Undoing Harper’s misinformation.

I’m not sure what’s worse: that the Prime Minister of Canada is spreading misinformation about how our parliament works and what constitutes a “legitimate” government, or that Canadians have so poor a grasp of their own system that they can be this easily misled.

Here’s some of the utter crap less-than-factual notions I’ve encountered in the last few days that need some dispelling – from news articles, editorials, user comments, and friends alike.

  1. Canadians didn’t vote for a coalition government, we voted for Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.
    Nope. Canadians voted for 308 members of parliament, one for each riding in the country – unlike in the United States, we don’t directly vote for a prime minister at all. These 308 representatives collectively form our government. If a group of these want to coordinate their votes for the purpose of carrying forward legislation, they are able to do so.
    The only people who voted for Stephen Harper are the constituents of the riding of Calgary-Southwest.
  2. But the coalition is a “back-room” deal that is un-democratic and illegitimate. It’s a coup!
    Hardly. The coalition is in fact legitimate and democratic – no one is changing the distribution of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, as only an election can do that.
    Fundamentally, our government is allowed to govern only while it enjoys the support of the majority of the democratically elected members of the House of Commons. This is the foundation on which our democracy is based. If the government loses the confidence of the Commons, and an alternative government can be created in the existing parliament without calling another election, then the alternative government must be given an opportunity to lead.
    We can debate the desirability of the coalition separately, but challenging its legitimacy is deceitful at best. Calling it a coup is simple propaganda.
  3. How could anyone support a coalition with the Separatists?
    This is a big one. No word is more charged than the S-word in Canadian politics. Except possibly “constitutional accord”.
    Let’s break this one down.      

    1. There is no coalition with the Bloc Québécois. The coalition is between the Liberals and the NDP. Both parties will together form a government, and support it for 30 months. The Bloc has agreed not to vote against the Liberal-NDP coalition on confidence matters, but only for 18 months.
      There’s a lot of talk that Dion and Layton are giving a “veto” to the Bloc somehow – but with the Bloc promising not to vote down the coalition for at least a year and a half, in reality the opposite is true.
    2. Harper had accords with this same party. He has relied on Bloc votes in the House repeatedly in the past, but most importantly he tried to secure the same pact with the NDP and the Bloc after the 2004 election of Paul Martin’s Liberal minority. The leaders of these three parties even sent a letter to then-Governor General Adrienne Clarkson advising her that they were ready to govern together in place of the Liberals.
    3. Perhaps the most important issue here is the one least discussed. As distasteful as we might find the goal of the Bloc Québécois, the fact remains that they are the democratically elected representatives of >1.3 million Canadians. To dismiss them and the citizens they represent is undemocratic.
      Furthermore, as secession has been taken off the table by Quebec’s separatist parties themselves in recent years, there are a large number of federalist Quebeckers that vote for the Bloc as the best voice for Quebec’s interests at the federal level. But if you want to reopen old wounds and bring the state of national unity back down to 1995 levels, then by all means, continue. Alternatively if you want to make your federalist party more appealing to Quebec, tone down the rhetoric; try more carrot and less stick.
  4. Jack Layton would be a terrible Minister of Finance.
    Probably. That’s why the coalition terms specify that the Finance Minister will be a Liberal MP, not an NDP one. Getting the NDP to manage portfolios like health and the environment, however, would probably be a very good thing for Canada.
  5. Isn’t it prudent of Harper to cut the public party subsidy of $1.95/vote in times of economic peril?
    No. Public support for our parties is an important way to protect the health of our democracy. There was no economic motivation for Harper to introduce this measure – it would have saved a paltry $30M. Meanwhile, he has made it clear he will ask the Governor General for another election if he loses parliament’s confidence, at a cost of $300M.
  6. We finally have a Prime Minister from Western Canada, and now those eastern parties want to unseat him?
    First of all, Stephen Harper is from Toronto. It’s really amusing how few people seem to know this.
    Second, no one is trying to remove Harper because he’s a “western Prime Minister”. What makes him unfit to govern isn’t where he is or isn’t from, but his pathological inability to work with his political opponents for the sake of the country. See #2 above – you’re allowed to govern only as long as you have the confidence of the majority of the House of Commons. Creating a political crisis out of nothing to inflame a benign opposition, then turning the crisis into a constitutional one while bludgeoning national unity and deliberately misleading the public does not inspire confidence in the man or his team, inside or outside of parliament.
    Third, while the sentiments behind western alienation are real and need to be addressed, it’s telling that no one seems to care about the complete alienation of urban Canadian voters from the Conservatives. Hmmm.


I have mixed feelings about the coalition, which I will explore in another post. But let’s evaluate it on its merits, and do away with the deceit and vitriol.

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