, this particular coalition is wholly divergent from the democratic will of the people and should be opposed.

TJ Cook
Dec 3, 2008 14:09

jwl (et al): I thought the 80’s coalition in Ontario was a relevant precedent.

I’m on my blackberry, can’t research the point so I’m willing to concede if there are factors I’m unaware of.

this is madness
Dec 3, 2008 14:10

Oh that’s right …this entire event is about “the ignorance of parliamentary democracy in this country”. If only we were simply an enlightened electorate then this would be so painless, wouldn’t it?

My point clearly is that people know this is the wrong course of action, for a variety of reasons. Parliamentarians should just grow up and find a way to make it work.

T. Thwim
Dec 3, 2008 14:13

They have grown up, and they have found a way to make it work.
That way doesn’t involved Stephen Harper.

If he had had the good grace to get out of the way a week ago, this would already be done and we’d be seeing how things work out. Instead, he delayed the non-confidence vote by a week, and now he is apparantly considering advising the GG to ensure that Canada is rudderless for a month or so while the economic crisis burns around us.

Dec 3, 2008 14:16

The problem as I see it with PR is that Canada is such a diverse nation. It works great for people in small countries like The Netherlands and many other European states, but it does not jive with the Westminister/Canadian view of a constituency. This is essential in Canada because we tend to vote by region (you can predict that the 416 will go to the Liberals and all of Western Canada will go to the Conservatives). We have such different landscapes and differentiation of opinion by area that the constituency is vital to Parliament’s continued relevancy.

Bill Simpson
Dec 3, 2008 14:16

“But his poltico/economic philosophy is that of a tiny minority in this country. And that’s fine too.”

It would not have taken very many more right wing liberals to move to the Tories to have given Harper a majority, so I don’t think is true.

And I really wish Ti-Guy would give up on the snarky personal remarks about the Macleans staff. Leaves a nasty taste in the mouth every time I read his posts.

Dec 3, 2008 14:17

Again, excellent points made.

“Legitimacy” and “legality” are not necessarily the same thing.

Nobody disputes the legality of this action.

“Legitimacy” applies with regard to arguments/reasons for the action.

Right now Harper et al have far greater claim to “legitimacy” than could the opposition parties even hope for, not the least of which is that a) we’re only 7 weeks post election, and b) they’ve yet to introduce an actual budget.

On the other hand, there is not the least hint of “legitimacy” to the argument that this coalition could accomplish one damn thing any sooner, if in fact anywhere near as soon, as can the current government.

This precisely is where the “legitimacy” of the pretext for this coup goes all to hell in a blink, and thus immediately begs the question, “What is the real reason behind all this?”

The answers to that are hardly becoming of leaders who claim to have the best interests of a nation in mind, particularly within the context of an economic crisis.

Dec 3, 2008 14:23

It may be constitutional but is it right, is it moral?

Dec 3, 2008 14:25

Legitimacy only has value in informing decisions that in events for which no codified course of action exists and is only important to those who will have to take those actions.

So blither on, Harper lovers, but please stop trying to argue how morally correct you are. You’re wasting your time.

Dec 3, 2008 14:32

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, who is leader of the coalition, will be given airtime to respond to Harper’s address.

But New Democrat leader Jack Layton requested in a letter to television networks that all three opposition leaders get time on the microphone, saying the coalition is not yet official and the parties are still “distinct and functionally separate.”

“We respectfully remind broadcasters that the proposed coalition is just that: a proposal to the Canadian people by two of Canada’s political parties with the backing of a third,” stated the letter from Layton’s office.

United my ass…

Lord Kitchener's Own
Dec 3, 2008 14:33


I would say it is legal but not necessarily constitutional.

I think I understand the point that you’re making in your comment, but I think you’re misstating things here. There’s a difference between “Will the GG allow the Coalition to form a government without going to the polls first?” and “Is that option ‘constitutional’?”.

It could be, that after a vote of non-confidence, the GG would agree with Harper’s (presumed) advice that Parliament be dissolved and an election called. It could also be that she decides to allow the Coalition to attempt to demonstrate that they command the confidence of the House, and therefore allow them to govern. The fact that both outcomes are possible is because arguably both could be considered “constitutional”. What the GG would or should do is up for debate, but clearly it’s her decision, and if she were to decide to allow the Coalition a shot at government that would be ENTIRELY constitutionally valid, imho.

In this sense, to my mind, the question for the GG isn’t “is it constitutionally valid for me to allow the Coalition to form a government without sending the country back to the polls” as this question is pretty well settled. Yes, it is. Now she’ll also struggle with the question “Should I allow this Coalition to form a government without sending the country back to the polls”. There are those that would say she’s obliged to do so whether she feels good about it or not (including me), and there are those who say that it’s entirely her prerogative, and she has options. However, to my understanding, the fact that the GG may decide not to let the Coalition attempt to govern without sending the country back for another election is entirely separate from the question of whether or not it would be constitutionally valid for her to do so. To me there’s no question that it would be.

I also happen to believe that the GG has very little choice in the matter, and would be all but obliged to allow the Coalition an opportunity to demonstrate that they have the confidence of the House. To me, she doesn’t really have a choice (I’m talking here about after they win a vote of non-confidence). However I agree that this is slightly less clear. The fact that she may choose to go either way however has no bearing, imho, on the constitutionality of either option.

Was that reasonably clear, or totally obtuse?

All that said, I also believe that if the PM were to ask for Parliament to be prorogued (as opposed to dissolved) BEFORE actually losing a vote in the House, that she would be pretty much obliged to acquiesce. It’s shady and somewhat disgraceful to be sure, but I do believe the PM has the right to run away and hide form the House. I wouldn’t like it, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it “invalid” or “illegitimate” (and I support the Coalition).

Bill Simpson
Dec 3, 2008 14:49

“ensure that Canada is rudderless for a month or so while the economic crisis burns around us.”

I don’t think this really follows. Harper was doing ok with the economy and none of his proposals (outside the obvious show-stoppers) were controversial. it is matter of legitimate disagreement about their scope and size but not their substance.

if he was to prorogue Parliament and thus remain as the Prime Minister, I don;t predict any particular ill-effects to the economy, which is being largely influenced by external factors anyway.

Whatever other sins he has committed, they are not economic.

Mike T.
Dec 3, 2008 14:53

I don’t think that the GG is required to consider the points mentioned above. If a coalition is unlikely to last but can still clearly pass non-confidence motions in the government and confidence motions in itself, it is unlikely the GG could ignore that.

Dec 3, 2008 14:57

Bill Simpson - If you think what Mr. Coyne represents is right-wing liberalism, I think either you haven’t been paying attention over the years or we’re not speaking the same language.

But then, I’m not a fan of right-wing liberalism either so it doesn’t really matter.

Dec 3, 2008 15:07

Oh, and Ti-Guy is ok, too. He’s the point man of the Chucky suppression effort that allows some legitimate points to be made on these blogs. He did not ask for that role but he performs it nobly and with a wit that they usually can not recognize.

Bill Simpson
Dec 3, 2008 15:08

Sisyphus - that’s not what I said. I simply pointed out that the right of center (which includes all kinds of shades of right wing views) is pretty close to half the vote at the moment, so to discount Coyne’s views (which live in that space) as minority is not very meaningful.

And I’ll manage to get along with you not being a fan, but I don’t see why everyone has to be so snarky in their posts. It is getting really tiresome to have to wade through the fog of abuse and sarcasm to get to anything approaching a reasoned debate.

Dec 3, 2008 15:34

Oh, I think the right-wing ( economic ) vote is clearly a majority. For some reason that escapes me, a substantial number of people seem to see the Liberals as left-wing.

But Coyne is probably in the Ron Paul camp - just smarter.

Bill Simpson
Dec 3, 2008 15:50

All the liberals or just the left wing liberals? I mean, Paul Martin could have just easily been a conservative.

Moe Unting
Dec 3, 2008 16:29

Pete has made an interesting observation regarding the Angus -reid poll, namely that the numbers who voted against the Conservatives arent showing up to support the new coaltiion.

On the coaltion itself, 3 questions are presented.

Q1: asks whether the CPC deserves to stay in power (35% yes, 40 % No). Th problem with the question concerns the meaning of “deserves”. Is this a voting preference, a competence question or a recognition of the fact that the imminent coalition non-confidence vote renders the CPC unable to govern. Could the respondent be indicating a preference for an election in view of the coalition non-confidence agreement.
Q2: asks if the coalition should “topple” the government, Yes said 36%, No said 41%. Again, if 60% of the people voted against Harper in the last election, they arent showing up here.

Gary Ionsys
Dec 3, 2008 16:50

I tend to vote Liberal–That said, I don’t like the idea of the Coalition for various reasons

How to solve the dilemma?—–Stalling till late Jan will do no good-all it will do is cause the 3
Coalition MORE determined tahn ever to defeat the Gov’t in Late Jan and therefore take that option off the table–And by then the Coalition will be much more fleshed out, making it very palatable to GG
—A new election now will solve nothing imo—-Harper is too egocentric to step aside voluntarily–possibly the troika might acquiesce if the$1.95 thing was excise out of the document etc and Flaherty was removed from the Finance portfolio in favour of X (My sense is that, quite apart from Harper, the troika are seething at Flaherty–and Harper might throw him under the bus to save himself—-If I was the GG at this point, I would wait for Harper to call on me (before Monday) and I would then tell him that there will be no election and no stalling into late January–I would give him 1 week to decide what he wants to do–Harper then goes home and thinks–He calls Dion and asks him “what will it take?”–Dion says, among other things to “get rid of Flaherty pronto.. and replace him with X”…get rid of the $1.95 and allow unions to strike…and….resign yourself and replace yourself with Prentice etc

My sense is if GG calls Harper’s bluff and tells him no election and no stalling into January, Harper will only then realize that he is done–right now, he doesn’t because he thinks the GG is insufficently experience to dare turning to the Coalition—-In effect, Michaelle Jean might decide to indirectly get rid of Harper and Flaherty herself and keep the Conservatives in power by making it easy for Harper to reisgn and for him to remove Flaherty before he resigns ?

Dec 3, 2008 17:19

If I were Harper, I would simply walk away from politics and return to Alberta to make my millions. Forget about the ego and let the socialists take the blame that will inevitably result from this coalition of juvenile delinquents.

Dec 3, 2008 17:47

Mr. Coyne,

It’s good to hear that you disagree so strongly with the Prime Minister about the legitimacy of this coalition. Would you care to share your views on his rhetoric in the last week?

In particular, when he uses the phrase “illegitimate government”, as he did at the Conservative Christmas party, is he lying? Or is he just ignorant of the workings of Canadian parliamentary democracy?

Dec 4, 2008 21:27

I wonder how many business owners (small and large) agree with this coalition. How many of these businesses will this coalition put out of business with their obsurd ideas (spend, tax,spend, tax,spend), does anyone know what these fools are really offering? Go ahead and take the coalition, when their policies and spending really destroys the country … then lets listen to your whines.

Yes the Eastern economy is suffering now; but, as history has shown it will recover. So in the mean time, you people would like to bring on a coalition that will severly hurt the west (where you receive billions from), so the whole country can really suffer. Overall, other countries are envious of Canada’s positon. The whole country is still benefiting from the west during these tough times … so why does it make sense to risk everything on a coalition of “undesirables”. If nobody wants them individually why would you want them togeather?

Did you all forget that even the Liberals are sending Dion packing because he can’t even lead his own party?

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