Saturday, December 20, 2014

What's The Conventional Wisdom?


Parliamentary government is rooted in a series of conventions. The problem, Andrew Coyne writes, is that our political parties are no longer paying attention to those conventions. And if -- as seems likely -- we elect a minority government the next time around, what, he wonders, will happen in the wake of no political consensus:

We are notably lacking in consensus in this country on even the most basic rules of the game. We flirted with an all-out constitutional crisis on more than one occasion then. The next time we might not be so lucky.

Suppose, for starters, the Conservatives win a plurality of the seats in the election, and suppose, as seems likely, they are defeated in the Commons shortly thereafter on a matter of confidence: the Throne Speech, for example. What then? Would the prime minister go to the governor general and demand that he dissolve the House, triggering another election so soon after the last?

Would the governor general be obliged to do as he was told, or could he call upon some other party, perhaps even a coalition, to try to form a government? Mr. Harper has been adept at presenting this as dirty pool, an attempt by “the losers” to steal the election. Traditionalists like me insist that’s precisely how our system is supposed to work. We do not elect governments in this country: we elect Parliaments. The prime minister is whoever commands the confidence of the House, full stop.

All three parties now operate on the principle that we elect leaders, not parliaments. And it appears that most Canadians think that's the new convention. What happens when the conventional wisdom no longer applies?


Anonymous said...

Canadian Governor General 'Hockey Helmet' Dave Johnston will do whatever 'Hockey Helmet' Steve Harper tells him to do. That's why Steve appointed him.

Owen Gray said...

I have to admit, Anon, that the same thought has crossed my mind.

The Mound of Sound said...

I too have no confidence in the current GG. I think he's been bent since Day 1.

Owen Gray said...

Harper brooks no opposition, Mound. It's hard to imagine that he would appoint anyone he thought would oppose him.

Scotian said...

The biggest problem is what happens when the new conventional wisdom hits the hard reality of legal precedent and Constitutional definitions. It will be a full blown Constitutional Crisis, and it is why our media so massively failed us back in 2008 when it uncritically swallowed the Harper spin about coalition government being a coup. The most basic definition of a government in our system is one that can command the majority of votes on confidence issues from the Parliament itself, period, end f'ing dot. This can be made up of a coalition of individuals, small parties, or the large single party, it matters not at all, what matters is that singular truth about Parliamentary governance.

The whole core of why I was always so dead set against Harper ever getting near power was process issues and abuse of power issues, that this was where his real threat and danger to our system was, not any socon hidden agenda crap. THIS is why I so pleaded with Dippers to not bring down Martin. THIS is why I pleaded with Dippers to not ever let Harper get a majority under any circumstances, because it would be the worst for all of us, especially those that believed in progressive policies, but not a whole lot less for we centrists who between the progressives and ourselves make up just over 2/3rds the population of this nation. Indeed, I suspect when you add in the old traditionalist conservatives who are privately appalled at the way Harper redefines government but figure since it is their guy they can live with it the number could be higher, but even so, that percentage is already more than enough to have prevented this from ever happening.

I kept getting bitched at because I wanted the Libs to get the support, that this made me a Lib plant/operative/partisan. It was never true of me, as I kept pointing out I was arguing what I saw as the most effective way to prevent this as based on the actual voting record of voting Canadians, I simply did not then, nor even now, see the NDP as the viable ELECTABLE alternative for government at these times, and the 2011 result should have made that point brutally clear by now.

This is why process issues matter, and the most appalling truth behind this is because we do not teach as a required course basic Canadian civics in public school, especially at the high school level, Harper gets away with this massive fraudulent conduct. Harper preys upon the ignorance of Canadians, and the complicity of corporate media to work with him in this, and we are all the poorer for it. While I still have a lot of contempt for Coyne (I still haven't forgiven him for his complicity in the Grewal fraud and the way he ran with it and then pretended he never heard of it when exposed for what it was), he is right as rain here.

Owen Gray said...

Harper claimed the last time around that he was willing to go over the Governor-General's head if he didn't get the ruling he wanted, Scotian.

He understands how deep Canadian ignorance goes when it comes to parliamentary government. And he will play on that ignorance at every opportunity.

Toby said...

"Justin Trudeau rules out coalition with NDP"

Need I say more?

Owen Gray said...

I read that story, too, Toby. We could be in for four more years of Harper.

Scotian said...

I know Owen, I know. I really tried to get people to understand, indeed, the Grewal fraud gave me something to point to to illustrate just how much contempt Harper had for our conventions, for even the most basic rule of law (last time I checked fraud is fraud, after all, whether it by a private citizen or a LOO), and yet here we are today. I kept saying Harper was at least as dangerous to the long term survival of Canada as a nation as the BQ/Separatists, if not possibly more so, and it was for this reason!

This is what drives me absolutely wild with the partisanship from the two main opposition parties, and especially the Dippers, since it is their intransigence even more than anything the Libs have done that enabled this situation and has allowed it to run this long, and worse run again for longer still if we are not fortunate. The Libs by themselves lacked the power to stop Harper because of how long they had been government plus the real valid corruption problems they had had (which in comparison to what we've seen from Harper are miniscule in both kind and degree), and had despite telling the truth about the true nature of Harper and his kind of governing been discredited on the "hidden agenda", and part of that was because most detached voters figured if the NDP wasn't also up in arms about Harper/CPC then they really couldn't be all that bad, and the Libs were using empty political rhetoric. That was why I've always placed the bulk of responsibility for this on the NDP, because they were the ones with the power to do something and they didn't. I have this funny thing about only attaching blame/responsibility to those who could actually have done something to change things/make a difference, be it in my day to day life or in the realm of politics.

It drove me wild because I could not accept the premise that I could understand all this from my home in Halifax and those at the leadership of the NDP including Layton himself did not. I could have lived with another Mulroney kind of corrupt government, but this kind of corruption was something too dangerous to be allowed, because it attacks the basic fibres and roots of our system of governance. I said at the time, better the kind of corruption that steals money instead that which steals rights and powers, and a decade later here we are.

The sad truth of Canadian reality has been the Libs were always the only way to keep Harper from power, and failing that limit his tenure as much as possible, and that is alas as true today as it was a decade ago. So the question for me and for everyone is, do we remove this threat at all costs, or do we let the NDP sell us out yet again, because yet again the NDP are the balance of power for this happening, and it is clear they place their own agendas ahead of the national welfare, else this would never have happened to start with. I keep hammering away at this not because I like this reality, I would much prefer a more diversified political culture than what we currently have, but I deal with reality as it is, not as I wish it was, and for threats like Harper you cannot afford to think any other way. If this had been the old PCPC the Libs were up against and the NDP positioned to replace them, I would have kept my mouth shut, voted as I saw fit, and left it at that, because in the greater scheme of things I knew the country would still be there afterwards. The problem with Harper is that there is no guarantee we will have a viable nation left after he is done!

I'm hoping/praying that enough traditional Dipper voters out there have seen this truth for themselves, see Harper as the threat he really is, and do what their party leadership not only will not but actually enabled. That, combined with the traditional Lib vote returning, plus the support of the betrayed PCPCers is our best chance to regain this nation, and btw the scenario you described in your post is another reason I want a Lib majority, because it removes that possibility from Harpers hands.

Owen Gray said...

It's interesting that the NDP's traditional union support has faded, Scotian.

That block of votes, I suspect -- along with other traditional Dippers -- is up for grabs.

Rural said...

Scotian has it about right, Owen. I also have written extensively trying to get the public to understand and embrace Coalition / Minority governments but it seems that many seem to think that a majority is necessary for anything to get done. With the current attitude in parliament of 'we are right and you are wrong, there will be no compromise' a majority = a dictatorship. And yes, as we have all said before the rhetoric of the Libs and NDP re coalitions does not help.

Owen Gray said...

Our collective memory is short, Rural. We forget that Lester Pearson's minority government gave us the Canada Pension Plan, Medicare and a flag.

Anonymous said...

I agree Owen that some sort of coalition with the Liberals and the NDP is essential to rid ourselves of the most devious and destructive Federal Government in Canadian history,but I don't just blame the NDP. The Liberals must extend an olive branch as well as the NDP. Unfortunately both parties are afraid of offending their bases, but they must get over these perceptions. If they don't, the incumbent deviants will destroy this great country.

As you stated Owen, the Pearson era was one of the most progressive periods for Canada. So was a period with David Lewis and Pierre Trudeau. Although the NDP must show some willingness to compromise, so must the Liberals. I realize that Scotian puts the blame on the NDP, but the Liberals must also bear responsibility. The Liberals can't continue to espouse their "natural governing party attitude".

Owen Gray said...

If the Libs and the Dippers continue to stir up bad blood between them, they will not be able to confront and defeat Harper, Anon. Period.

Scotian said...


I never said the Libs bear no responsibility, nor have no partisan issues on their side, what I have repeatedly and consistently said though is that the balance is predominantly on the Dipper side, on the 70-30 to 80-20 degree range. I've also said the NDP were the ones with the power to stop Harper if they had chosen to, instead of aligning with him in the attempt to utterly destroy the federal Libs, each for their own partisan purposes. I also do not believe it is possible at this point for any real cooperation, the way the NDP leadership fucked Trudeau over on the harassment issue put paid to any chances of that in my view. I really think Trudeau expected the NDP to not be outing those complainant MPs as female members of their caucus, especially if as they oh so piously claimed protecting their privacy really was their concern.

I would also point out that the electoral and base dynamics regarding cooperation are also quite lopsided against the NDP versus the Libs. The Libs can without alienating their base speak of cooperation, they are traditionally the big tent party that does not have an ideological threshold/test that must be met, they are political pragmatists at heart. The NDP on the other hand does have a base driven by ideology, it is what kept them with a strong core for decades, and there is a long standing bitterness about the Libs supposedly stealing their ideas for campaigning but never implementing which makes the idea of cooperation much more difficult to sell.

Then there is the electoral dynamic of the actual voting demographics as proven out by the actual voting history. The plurality in this nation is not con, not progressive/left, it is centrist, the traditional home of the Libs and PCPC/Red Tories. It is this voting block that decides who becomes government, it is why Harper had to murder the PCPC, take their Conservative name, AND pretend he had converted to a more center-right politician. It is why the NDP under Layton and now Mulcair have tried to claim they are more centrist now than they were. Yet the NDP have that decades long history as an ideologically driven party to make people hesitant, which would be bad enough under normal circumstances. This time though we are coming out of the most ideological government in our history, and I rather doubt most centrist voters will think it is time to replace one ideological government with another with even less experience in governing than the first one did.

So as I said before, the Libs are the only realistic chance to remove Harper even now, and given the way Harper lies about basic government and has proven willing to cause Constitutional Crisis, it would be best if the Libs got a majority to remove that option, and that means the NDP needs to accept this and work towards it, get Harper gone, hopefully the CPC feeds on itself and rebuilds as a more PCPC/Red Tory friendly party and then tries again to fight to be a government. This is simply not their time, and they need to understand that or else we are all going to continue under the Closet Commando.

Reality is what it is, not what we wish it to be, and I deal with the real world.