Minority governments are always a touchy thing. This is something the Americans have trouble with — in a two-party system, you don’t get minority governments, just slim margins. In multiple party systems (three or more), it’s possible to have a situation where the ruling party doesn’t have a majority of the seats in the legislative house. When that happens, fewer decisions can be effectively made, and the whole political process slows down even more than usual.
And that’s a pretty darn scary thought, when you get right down to it.
Seventeen months ago, that’s exactly what happened in Canada. We hadn’t seen a federal minority government for quite some time, mostly because people remember how successful the last one was. People tended to vote either for the Progressive Conservatives (now just the Conservative Party) or the Liberals. A few people would vote for the NDP (mostly in British Columbia, it would seem), or the Bloc Quebecois; but one of the Tories or the Liberals would usually run the House of Commons.
Seventeen months ago, after a few rounds of Liberal governments, the Canadian population decided to get "strategic". Every time this happens, it means a minority government. Oddly enough, this is what Canadians "want", because it means we get a bit of a break of one party acting like they own the place. That means fewer decisions, and less rocking of the boat.
Now, given, the Liberals were the ones boat-rocking. Normally, they’re pretty ... well, dull. They do some nice stuff, they do some not-so-nice stuff, but they’re middle-of-the-road. They’re centre. They’re Liberals. But the whole Sponsorship Scandal really threw a wrench in the works, and brought the Liberals out as looking like the bad guys.
Okay, yes, they did try to hide the facts. And the funds were being redirected back into the Liberal coffers. And they tried to deny it. And a couple of Liberal people were involved. Yeah, things aren’t all that rosey, when you start to look into it.
So the leaders of the three major opposition parties (Stephen Harper, Conservative Party; Jack Layton, NDP; and Gilles Duceppe, Bloc Québécois) banded together to take the Liberals out.
Right before Christmas.
Thanks a lot, guys. We really appreciate this. I mean, how much better could the holiday season possibly get now that we have to not only contend with the over-commercialization of a formerly holy Christian holiday (replete with way too many red-tag sales and far too much Kenny G’s "Greatest Holiday Classics") than to also endure the intolerable jackhammer chatter of "vote for me or my opponent will ruin this country".
Yeah, there’s a cheery message for the season.
Okay, while we’re on the topic, let’s look at a few things...
The Conservative Party. Led by the unthinkable Stephen Harper. When the mere suggestion of same-sex marriage came up, the first thing he was happy to pronounce was that when he was elected, he would table legislation to have it removed from the law books. Now that he is looking at election square in the face, he’s actually pulled back a bit. Why? Easy — he’s got to look good to southern Ontario, the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, most of Quebec, and a good chunk of the Maritime Provinces who perceive him as a fanatical right-wing racist homophobic nutjob. Given some of the wonderful things that he’s said over the years (the silly and the stupid, and while I hate to have a "they say, he says" thing going on, I rather like the Liberal’s idea for a campaign against Stephen Harper), how can we take this guy seriously? At least King Ralph has the history of being an alcoholic with which to pass of some of the strange things that he’s uttered.
The Liberals. Been in power a few too many years, some would suggest. They’re not reliable, they’re dishonest, bla bla bla. Spotless record? Heck no. Name a political party in any country that’s got a spotless record. About as easy as finding a vegan in Alberta’s cattle country. Paul Martin’s regarded as the most credible of the leaders up for the top seat, but he only comes in at 34%. Why not more? Scandals do damage. Mr. Martin might think he did a good job keeps arm’s distance from the whole thing, but let’s be honest — there’s been some real shady things going on in the Ruling House, and given Paul’s neck-deep interest (remember that he was Finance Minister for a long time; you don’t hold a position like that and not know a few things) he can’t come out squeaky clean.
The NDP. The Shiny, Happy People Party. The Things Are Always Perfect Party Even If We Don’t Really Understand What We’re Doing Party. Okay, maybe that last one was a little unfair, but generally speaking, the NDP haven’t done a particularly good job when they manage to get into power. Witness Saskatchewan, Ontario (for that brief period in the 1990s), and British Columbia. The NDP generally have the right idea, but their implementation stinks. Ironically enough, former Ontario premier Bob Rae was one of the best politicians Canada has seen since Pierre Trudeau ... but he only figured it out about a year before the NDP were all but laid waste in a provincial election. The Federal NDP are led by Jack Layton, a former Toronto city councillor. He was an able person who did a good job of representing his riding in the now mega-city. But that wasn’t enough — he wanted to represent Toronto in Canada.
And that’s his problem. Just like Harper doesn’t understand anything outside of the conservative west, Martin doesn’t understand the west, Duceppe doesn’t give a crap for anything outside of Quebec (and probably not for Anglo Montreal, either), Layton doesn’t get anything outside of Toronto. Sure, he’s been outside of Toronto, but he doesn’t get it. He’s been there too long. If Jack’s to get any credibility, he needs to live in Truro, Campbellton, Churchill, Prince Albert, Yellowknife, and Kamloops for a few months each. Yes, Toronto is the economic hub of Canada, but as I’ve learned myself, there’s a lot more to this country than the corner of Yonge and Dundas. Is he a capable politician? Heck yes — he worked out a deal with the Liberals to push through a budget, with a few conditions of his own. That’s well-used power. Can he do that if it were only the NDP in power? Don’t hold your breath...
And then there’s the Bloc. Do I really need to review these guys? Gilles Duceppe doesn’t care about the rest of Canada. All he wants is separation, and he doesn’t even understand why. It’s not because of French culture (if he believes that Anglo Canada is trying to wipe it out, he needs to live out in BC for a while, immerse himself in the Anglo society, then move back — then he’ll see how distinctive and wonderful it truly is). It’s not because of French politics (Quebec uses civil law, unlike the rest of Canada — and big surprise, it works just fine without any interference from anyone else). It’s not for money (Quebec is largely dependent on transfers from the Federal government, much of which comes from Ontario and Alberta). So what’s the big chip on your shoulder, Gilles? What do you like about the rest of us? We smell or something? Not like the Bloc could ever actually take over as the ruling party — because of their limited span, they couldn’t get enough seats to pull that off. And in all honesty, they’re about the best opposition party because they hate everything the ruling party does.
The big cry is the sweeping change: Get the Liberals out, get us ("us" being one of the opposition parties at hand) in, and things will get better.
But will they? Based purely on track record, the NDP would likely screw up the finances. (People say the Liberals already did, but they were the ones who brought the debt under control and have managed to actually produce surpluses.) There would be more programs, yes, but before long taxes would have to go up. The Tories would no doubt try to live up to their idiotic promise of reducing the GST ... which would no doubt backfire once the coffers run dry due to all the cuts in taxes given to all their friends in business, or so history suggests. Oh, and then there’s that minor setback in equal rights as they squash all the progress we’ve made, but who would really notice that, any way? The Liberals would likely do status quo. But after over a decade of the same tune, do you really want to keep listening?
Whoever ends up in power still has one minor problem: All that infrastructure that made the Sponsorship Scandal work? Still there. All the ineffiiencies? Still there. All the duct tape holding parts of our fragile goverment together? Still there. Voting out the ruling party doesn’t get rid of it. It doesn’t go away.
So yes, we have ourselves a wonderful Christmas present: We get to think about all the problems we have with our Feds and try to make some sort of an educated decision that might somehow make our lives better.
But we won’t. Fact is, we have no clear options. All of them have their flaws. All of them fail to see the forest for the trees. All of them fail to see past the political daycare centre that we elected them into, complete with same the squabbling, toy-hogging, paste-eating mentality we see in people one tenth their age.
Better buy yourselves something nice for Christmas, folks. With luck, it’ll put you in a good enough mood to survive until late January.