17 October 2008

Canada's future: minority government

As usual, the most recent issue of Inroads is well worth reading, especially Henry Milner's article, Dr. Dion, or How I learned to stop worrying and love Minority Government. (Scroll down to p. 34 or p. 19 in the pdf file.) Although his essay was quickly dated by Harper's election call, it is worth reading due to his persuasive argument that we are in for a series of minority governments due to a changed federal political climate that began nearly two decades ago. Here's Milner:
To put it simply, we no longer have minority
governments; we have Minority Government.
Minority governments are no longer an aberration.
They have become standard fare, the
result of an important change in Canada’s
political makeup that has not received the
attention it deserves. . . .

The rise of the Bloc Québécois fundamentally
transformed Canadian federal politics
by making minority government the norm.
However, that transformation was masked
by another dramatic event: the disintegration
of the Progressive Conservatives. With the
resulting split of the centre-right vote between
Reform and what remained of the Conservatives,
the Liberals under Jean Chrétien were
able to win three successive majorities. But
when the centre-right reunited, the mask was
stripped away and the new reality became – or
should have become – apparent. With two
major parties, and with the Bloc entrenched
in roughly half of Quebec’s seats, Minority
Government replaced Majority Government
as the normal state of affairs.

Milner's prediction was borne out three days ago, with the re-election of the Conservatives to minority government status. Where he struck out was in his expectation that there would be no federal election until 2009:

But to judge from the way they cover the
current Parliament, our correspondents and
pundits see a minority government rather than
Minority Government, expecting the parties
to act as they did when minority governments
were short-lived exceptions. They take for
granted that this minority government will be
short-lived, and they interpret party behaviour
in that context. But the logic has changed.
Leaders and, especially, ordinary MPs know
that provoking an election will most likely not
result in the sought-after majority government.
Instead, there will be yet another minority
Parliament: overall party strength will have
changed little, but a bunch of incumbents will
have lost their seats.

Our leaders certainly should have known this, but it seems Milner erred in putting too much faith in their ability to recognize reality. If Minority Government is indeed here to stay, it may be time for our parties to abandon the pretence that majority status awaits them at the next election and to enter instead into co-operative alliances with other parties for purposes of governing. Otherwise we will have elections every two years, a pattern we should not wish to see settle into permanence.

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