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Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

A Coalition Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All

I love this country, and I love our politics.

Canadian politics are often not as exciting as American politics. And that's true--due to the two-party system in America, the political landscape is a vast minefield of polarized partisanship. In Canada, while we do have two major parties, we have two other parties who exert a strong influence in Parliament.

But this is why I love Canadian politics: it may not be as exciting as American politics in general, but it can get exciting at any time. Due to our parliamentary system, the government can be defeated on any motion considered a "confidence motion". So in America while the President is elected independently of the legislature every four years, and is generally stuck in office for four years, our leader changes as the government does, and our leader can potentially change at any time.

Last Friday, Canadian politics got exciting again. The three opposition parties announced that they were in talks to form a coalition government. That means that rather than any one party forming the government, two or more parties would work together to form the government and pass legislation. In order for this to happen, the opposition parties would first have to defeat the government. Their first opportunity to do this was supposed to be today, but in response to this coalition talk, Harper pushed the vote back a week.

At this point, I'll digress for a moment to talk about how monumentally poorly Harper has managed this situation. While it's true that the election gave him a stronger minority than before, that's no reason he should be able to govern like a majority government. The opposition parties have timed this move in response to the lacklustre economic plan that the Tories introduced last week; accusations that this is a "backroom deal" that's been in the works for months are irrelevant--who cares? The opposition parties have many other legitimate grievances other than the Tories' economic policies; they would have found a reason to defeat the government eventually.

Harper went on to accuse this coalition proposal of being an undemocratic attempt to seize power with a clear mandate from the people. I'm wondering in what book a minority government comprises a clear mandate from the people. I'm also wondering how this situation has changed from when Harper was a signatory to a letter to the Governor General proposing a possible coalition if Paul Martin's government were defeated. Lastly, Harper accuses the opposition parties of being undemocratic, yet he is the one who is delaying this confidence motion and who may even prorogue Parliament to prevent his government's defeat. Yes, because not assembling the democratic assembly is so very democratic.

Plus, postponing the vote just gives the opposition parties more time to organize. It became pretty clear that the three parties were amenable to a coalition idea and were close to working out the specifics, but the wild card was still who would lead it--since the Liberal leadership isn't exactly solid right now.

Today, however, marks the end of Mr. Harper's rosy little minority government. The three opposition leaders appeared in a press conference where they signed a formal coalition agreement that would outline the terms of the proposed government. The Liberals and NDP would form the government with the support of the Bloc, who would agree not to vote against the government on confidence motions until at least June 30, 2010. The coalition agreement between the Liberals and NDP will be effective until at least June 30, 2011. Both of these dates can be extended if so desired. The NDP will receive 25% of the cabinet posts, although the deputy prime minister and finance minister will be Liberals. Stéphane Dion will be prime minister for the interim until the selection of a new Liberal leader on May 2.

It's almost an underdog story, the stuff out of Disney movies: the little Liberal who could! Here Dion "leads" the Liberals to their most crushing defeat in history, steps down as leader, and now faces the prospect of being prime minister! What a great come back.

The question now is not if the government will be defeated, but when. Once the government is defeated and Parliament dissolves, it will be up to our Governor General, Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean, to decide to call an election or to invite the opposition parties to form a coalition government. Until the parties signed this agreement, I was sceptical that a coalition could come to fruition. But now it looks pretty likely--I doubt many Canadians would want another election so soon after the one this October.

This is history in the making, a nearly unprecedented event in Canadian politics. The proposed coalition government is democratic, no matter what the pundits say, and it is such a Canadian solution to our political problems.