Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Canadian Politics Make for Strange Bedfellows

The latest round of political posturing has shown how the present situation in Parliament is a farce. Drumming up the ghosts of the Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition, the Conservatives accuse the Liberal leader, Mr. Michael Ignatieff, of wanting to lead the second coming of the once dead coalition, of which Mr. Ignatieff has flatly denied.

It is as though Mr. Harper, having vilified the Bloc as separatists and the NDP as socialists, has accused Mr. Ignatieff of having chosen to shack up with two political parties of ill repute. Shortly thereafter, however, in order to get a Ways and Means Bill adopted in the House of Commons, the Conservatives had no choice but to seek reprieve from either one of the shady political formations in getting them to support the motion; otherwise, a general election would ensue.

The moral of the tale is that the lust for power can be satisfied with the occasional dalliance with those of besmirched reputation, but woe to anyone who even thinks of establishing an enduring relationship with such political harlots.

Give us a break.

In the context of a minority government, if a governing party governs and the opposition opposes, what option exists, other than a general election, than seeking the support of one or more of the other parties so that Parliament functions. Moreover, given the inability of either one of the traditional parties to attract enough support to form even a false majority, a general election will not return us to the days of majority government.

So, like it or not, this is the situation. Either we remain in the present state of affairs in which there is a succession of short-lived minority governments unable to pass any meaningful legislation that addresses the nation's challenges, or we move on to a more stable form of government, a majority coalition formed by two or more parties.

If we are to do the latter, we must abandon our desire to be ruled by a system that privileges domination and control. A working coalition necessitates collaboration that only arises from the desire to reach consensus, a process that recognizes the capacity of those with different beliefs to find commonality and to move forward on the basis of shared objectives. Consensus does not arise form constant adversarial bickering, a feature that has come to dominate our dysfunctional Parliament.

To create a political institution that is built on the notion of seeking consensus requires a fundamental institutional change. Political power can no longer be an all or nothing affair. It is something to be shared on the basis of an accurate representation of the electorate. However, faced with an electoral system that distorts representation in order to bring about the domination and control by a single political party, we must abandon our current system in favour of proportional electoral system that does not produce false majorities. That way our politicians can escape the institutional incentives that encourage excessive partisan behaviour, and we can get on with the business of running the nation.

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