Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Do Canadians Really Think that Majority Governments Are Preferrable?

(originally posted at

A recent Harris Decima poll suggests that Canadians are growing tired of minority governments in Ottawa, and are longing for a return to majority government rule. Dave Breakenridge of Sun Media suggests an alternative view: that Canadian’s lack of satisfaction with minority governments might have more to do with the lack of civility our elected officials have for one another. I tend to agree with Breakenridge.

Canada’s parliament is dysfunctional. Partisan political games have become more important than accomplishing the good and necessary works which Canadians expect of our elected officials. There is little recognition by any of the currently elected political parties that a degree of co-operation and decorum is necessary to achieve results through considered compromise. Instead, the Conservatives, Liberals, NDP and Bloc are keen to play games in an attempt to score political points in order to sway public opinion.

A majority government might be one way of fixing a broken parliament. It would, however, be a dangerous fix, as it is very unlikely that a majority of voters would be able to definitively choose one of the established political parties over the others. More likely, a majority government would be returned through a "false majority" vote, where only a fraction of ballots, potentially as little as one third, are cast for the political party receiving the so-called majority. This is because Canada’s electoral system served the country well when there were only two parties to choose from, but is woefully inadequate where multiple parties are vying for votes. In our current first-past-the-post system, the party receiving the largest minority of votes is the one which receives the first opportunity to form the government. This probably doesn’t come as news to most Greens, but many Canadians are surprised to discover that "majority" governments aren’t really representative of the majority of voters.

Recently, in comments made to the Globe & Mail, Prime Minister Stephen Harper provided his opinion that there are no good taxes. Jeffrey Simpson, rightfully, expressed complete and utter amazement that a Prime Minister of Canada could be so very dismissive of taxes, which are the fundamental building block of our civilized society. It’s one thing to get upset about paying taxes, but to willfully suggest that there are no good taxes (and by extension that taxes do not accomplish anything positive) is an absolutely mind-boggling opinion for someone to hold. It’s beyond mind-boggling when that person is the Leader of our government. How representative of Canadians’ viewpoints is that stunner?

We know that Harper rules his Party with an iron fist. What might happen should he ever be given a majority government, particularly in a false-majority situation? What do you think he might do when it comes time to address the structural deficit he and his Party have created through their tax cuts and bail outs of the auto sector? Do you think he’s going to want to generate additional revenue by raising taxes, or by taxing pollution?

Right now, Harper and the Conservatives don’t even want to admit that they’ve created a structural deficit because to do so would mean that they might have to come clean about what they’re going to do to get rid of it. The sale of government assets and massive spending cuts to services and programs are what they do not want to talk about (unless those programs are giving money to "gay" cultural events such as Toronto Pride). So instead of laying out a credible plan, they pretend that the problem doesn’t exist. Kind of like what they’ve been doing with the climate change crisis.

Meanwhile, we still don’t know what Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals are really all about, other than they’ve given their unmitigated support to developing the Alberta tar sands without anything more than lip service regarding the stemming of environmental degradation. Right now, the only thing Ignatieff seems to have going for him is that he’s not Stephen Harper. And, in my opinion, that’s not nearly enough of a reason to give him the time of day. Take a position on something, man! As the old saying goes, it’s like trying to nail jello to a wall.

It’s clear that we Canadians deserve better government. Our government should be representative of the way in which ballots are cast. While government might be able to conduct business more easily in a majority situation than in a minority, we need to keep in mind that such a government would not be representative of the political will of Canadians. A better outcome for Canadian voters would be to do away with our out-dated first-past-the-post electoral system, and to elect members of parliament who have expressed a desire to work together to find solutions rather than attack one another for partisan gain.

Here are some related links to this blogpost:

Jennifer Ditchburn, July 13 2009, The Globe & Mail: "Canadians grow weary of minority governments"

Harris-Decima News Release, July 12 2009: "Canadians say its time for a majority government"

Dave Breakenridge, "Point of View", July 13 2009, The Sudbury Star (SunMedia): "Let’s go next time with the majority"

Jeffrey Simpson, July 15 2009, The Globe & Mail: "A very scarey PM: ‘I don’t believe that any taxes are good taxes’"’t-believe-that-any-taxes-are-good-taxes/article1216778/

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