By Andrew Coyne - Monday, October 31, 2011 - 82 Comments
Weeks after the whole sorry mess began, we’re still being treated to deep thinkers pronouncing upon the Occupy gatherings as if they meant something Deeply Significant. This piece in the Vancouver Sun is a classic of the genre: inequality soaring, incomes stagnating, etc etc. All of which would be terribly concerning if there were any factual basis for it.
I’ve tried to deal with this elsewhere in prose, but sometimes there’s just nothing like a graph. Here, then, courtesy of Statistics Canada, is that runaway trend towards a society divided into haves and have nots, the “growing gap” you’ve been hearing all about:
Appalling, isn’t it? Why, in less than 20 years, the share of pre-tax incomes going to the top 20% has soared from 50% to … 52%. If this trend keeps up, by 2031 it will still be in the low 50s.
For those who’d like to check, the graph is from StatsCan’s CANSIM database. The numbers in HTML form are here (look under “All Family Units”), or you can have a look at my spreadsheet here. Continue…
By Andrew Coyne - Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 4:26 PM - 11 Comments
Jobs’s story reminds us not only of the heroism of the entrepreneur, but of the nobility of craft
Someone was on CNN last night comparing Steve Jobs to Edison, Ford and Disney in one, and for once it didn’t seem like the usual Apple fanboy hype. Jobs had Edison’s flair for innovation (and his ruthlessness in exploiting others’ ideas), Ford’s concern for process, and Disney’s sense of the culture.
So much of what the computer became was made possible or driven by Apple that it’s difficult to separate the two, just as it’s difficult to separate Apple’s story from Jobs’s. Often he wasn’t the first, but he took things that others had tried and failed with and made them succeed, by doing them better (Microsoft’s formula was a little different: it took things that others had done first and did them worse.)
His emphasis on the primacy of design, his fanatical attention to detail, his strategic vision—standing by the closed, proprietary, all-in-one model even after it had been “proved” wrong, long enough to see it triumphantly vindicated—would make him a business legend quite apart from any innovative wonders. That’s significant not only for Apple, but America—at a time when the Big Three and other long-time industrial titans were being eclipsed by foreign competition, often from low-wage economies, Jobs showed how advanced economies could still compete: by innovation, design, quality. And of course, marketing: there really was none better at delivering the sizzle with the steak.
And there’s the sociological impact: more than anyone else, Jobs made technology cool, and not just technology but business itself. I can’t remember young adults discussing business strategy, back when I was one of them, with the intensity that today’s young adults do about Apple’s, at least among the tech-minded. But these days that’s just about everybody. He not only made geeks hip, but made everyone into a geek, at least a bit—including, not insignificantly, women, who in the computer age’s early years would have not been caught dead using a computer, should anyone have thought to ask them.
Before Apple, the scientific and artistic worlds rarely intersected. After, a “techie” was as often as not a creative type. With a Mac, technology could be used not only to make things, but works of the imagination. Artists, musicians, photographers, film makers, even writers—one by one, they all entered the digital world.
I can’t think of any other business figure whose death would have prompted such widespread mourning, especially among people you would not ordinarily have thought would have any interest in business. One well-known tech-girl tweeted last night that she was hugging her MacBook Air while she watched the TV coverage. I don’t think it was just because he made great products. I think it’s the vision he offered of what business could be, what it could mean—that being in business could be a meaningful way to spend your life. Jobs’s story reminds us not only of the heroism of the entrepreneur, but of the nobility of craft: of what an honourable activity it is to make useful, beautiful things for each other, even if you make a fortune doing it. .
By Andrew Coyne - Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 5:26 PM - 82 Comments
Once again my colleague John Geddes has written a sensible, sober reminder that not all is as we imagine it to be, that things are not as simple as they appear. And once again it falls to me to point out that, actually, they are.
This time, John’s point is not that spending can’t be cut, but that it wasn’t cut. Or not as much as people say. Contrary to the received wisdom, much repeated these days by our admirers in other countries, that Canada balanced its books in the late 1990s through deep spending cuts, John argues that in fact economic growth did most of the job. To be sure, “spending was restrained,” but “by far the main reason the red ink evaporated… is that the Canadian economy grew smartly year after year during that period, and tax revenues more than kept pace.”
“The real history of the Canadian fiscal reversal,” he summarizes, “is that firm but hardly harsh spending restraint proved sufficient because the economy cooperated by expanding steadily and rendering up taxes.”
Okay. But this formula — moderate restraint, coupled with steady growth and rising revenues — why wasn’t it tried before? Continue…
By Erica Alini - Monday, May 16, 2011 at 4:49 PM - 106 Comments
As we wait for Stephen Harper to appoint a new cabinet, it is worth recalling a point I’ve made before: we have, and will continue to have unless he does something surprising, the largest cabinet in the democratic world. Or at least among the major developed democracies: apparently Nigeria is threatening to beat us.
Harper’s last cabinet had 38 members: 27 ministers, plus 11 ministers of state. (In Canada these are considered full members of Cabinet: there is no longer any effective difference between Cabinet and the ministry. It was indeed Harper who erased the distinction in October 2008, when he converted what were previously secretaries of state to ministers of state.)
The US Cabinet currently contains 16 members, including the Vice-President. There are, in addition, six “cabinet-level officers,” none of whom has executive responsibility for any department.
The British Cabinet consists of 23 ministers (one of whom is unpaid), including the Prime Minister. Five other officials “attend cabinet meetings,” but are not considered full members of cabinet. Neither is the Attorney General, although he sometimes attends.
Some other cabinets of note:
Germany : 16 ministers, including the Chancellor.
Japan : 17 ministers, including the Prime Minister.
France : 16 full ministers, including the Prime Minister, plus 7 “ministres auprès d’un ministre” and 8 secretaries of state.
Italy : 25 ministers, including the Prime Minister. 13 have departmental responsibility; 11 are ministers without portfolio.
Australia : 20 ministers, including the Prime Minister.
New Zealand : 20 ministers, including the Prime Minister, plus 8 ministers outside cabinet, some from supporting parties in the coalition.
CODA: Harper does not preside, however, over the largest cabinet in Canadian history. That honour goes to Brian Mulroney, by a whisker: at its largest, his was 39. That’s more than Macdonald (15 at the most), Laurier (17), King (20) Diefenbaker (24), Pearson (28), or even Trudeau (37 by the end, but fewer than 30 for most of his time in office) somehow struggled by on.
SPECIAL BONUS PAK: Here’s what a slimmed-down cabinet could look like (revised from earlier version):
- Prime Minister
- Justice/ Attorney General
- Public Safety/Solicitor General
- Defence (inc Veterans)
- Foreign Affairs & Trade
- Intergovernmental Affairs
- Aboriginal Affairs
- Finance (inc. Revenue, Treasury Board, Financial Services)
- Resources (inc. Energy, Mining, Forestry, Fisheries, Agriculture)
- Infrastructure (inc Transportation, Telecoms, Public Works)
- Environment & Public Health
- Work & Incomes (inc Labour, Training, Unemployment Insurance, Income Assistance, Pensions)
- Government House Leader
- Senate Leader
but strictly speaking these aren’t supposed to be cabinet posts. But even if they were, you’d still come in well under 20. And even if you split up the Resources and Infrastructure portfolios into two or three departments each, you’re barely at it.
BUT WAIT THERE”S MORE: I notice that Australia combines “Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry” in one post, “Resources and Energy” in another. Japan also combines Farming, Fishing & Forests under one minister, while France does the first two.
By Andrew Coyne - Friday, May 6, 2011 at 8:48 PM - 308 Comments
When people in politics talk about what they do — when they boast about it, as they do almost compulsively — they really have no idea how loathsome they sound:
Halfway through the 2011 campaign, a Conservative war room operative sat down in an Ottawa pub to discuss the party’s entire strategy against Ignatieff.
“They say that we try to portray Ignatieff in our ads and so on as a weak and flailing professor,” the war room staffer said. “No, that’s how we portrayed Dion. Dion was weak, you know, Dion was ‘not a leader.’ We’ve never said Michael Ignatieff isn’t a leader. We’ve never called him weak. And we’ve never called him a flip-flopper. Even when he changes his mind, we don’t say he’s a flip-flopper. Michael Ignatieff, in our narrative, is a political opportunist who is calculating, who will do and say anything to get elected.
“He’s a schemer. When he says one thing and then he changes his mind the next week, it’s not because he’s indecisive and a flip-flopper. It’s because he’s an opportunist who will say different things to different people. I don’t think we’ve even used the phrase, even internally, ‘He’s a malicious human being.’ But that’s kind of the sentiment we’re getting at. With Dion, we were trying to portray him as weak. You can’t trust him to lead us out of the economic recovery because he’s a weak man. With Ignatieff, it’s ‘He’s a bad man,’ right? He’s someone you don’t want your daughter to marry, right?”
The “strategy” of the Conservative party in this election was to spend millions of dollars — your money and mine, most of it — to portray the leader of the Liberal party as not just an “opportunist” and a “schemer,” but a “malicious human being,” a “bad man”. This is the same man for whom the Prime Minister in his election night victory speech claimed to have only the highest regard.
I don’t want to weep too many tears for the Liberals. They did much the same to Conservative leaders in the past — recall the ridicule of Stockwell Day’s religious beliefs in 2000, the fear campaigns of ’04 and ’06, of which the late campaign’s evocation of Stephen Harper’s desire for “absolute power” was a pale echo. But I can’t recall anything on this scale, or this vicious.
There are things we can do, consistent with freedom of speech, to prevent this in future. We can take away the public funds that subsidize this garbage. And we can require that party leaders voice their own ads, so that they can not pretend to dissociate themselves from the messages their minions spew.
But ultimately it’s not going to change unless we change the culture of politics: the culture that encourages people to believe it is a fine and good thing to devote their talents to destroying other people’s reputations. As
Frank Graves, the Ekos pollsterLiberal lobbyist Brian Klunder [Graves was retweeting him] put it on Twitter,
I’m sick of frat house nature of war rooms – thinking it fun to try to ruin lives and careers. People need to grow up.
By Andrew Coyne - Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at 6:12 PM - 74 Comments
Year Winning party West Ontario Quebec Atlantic 1867 MACDONALD 49 47 2 1872 6 38 37 18 1874 MACKENZIE 5 61 34 30 1878 MACDONALD 6 60 45 23 1882 9 52 52 22 1887 13 54 36 24 1891 14 47 30 30 1896 LAURIER 9 44 49 16 1900 10 34 57 27 1904 21 37 53 26 1908 17 37 52 26 1911 BORDEN 17 73 28 16 1917 54 74 3 21 1921 KING 7 21 65 25 1925 MEIGHEN 20 68 4 23 1926 KING 24 24 60 9 1930 BENNETT 27 59 24 24 1935 KING 33 56 59 25 1940 42 56 64 19 1945 18 34 54 19 1949 ST LAURENT 41 56 68 26 1953 24 51 68 27 1957 DIEFENBAKER 21 61 9 20 1958 65 67 50 25 1962 48 35 14 18 1963 PEARSON 10 52 47 20 1965 8 51 56 15 1968 TRUDEAU 27 64 56 7 1972 7 36 56 10 1974 13 55 60 13 1979 CLARK 57 57 2 18 1980 TRUDEAU 2 52 74 19 1984 MULRONEY 58 67 58 25 1988 48 46 63 12 1993 CHRETIEN 27 98 19 31 1997 15 101 26 11 2000 14 100 36 19 2004 MARTIN 14 75 21 22 2006 HARPER 65 40 10 9 2008 71 51 10 10 2011 72 73 6 14 Liberal Conservative Reform/Cdn Alliance Bloc Québécois NDP Progressive Anti-Confederation
Here’s a little chart that might help to explain the significance of what happened Monday night. It breaks down every election since 1867 according to whether the winning party carried a majority (50% plus 1) of the seats in each region, as indicated by their party colours (white indicates no party won a majority ): The numbers show how many seats the winning party nationally obtained in each region. The years with shaded bars on them denote minority Parliaments.
Only very rarely – three times under Macdonald, twice under King, and once each for Diefenbaker and Mulroney – has a party carried all four regions. Usually majorities are won with majorities in two regions, sometimes three, with a smattering of seats elsewhere. Very occasionally – Borden in 1911, Chretien in 1997 – it’s been done with just one: Ontario.
No party has ever won a majority without carrying at least one of Ontario and Quebec. Before Chretien, only three majorities were won without Quebec (1891, 1911, and 1930). After Laurier, only King (1921, 1945) and Mulroney (1988) have won majorities without Ontario. Before Harper, Atlantic Canada voted with the majority in every election but five: 1896, 1911, 1968, 1988, and 1997.
I’ll be going into this in my piece in tomorrow’s Maclean’s, but for now you can see how the winning power blocks have evolved. In the early years of the Liberals post-Macdonald dominance, after Laurier took Quebec for the first time in 1891, their majorities were essentially based on Quebec and Atlantic Canada, with growing help from the West. Conservatives won with Ontario and Atlantic Canada under Bennett and Meighen.
The next watershed year is 1935, when King carried Ontario for the Liberals for the first time in 60 years. For the next 45 years, Liberal dominance was assured: win a majority of the seats in Quebec all of the time, and Ontario most of the time, and you will win a lot of majorities. In 22 elections from 1935 to 2006, the Liberals carried Ontario 15 times; on four other occasions, it gave the Liberals enough seats either to sustain the Liberals in power, or to hold the Conservatives to a minority. Looked at another way: before 1935, the Tories won 9 majorities. After, only 3: Harper is the fourth.
But over time the forces of opposition to Liberal rule began to amass. The West, which for many years after Laurier split its vote among a number of parties, was united under the Conservative banner by Diefenbaker in 1958. Conservative parties, whether in their Progressive Conservative, Reform, Canadian Alliance, or reunited Conservative guises, have dominated the region ever since. Indeed, the last time the Liberals carried the West was in 1949.
Worse was the loss of Quebec in 1984. It proved possible, just, for the Liberals to carry on winning majorities under Chretien largely by sweeping Ontario, with help from Atlantic Canada and whatever seats the Bloc left on the table in Quebec. But they were increasingly running on fumes.
And yet, as solid as the Tory lock was on Western Canada, they, too, could not win a majority so long as they were unable to carry any other part of the country, as they have been unable to since 1988.
But now all that has changed, with the addition of Ontario to the Tory column. This is an altogether new majority coalition: the West and Ontario, and only them, for the most part. Before Monday night, there had been only two majorities in Canadian history that did not include majorities in Quebec or Atlantic Canada: Borden in 1911, and Chretien in 1997. But both of those were essentially Ontario operations. This is the first to rely equally on Ontario and the West.
The Diefenbaker and Mulroney sweeps included both regions, of course. But because they were so broadly based, with such divergent interests and values, and because they flared up so quickly, they proved unwieldy and unstable. A nearer example is Clark in 1979. Yet even though he carried two-thirds of the seats west of Quebec, plus a majority of Atlantic Canada, Clark did not have enough for a majority. Today, that would be enough.
So the West is very much in. This is the first majority government, and only the third of any kind in our history, in which the West has more seats in the governing caucus than Quebec and Atlantic Canada combined. The Ontario half of the partnership, moreover, far from the hasty marriage of opposites that undid Diefenbaker and Mulroney, has been built slowly, over several elections, and on a coherent ideological base. These are, after all, historically the most prosperous parts of the country, the ones most likely to be attuned to a tax-cutting, growth-oriented agenda. Just possibly, this could prove to be a lasting combination.
Of course, the Tories can’t expect to take three-quarters of the seats west of Quebec every election. But even if they take no more than about 60-65% — typically, that means 40-45% of the popular vote, rather than the nearly 50% they won this time — it gives them a base from which to reach out to Quebec and Atlantic Canada. They don’t have to make the kind of extravagant pass that Mulroney made at Quebec: it would be enough to take 20 seats or so, plus 10 or 15 in Atlantic Canada to secure a majority most years— especially with the coming addition of 30-odd seats in Ontario and the West (which would still leave them under-represented). Win two-thirds of the seats west of Quebec, and you’ll win a lot of majorities.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, April 25, 2011 at 8:00 PM - 96 Comments
All right, time for an updated roundup of the leading seat projections (with thanks to PunditsGuide for pointing out a couple I’d missed). The Fascists continue their remorseless march on the capital, with some projections having them already inside the gates. The Visitors, meanwhile, show no signs of coming back for anybody.
But the real story, of course, is the Commie insurgency: one particularly excitable forecaster, whose name I won’t Ekos, even predicts they will be leading a coalition government within the week. As always, the averages are a little more level-headed, with about 10 Traitors’ heads among the first to be leveled. Still no Ewocs sightings, however.
Fascists Visitors Commies Traitors Ewocs Hermits Lispop 149 68 52 39 0 0 Ekos 131 62 100 14 0 1 308.com 151 75 36 45 0 1 ElectionAlmanac.com 143 78 48 39 0 0 Calgary Grit 158 64 42 42 0 0 DemocraticSpace.com 157 69 39 42 0 0 TooCloseToCall.ca 145 74 47 42 0 0 CdnElectionWatch 154 66 51 36 0 1 RidingByRiding.ca 144 62 64 37 0 1 The Mace 151 68 59 29 0 1 AVERAGE 147 68 55 36 0 1
By Andrew Coyne - Friday, April 22, 2011 at 12:55 PM - 107 Comments
Updated seat projections, reflecting Commies’ recent surge. Fascists still short of “absolute power,” Visitors going nowhere, and Traitors now the fourth party. Ewocs still without cigarettes.
Fascists Visitors Commies Traitors Ewocs Hermits Lispop 149 68 52 39 0 0 Ekos 134 82 60 32 0 0 308.com 150 76 36 45 0 1 ElectionAlmanac.com 141 77 50 40 0 0 Calgary Grit 150 74 35 48 0 0 DemocraticSpace.com 148 77 39 43 0 0 TooCloseToCall.ca 145 74 47 42 0 0 CdnElectionWatch 150 75 40 42 0 1 AVERAGE 146 75 45 41 0 0
By Andrew Coyne - Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 10:49 PM - 217 Comments
Up to now, I think most of us have assumed Stephen Harper’s unwillingness to concede the right of the opposition parties to form a government in the event his government were immediately defeated on a confidence vote, or fell before governing for very long (say, within six months), was just sort of messing with the electorate’s head.
By his repeated attempts to impugn this perfectly normal constitutional procedure as “illegitimate,” we assumed, he was simply trying to demonize the opposition as power-hungry conspirators, hoping to scare the electorate into giving him the majority he seeks. It was so clearly contrary to all established constitutional doctrine, not to mention his own public statements and private actions over the years, that he couldn’t possibly be serious. It was just cheap, dishonest demagoguery, playing upon the public’s ignorance of constitutional conventions.
At that, there was a small shred of truth in it. If, that is, the opposition parties had only a bare majority between them, and if the votes and seats were so divided between them that no one of them could claim even half the Tories’ numbers — if, say, the distribution of seats in the House were 153-65-50-40 — they might well themselves shrink from trying, for fear that the public would find they had over-reached. Or the Governor General might deem the contraption too unstable — to say nothing of the questions surrounding the Bloc’s role — and refuse to call upon it, sending the whole mess back to the people to sort out. But that’s a very different matter than the unconditional ex cathedra edicts we have been hearing from Harper.
Indeed, so unyielding and dogmatic have his statements become, against the views of every constitutional scholar, that I have to wonder whether there is something else going on. That is, I wonder whether he is preparing the ground, not just to prevent the opposition from electing enough members to be in a position to bring his government down, but to thwart them should they make the attempt.
What he may have in mind is this: that after losing a vote of non-confidence, he would advise the Governor General to dissolve the House and call new elections, rather than call upon someone else to form a government. He would then dare the Governor General to overrule his first minister’s advice, something that Governors General are quite properly extremely reluctant to do.
He would, in short, be doing another King-Byng, provoking a constitutional crisis rather than yield power, hoping to intimidate the Governor General and/or rally public opinion to his side. If so this would be extremely disturbing, though not alas unprecedented.
Indeed, there is some evidence the government was prepared to do something similar in December 2008, had the then Governor General not acceded to his demands she prorogue. But at least in that case he had not yet been defeated in the House, and could with greater justice insist that she yield. To do so after having lost a confidence vote is surely unthinkable. Even King, let us recall, had not yet been defeated on a formal confidence motion.
So I think someone — the opposition, the media — should call Harper to answer: If he were to be defeated on a confidence motion within six months of the House’s return, would he advise the Governor General to call new elections? And if the Governor General were to refuse his advice, what would he do then?
By Andrew Coyne - Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 9:03 PM - 5 Comments
Anyone who missed the outstanding debate last night (or wants to see it again!) between Jason Kenney (Conservatives), David McGuinty (Liberals), Peggy Nash (NDP) and Rebecca Harrison (Green Party), can watch it here.
By Andrew Coyne - Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 5:26 PM - 18 Comments
Fun fact: If the NDP take a plurality of the vote in Quebec this election, as some recent polls indicate they would, Jack Layton would be, with one, somewhat arguable exception*, the first non-francophone party leader to defeat a francophone leader in any federal election in the province’s history.
Up until Sir Wilfrid Laurier, all federal elections were contests between anglophone leaders. Though Sir John A. Macdonald defeated Laurier in 1891, the Liberals took Quebec, beginning the party’s near-century long domination of federal politics in the province. Laurier held Quebec, narrowly, in his 1911 loss to Sir Robert Borden, and by a resounding 3-1 margin in the conscription election of 1917.
Francophones Louis St Laurent and Pierre Trudeau also held the province, effortlessly, though their anglophone successors were not so lucky. John Diefenbaker’s sweep of the province in 1958 was at the expense of Lester Pearson, while Brian Mulroney’s 1984 victory was over John Turner (besides, Mulroney was the more francophone of the two).
Jean Chretien failed to carry the province in 1993, 1997, and 2000 (though he did win the popular vote in 2000), but lost to francophones, first Lucien Bouchard and then Gilles Duceppe — who went on to win in 2004, 2006, and 2008.
Of course, in one way Layton’s victory, if it came, would confirm the rule: though less francophone than Duceppe, he is easily the most francophone of the four national party leaders, and the only one born in Quebec.
*The exception: The Ralliement Créditiste, under leader Réal Caouette, in 1965, took only 9 seats, to 56 for Lester Pearson’s Liberals. The Créditistes were born of the breakup of the Social Credit party two years earlier. They contested one more election before rejoining Social Credit in 1971, with Caouette as national leader.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, April 18, 2011 at 7:46 PM - 124 Comments
Above is a summary of the latest seat projections from a variety of sources. As can be seen, the consensus has the Fascists (Conservatives) short of the 155 seats needed for a majority, with the Visitors (Liberals — the former Crooks (2004/6) and Not a Leaders (2008)) making only a slight improvement on their dismal showing last time out. The Commies (NDP) and Traitors (Bloc) are down slightly from their 2008 totals, though these projections may not reflect the rise in NDP support the polls have been picking up in recent days.
Oh, and the Ewocs (an acronym, from the immortal Tabatha Southey epithet for the Greens, “Europeans without cigarettes” — though it also has a pleasing furry-critter connotation)? Shut out again.
In sum: at this point everybody is losing.
By Andrew Coyne - Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 2:26 PM - 225 Comments
1. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but that set was the most hideous thing I have ever seen. And I’ve been in Communist-era East European hotel lobbies. Orange, yellow and brown? With the corrugated carboard thing? And the… and the… Wha? Who designed this? Union Carbide?
2. On the other hand, I quite liked the format. There were some good exchanges, where you really saw them arguing with something resembling conviction. I thought the Ignatieff-Layton exchange on Afghanistan, for example, was riveting. Another standout moment: Layton on the plight of aboriginal youth. Not even Jack can fake that level of sincerity.
3. Let’s say it: these are four outstandingly talented individuals, who had obviously worked hard and prepared themselves deeply: none of us in the commentariat would last five minutes with these guys. It wasn’t Shakespeare, but I was proud of my democracy last night.
4. Who won? Who cares? That is, if by winning you mean who was the best debater. On points, I’d say it was Ignatieff, but so what? We’re not picking the best debater. We’re picking a prime minister. (Actually, we’re electing a Parliament, who then chooses a PM, but you know what I mean.)
The “winner,” then, is not who had the best lines or scored the most points in the arguments between the candidates, but who most advanced his case with the voters. Or rather, with some of the voters: the undecided, the switchers, the voters not already fer him or agin’ him.
An example. I thought Ignatieff was outstanding on the attack, or rather in defense of Parliament against the abuses it has suffered under this prime minister. He cut to the point, he counterpunched well (“It’s not bickering, Mr. Harper, it’s democracy”), he spoke passionately and persuasively. I’m just not sure he made the case that he should be prime minister, to the voters who most needed to hear that case.
The voters who are most likely to be upset about this issue probably already are: it’s not as if it has not been in the news for months on end. Of those voters, some are either already in the opposition camp, or if they are still with the Tories, have some other reason that trumps their concern about Harper’s autocratic tendencies— or in other words, need some other reason to switch. Which Ignatieff signally failed to give them, as he has throughout this campaign.
Pollsters consistently report majorities in support of two propositions: one, that the country is on the right track, and two, that the government is on the wrong track. Depending on how they answered those two questions, voters can be divided into four different combinations. Those who believe both country and government are on the right track are presumably with the Tories. Those who believe both the country and the government are on the wrong track are presumably in the opposition camp, but split between the Liberals, NDP, Bloc and Greens. (Those who think the country’s on the wrong track but the government’s on the right track I’m guessing are just confused.)
But the largest group, and the ones most available to the Liberals, are those who side with the majority on both counts: they’re comfortable with the direction of the country, especially in economic terms, but they’re not at all keen on how the Harper government has been conducting itself. They don’t want a change of course, but they do want a change of captains. If that group could be persuaded they could have a different government while keeping the country essentially on the same track — that is, with broadly the same economic policies as the Tories, but less of the autocratic tendencies and general obnoxiousness — they might well switch. Moreover, the Liberals would not have to share that group with the other opposition parties. A voter who likes the general direction of policy under the Tories is unlikely to be found among the ranks of the NDP, Bloc or Greens.
So the failure of the Liberals to reach out to this group is a puzzle. Sure, there are some soft-NDP voters to be had: the Family Pack would be appealing to them. But there are many more, what shall we call them, disconcerted Tories, who would like to live in a country that is both prosperous and democratic. And for them the Liberals have had nothing: lots of talk about redistributing wealth, not a lot about how to create it. And, frankly, not a lot about how they’d fix our democracy, either.
The whole Liberal campaign has been odd, strategically. It is as if they knew they could not win, and decided to play for a close second: to hold Harper to a minority, that is, rather than try to win outright. If after all, you entered a campaign 14 points down, would you not be inclined to take a few chances? Swing for the fences? And yet the campaign has seemed strangely cautious, aimed more at locking down the base than expanding it, reaching out to the left but not the right —which is to say the centre.
But if that’s his game — hold the Tories to a minority, then defeat them in Parliament and take over the government then — he’s got a problem. It may be perfectly constitutional, legal and legitimate, but it doesn’t sit right with a lot of voters. I don’t have a poll to show that, and I don’t need one: I only have to look at what the Liberals have been saying, or not saying, about it. They went for months avoiding the coalition question, even attempt to skate through the campaign without answering it. And when, two disastrous days later, it became apparent that they could not, they gave a carefully worded answer that talked a lot about what would happen, under a minority Parliament, if the Liberals got the most seats, but said nothing at all about what would happen if the Tories did. Even when they clarified that they would not form a coalition in either event, Ignatieff has never ruled out “governing from second-place” in some other way.
Nor should he: it’s perfectly legitimate. It just happens to be unpopular. That’s the conundrum he faces: to be in a position to form a minority government, he has to avoid talking about it. That’s doable, as long as nobody else talks about it. But it’s hard to do, in a debate.
Which brings me, at long last, to that moment in last night’s debate: when he was asked whether the leader of the party that won the most seats had the right to form a government — the exclusive right, as Stephen Harper insists, dishonestly, brazenly, and, as we know from his own intriguing about as opposition leader in 2004, hypocritically.
I’m sure we’ll see this clip again. Because you can see Ignatieff start to say it, then catch himself, mid-sentence, realizing the danger, but too late to stop. If you get more seats, “you get to try …first … to gain the confidence of the House.” His voice seemed to trail off. But by then the Tory war room was already cranking out the press releases.
I feel uncomfortable discussing it in these terms, as if it were some sort of a gaffe. Let me say it a third time: it is perfectly legitimate, on the defeat of a government in the House, for the Governor General to call upon another party to govern. The Prime Minister is whoever commands the confidence of the House, period.
And indeed, to a great many Canadians, the idea of the Liberals taking power, despite having been defeated in the election, with the explicit support of the NDP and the tacit support of the Bloc, is an entirely untroubling, even welcome prospect. But not all Canadians. Indeed, I’m guessing not even all Liberals.
Some will blanch at how far left such a government would be pulled. Others will be concerned that it would be unstable. And for others, it just looks sneaky, whatever the constitutional experts may say — especially because he won’t talk about it.
He’s caught, in other words, in a strategic box. He wants to appeal to NDP-leaning voters, without being seen to “get into bed with” the NDP. But he can’t form a government without getting into bed with them. And so far as centrist voters become aware of this, he may never get the chance to get into bed with them. So he has to try to keep centrist voters from thinking of this. But the Tories keep reminding them of it at every opportunity.
The Tories have a couple of things working for them. One, a good number of voters are weary of minority government, and yearn for the stability of a majority. Two, the Liberals, it would seem, cannot deliver that majority: they are too far back in the polls. All they can offer is — more of the same? No, something worse, the Tories can argue. Needing the the support of only one of the three opposition parties to govern, the Tories have not been beholden to any of them. But the Liberals, with fewer seats, would very likely need the support of both the NDP and the Bloc. Either this would be unstable, or it would lean rather too far to the left, at least for centrist voters’ liking.
There is a way, of course, for Ignatieff to break out of this box: to gather enough support as to seem likely to win the most seats, at a minimum, ideally to be in a position govern as the Tories have, with the support of different parties at different times (a Liberal majority being quite out of reach). But to do that he has to reach out to that big block voters to his right, rather than the smaller block to his left. That he has not is the key strategic failing of the Liberal campaign.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, April 4, 2011 at 8:50 PM - 103 Comments
I wrote this some days ago, but before I could post, Jeff Simpson’s column appeared on a similar theme. But since no one’s responded to his piece, I’ll pick up where he left off:
Here’s a subject I don’t imagine any of the party leaders will want to bring up — but someone really should. That is, who among them is best placed to deal with the coming crisis in Quebec?
Sometime in the next couple of years a provincial election will be called (the last was in Dec. 2008, so in theory they could push it off into 2013). On present levels of support, the Liberals haven’t a prayer. Which means that, barring a miracle, we are about to enter the third cycle of Parti Québécois government. In each of the first two, 1976-1984 and 1994-2003, the PQ launched a referendum on separation-with-association, and while the Clarity Act may be thought to have placed some boundaries around the debate — the province can hold a referendum on any subject it likes, but the feds are constrained in what they can negotiate — it must be expected the Péquistes will try every trick in the book, up to an including a quickie referendum. This is, after all, very likely their last shot.
So, on the perhaps shaky assumption that whomever we elect on May 2 is still Prime Minister then, it really would seem timely to ask: Which of the parties and their leaders is the best choice to deal with this situation? Who best combines finesse and toughness, understanding of Quebec and fire in the belly for Canada? Will it be the Anglophone from Toronto who wanted to build a firewall around Alberta? Or the Anglophone from Toronto who was out of the country for 30-odd years? What about the Anglophone from Toronto whose party is rumoured to be conspiring with the Bloc to defeat federalist candidates in the Montreal area?
Certainly no clear federalist choice has emerged in the province. While all three national parties have been pandering as fast as they can — Look here! An arena! No, an airport! What about these snowmobile trails, huh? — each is mired around 20% in the polls. Meaning the Bloc will likely take about 50 seats, as usual. Suppose Duceppe then retires from federal politics, to replace — as many Péquistes hope — the unpopular Pauline Marois as PQ leader. If recent polls are any guide, he’d sweep the province. And facing him? A shattered, leaderless provincial Liberal party in Quebec City, and a hung Parliament in Ottawa — possibly with the Bloc holding the balance of power.
As I say, I doubt any of the leaders will be anxious to raise this question. They don’t want to be seen to write off Charest, they don’t want to stir the pot, whatever. But the rest of us should certainly be thinking about it.
By Andrew Coyne - Sunday, April 3, 2011 at 11:50 PM - 174 Comments
The Liberal platform is a remarkable document. It has the feel of catharsis to it: a party that was unsure of what it believed, or unwilling to say, finally finding a sense of direction and boldly declaring where it wants to take the country. And where it wants to take the country is back to the 1970s.
After all those dreary years under Chretien and Martin of cutting spending and cutting taxes and cutting deficits, and that brief, uncertain lunge under Stephane Dion into the ideological heterodoxy of the green shift, the Liberals are back where one senses they feel most comfortable: raising spending, raising taxes (but only on corporations!), and deficits take the hindmost. Oh, and imposing stricter controls on foreign investment, steering the economy into certain preferred “champion” sectors, regulating wages according to their “value,” and so on. As I said, it’s a remarkable document. It’s as if the last thirty years never happened.
To be sure, there’s an air of play-acting at the same time, a tentative trying-on of ideas that have long been out of fashion. The pump-priming, industrial-strategy dirigistes of Trudeau’s era would scoff at the relatively small sums involved: an increase in spending of roughly $6-billion annually, matched by a $7-billion increase in taxes, works out to less than 3% of today’s budget. Mind you, the actual increase in tax revenues is likely to be much less than that: economists who’ve looked at the question don’t believe the 3 percentage points the Liberals would tack onto corporate taxes, reversing the cuts the Tories are in the process of enacting, would raise anything like the $5- to $6-billion the Liberals are claiming.
Which means even the laughable show of concern for the deficit the Liberals manage — they would “reduce” the deficit to 1% of GDP in two years, when it’s at 1.7% of GDP now — rather overstates matters. If they follow through on their spending plans, they will almost certainly increase the deficit, though again by relatively small sums: perhaps $2- or 3-billion. They seem almost to be doing it for the sake of doing it, because that is what makes us Liberals, rather than out of any great conviction it will accomplish much.
Reading the document, I had the same feeling. The foreign investment chapter sounded appropriately hostile, but the follow-through in actual policy terms was unconvincing, and would probably change little. The “Canadian champions” silliness will be an excuse to waste a lot of money on pet Liberal projects, but in the end the economy will go its own way, as it always does. Even the hike in corporate taxes is hardly likely to be apocalyptic. The Grits, after all, would only raise the rate back to 18%, which is where it was four months ago.
Still, it’s the wrong direction to go. People in politics are inclined to depict every disagreement in the direst terms, but the fact that issues are rarely as stark as they paint them should not lead us to believe there are not real differences in approaches, or that one way is not preferable to another. The Grits would not send us to poorhouse overnight. But their economic policies are not the kind that would tend to enhance our prospects either. And over the longer term, as the population ages and a massive increase in costs meets a shrinking labour force, we are going to need those sorts of policies, desperately. The only way the next generation will be able to afford this generation’s dotage is if they are much wealthier than we are. And the only way that will happen is if we start now to generate much faster rates of annual productivity growth, and go on doing so, year after year, for the next several decades.
Measured against that benchmark, the Liberal platform starts to look more alarming. The Family Pack of social benefits, for students, pensioners, caregivers and so on, may be delightful ideas in themselves. But they come unaccompanied by any comparable concern with producing the wealth to pay for them. .
The document reveals throughout a vision of the economy as a thing, a lump of clay to be pushed, prodded, and massaged to the designs of its government makers — not an interconnected network of millions of individuals, each with their own agendas, values and interests, connected by prices and disciplined by competition, and vastly unknowable to any planner or architect. The latter view would tend to see the productivity question as a matter of allowing individuals greater freedom to innovate, by lowering taxes on investment, and giving them no option but to do so, by lowering barriers to competition. The Liberal approach is rather to offer up yet another program, an Innovation and Productivity Tax Credit, on the theory that a) we don’t have nearly enough of those already, and b) innovation comes from the Canada Revenue Agency.
We shall see where all this leads. The NDP have yet to release their platform, but will presumably feel compelled, in view of this overt attempt by the Liberals to poach their voters, to top them. And when, after the election, these two parties came to negotiating the terms on which the one would support the other, we may hazard a guess the resulting document will not be more pro-growth than this one.
By Andrew Coyne - Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 7:21 PM - 43 Comments
What both the preceding posts point to is the urgent necessity of reforming how we do the debates. We need to take the process out of the hands of the networks, and the parties, with their self-evident biases. And we need to set the rules for elections in general, rather than negotiating them ad hoc, each time, in the middle of a campaign.
The problem now is that everyone involved knows where their self-interest lies. This doesn’t just affect decisions of who gets in. It permeates every line of the rules. The party that is ahead in the polls, for example, wants to have as few debates as it can get away with: ideally, none. The party that’s behind wants to have six. So they saw it off at two: one in each official language.
Again, I have my preferences, you have yours. For me, I’d like there to be several debates, perhaps one a week for the course of the campaign. That would take away some of the prize-fight nonsense: we would be less obsessed with who “won” or “lost” the debate, as if that were an indication of anything, and more concerned with what we learned about each leader and their positions on the issues, which surely ought to be the point. The leaders, in turn, would be less wired and over-rehearsed if they knew they could recover from a bad performance in subsequent debates.
We should also abolish this odious business of having separate debates in each language. The end result is not only to halve the audience for each debate — an election, of all times, ought to be a time when the whole country comes together — but the French debate becomes, inevitably, a debate for and about Quebec, with shameless pandering to match.
If there were no other way to accommodate the two official language groups, that would be one thing. But it’s not. We needn’t have all the leaders speaking both languages all the time. We could divide up each debate into half-hour or hour-long segments, alternating English and French between them. We’re quite used to simultaneous translation in this country. So why on earth do we put up with this linguistic segregation?
Holding more debates, each of them bilingual, would open the way for other innovations. Perhaps some of the debates could be devoted to particular subjects. Perhaps instead of just the leaders, they could be between the critics for a given portfolio. Perhaps we could experiment with different formats. And so on.
Best of all, more debates would give the media something to talk about, besides gaffes, and photo-ops, and broken-down bus metaphors. I can’t see us changing otherwise.
Anyway. Whatever format we choose, whatever rules we set, they should be set outside the confines of any one election campaign. We have to stop pretending that televised debates are some sort of novelty. They’ve been with us for 50 years, and are now as integral to any election campaign as lawn signs and all-candidates meetings. It’s time they were incorporated into the election laws.
To be sure, the parties would have their say: there’s no way of setting rules that could not involve them. But if no party knew where it stood in the polls — if the rules were set behind a Rawlsian “veil of ignorance” — then it should be possible to agreed on rules that were fair to all, and accepted as such.
Otherwise we are condemned to repeat the same travesty, election after election after election.
By Andrew Coyne - Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 6:53 PM - 23 Comments
Some propose going further than just excluding the Greens. Why, they say, are even the NDP or the Bloc invited? These aren’t, after all, realistic contenders for power. The next prime minister will be, let’s face it, either Stephen Harper or Michael Ignatieff. Surely the debates should be a one-on-one affair.
The party leaders can debate who they like, of course, and the networks are free to broadcast them if they wish. If someone — even Maclean’s — would like to arrange an additional debate between just Harper and Ignatieff, I don’t suppose I have any objection. But the idea that this should take place instead of a debate featuring all of the leaders (all except one, of course), as Harper apparently suggested, and as some commentators would prefer, is just not on.
And it’s based on a flawed premise: that when we vote in elections, we vote, collectively, to choose a government, or indeed a prime minister — as if the ballot contained the names Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff et al. We don’t. We elect a Parliament. We vote in 308 ridings, and in every one of those ridings the choice is not between prime ministers or even parties but candidates.
We choose, what is more, between several candidates, not just two. But whichever one of them we elect, they do not disappear into smoke if they do not happen to come from the party that wins the most seat, or the party that finishes second. Indeed, we may vote for them in the full knowledge that they have no chance of forming a government, but wanting to be represented by them nevertheless. That is just as valid a choice, and the MPs from those parties are just as legitimate as the MPs from the two parties that traditionally contend for power.
So the premise that there is some special merit in a one-on-one debate between the leaders of the two parties which the best chance of winning suffers from a fatal flaw: that’s not actually what goes on in a Canadian election. I don’t mean that leaders don’t matter, or that they are irrelevant to voters’ decision to support this or that candidate in each riding. Of course not: indeed, they are probably the single most important factor, at least for uncommitted voters, in deciding which party they prefer, and party preference is overwhelmingly important in deciding the choice of local candidate.
So a debate between Harper and Ignatieff would be of compelling interest — to voters who were undecided between the two. That is, voters who had narrowed their choice down to one the two parties, Conservative or Liberal, but were not firmly committed to either. That’s about 10 per cent of the electorate. The rest — that is among the relatively small percentage that have not already made up their mind — are facing different choices: between the Conservatives and the NDP, or between the NDP and the Liberals, or between one of those parties and the Bloc, or the Greens. Or any combination of the five.
If helping voters to make up their minds is the objective, in other words – as opposed to providing an prize-fight atmosphere for the networks, and horse-race coverage for the media — then there is no particular reason to single out the Harper-Ignatieff combination.
And there is even less to hyper-ventilating about who challenged whom, and who backed down, and all the rest of the ridiculous macho posturing in which otherwise sensible people have indulged the past 24 hours.
By Andrew Coyne - Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 6:15 PM - 53 Comments
Let’s suppose Ford, GM and Chrysler sat down with all the television networks, and agreed to ban Toyota ads from the airwaves. Would anyone think this was right? To be sure, these are all private companies, who are entitled to decide for themselves with whom they will deal. But there would presumably be some anti-competition concerns raised even then.
But now suppose we are talking not about the auto industry, but an election campaign — the very essence of a public matter — the centrepiece of which is a televised election debate: the more so because there will be only one such debate, in each official language. Yet the dynamics of what has just happened are the same: the networks, in collusion with the four established political parties, have agreed to exclude another party from the debate(s) — that is, to exclude one of the established parties’ competitors, the Green Party.
Personally, I think this is outrageous. It’s obviously impossible to include every single party, no matter how marginal, in the debates, or mayhem would ensue. But the Greens are hardly a marginal party. In the last election, they pulled nearly 1-million votes, or 7 per cent of the vote: all the smaller parties combined added up to less than 1 per cent. The Greens have clearly broken from the pack. They have much more in common with the big four than the others, including running candidates in all (or nearly all) 308 ridings.
Whoops. The Bloc runs candidates in barely a quarter of the ridings, but they’re in. But — as a thousand bloggers rise to point out — the Bloc has seats in Parliament, unlike the Greens. But why should that be the decisive factor? Surely that’s a comment more on our broken electoral system than anything else. As it is, the Greens are able to attract nearly a million voters to trudge to the polls on their behalf, in the certain knowledge that they will not elect a single member. Imagine how many votes they might get if they actually had a chance of electing someone. Or if people had a chance to see their leader in the debate(s).
Anyway. I have my views on whether the Greens should be allowed in, and you have yours. But there should be some transparent, generally accepted rule that guides these decisions, rather than ad hoc negotiations behind closed doors. And surely we can agree that whatever the rule is, it should not be set by a consortium of the self-interested, but by some independent, impartial arbiter. Yet here we are, yet again, with the same rampantly conflicted crew being allowed to decide the rules of our democracy.
By Andrew Coyne - Sunday, March 27, 2011 at 3:10 PM - 67 Comments
“Mr. Duceppe clarified that he, too, would never be part of a formal coalition with the other parties, saying it would be “against nature” for the separatist party to be government ministers.”
Thus putting him offside with the countless Canadian academics, politicians and blog commenters who are quite ready to explain why it’s perfectly all right for a party dedicated to the destruction of Canada to also be governing it.
By Andrew Coyne - Sunday, March 27, 2011 at 2:22 PM - 87 Comments
I know he’s said it many times before, and I know it’s the kind of thing that people say without blinking these days, and believe me I don’t expect anything better from any of the other leaders, but this is nevertheless an astonishing thing for anyone seeking to lead the country to say:
I know that the great majority of Quebecers consider that Quebec is their nation, and Canada is their country. I was the first to recognize that. I believe that one can be a Quebecer or a Canadian in the order that one desires.
Or at least it should be astonishing. I suppose I’d say I was astonished more people aren’t astonished, but I’m not even astonished by that any more.
The issue here isn’t whether Quebec is a nation: that’s a debate for another time. The issue is whether Canada is. In Ignatieff’s formulation, it’s just a country, at least to the “great majority of Quebecers.” Quebec is a nation, of that he has no doubt: but is Canada? And if so, are Quebecers part of it?
And whatever Canada is, the putative Prime Minister of Canada is quite content that it should take second place: that people’s first loyalty should be, not to the nation — whoops, country — he seeks to lead, but to something else. This at least has the virtue of clarity: another politician might utter the fatuity that you can have equal loyalty to two different things, because after all the two will never conflict.
But if they do? If there’s an issue that, God forbid, should ask people to put Canada’s interests, the interests of the whole nation/country, first? No, a Prime Minister Ignatieff would be content that Canada should, always, finish second. Presumably he is no less complaisant with other parts of the country putting their own selfish, narrow and particular interests ahead of the rest.
A nation — hell, even a country — cannot function that way. The whole point is that we make certain sacrifices for each other: that we compromise, at least some of the time, in the interest of the greater good. The only way people will do that is if they are willing to put Canada, on occasion, first. And the job of a Prime Minister of Canada, you would think, is to ask them — no, not ask: implore, urge, demand — to do that.
“Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Can you imagine any Prime Minister of Canada saying that? And is that to our credit? Or does it help to explain why we’ve spent the last 50 years teetering on the edge of destruction, making regular ransom payments to avert it?
So I think it would be appropriate to ask Ignatieff, and all the other leaders: Is Canada a nation? If so, are Quebecers part of it? And is it conceivable that anyone in Canada might ever have to put Canada first?
CODA: Never mind JFK. Try another thought experiment. The House of Commons famously passed a resolution declaring “the Québécois” to be a nation. Can you imagine the same House passing a resolution declaring Canada, or Canadians, to be a nation? Go ahead, try…
By Andrew Coyne - Sunday, March 27, 2011 at 11:33 AM - 113 Comments
As others have pointed out, and as I’ve said myself, Ignatieff’s formal disavowal of any post-election coalition with the NDP and the Bloc does not mean he has sworn off trying to form a government with their support.
Indeed, if Harper does not win a majority, that is the almost certain result: though it’s always possible Harper might try to strike a deal with them himself, and not impossible they would accept, the greater probability by far is that a Conservative minority government would soon be defeated in the House. Depending on the numbers, and assuming Ignatieff could give the Governor General some assurance, sans coalition, of its stability, a Liberal minority government would then follow.
That’s fine. It’s how the system works. But it still presents Ignatieff with a problem, and Harper with an opportunity. The problem for Iggy is similar, though less acute, to that which bedeviled him so long as coalition talk was in the air. His strategy for winning left-leaning voters, who might otherwise vote NDP, depends upon insisting that they must vote Liberal to keep the Tories out — that unless the Liberals win the most seats, they are doomed to be governed by the Conservatives. But if in fact the Conservatives can be removed from power without giving the Liberals more seats — if the other parties can combine to defeat them in the House and put the Liberals in government in their place — then the NDP-leaning voter can vote Dipper in good conscience, and the traditional Liberal fear campaign loses its potency.
To be sure, Ignatieff can plead with voters to give him enough seats to persuade the Governor General to call upon him: without the cement of a coalition deal, he’ll need some other means of proving his ability to provide stable government. But it doesn’t have quite the same dire appeal as Us or Them.
That’s why Iggy is so reluctant to talk about what would happen if the Liberals don’t win the most seats. (Even the no-coalition pledge neglects to mention it, an elision which at first appeared as if it might have been intended to provide an escape hatch, but which I am accepting the party’s word does not.) And that’s why it’s perfectly fair game for Harper to talk it up. He just has to be less hysterical about it.
It’s not a matter of such parliamentary transfers of power, by a vote of the House rather than a vote of the people, being “illegitimate” — an argument he is in no position to maintain. And he’ll have a hard time keeping up the argument that Ignatieff is simply lying through his teeth for five weeks. The point is, he doesn’t need to. All he needs to do is point out that the most probable alternative to a Conservative majority is not a Liberal majority, but a Liberal minority, in cahoots with the NDP and the Bloc. It needn’t be a coalition, with New Democrats in cabinet and all that, but it would still very likely involve some sort of deal that would pull the Liberals to the left — particularly if the Liberals do not possess even the plurality of seats in the House, and must pitch the Governor General on their ability to hold a government together. (Of course, if by some miracle the Liberals seemed headed for a majority, that argument would be moot. But then Ignatieff would face a different problem: NDP switchers defecting back to the left to force him to work with the Dips.)
That’s Harper’s appeal to centre-right voters: Us or All of Them. But it also has the virtue of reminding left-wing voters of their options. And if he doesn’t, you may be sure Layton and Duceppe will. Iggy may have put the coalition monkey to bed, but he still has a problem on his hands.
CODA: The problem facing Harper until now has been this: so long as the choice appeared to be between a Conservative majority and a Conservative minority, a certain number of centre-right voters preferred the latter. That’s one reason he’s been unable to get above 40% in the polls.
But the election presents an opportunity to recast that choice, since it presumably removes the option of a Conservative minority: such a government would almost certainly be defeated at the first opportunity. So now Harper can present the choice as one between a Conservative majority and — on present standings — a Liberal minority, heavily dependent on the NDP and the Bloc.
That sort of government might sound perfectly fine to a lot of voters, but not to the ones he needs: centre-right, Lib-Con switchers. The ones who until now have been opting for a Conservative minority. He’s got to impress upon them that that’s no longer an option.
By Andrew Coyne - Sunday, March 27, 2011 at 10:06 AM - 51 Comments
Argh. I had a feeling something wasn’t quite right as I was typing it, and should have checked: it’s not actually true, as both the Liberals and I have lately suggested, that the party that wins the most seats in an election has the right under convention to be called upon first to form a government.
In fact, as a scholarly friend reminded me, it is the party in power at the time the election was called who has that right. The presumption is that it enjoys the confidence of the House until the House votes otherwise. Of course, in most cases the incumbent party, having suffered defeat at the polls and knowing defeat is certain in the House, does not attempt to hold onto power. But not always.
As I should have remembered, an important exception was the trigger event for the King-Byng affair. Defeated in the election of 1925 by Arthur Meighen’s Conservatives — with 101 seats to Meighen’s 116 — Mackenzie King nevertheless insisted on the right to form a government, hoping to persuade the 28 Progressive MPs to support him. A reluctant Lord Byng agreed, on condition that he would then call upon Meighen if King were ever defeated in the House.
When that moment arrived, however, King nevertheless demanded Byng dissolve the House and call new elections. Byng refused, citing their agreement, and asked Meighen to form a government instead. King seized on the supposed “interference” by a foreign potentate as an issue which he used to great effect in the next campaign.
A more recent almost-example: after the defeat of Paul Martin’s Liberals in the election of 2006, there was a brief flurry of speculation that Martin might try some sort of last-ditch deal to remain in government. He immediately ended it by announcing his resignation.
CODA: While incompetence explains my mistake, I suspect this was not an entirely honest error on the Liberals’ part. Rather, it was to put Harper on the spot, to foreclose any chance of him trying to carry on without a plurality of the seats on election day. Hence Ignatieff’s demand to know whether Harper agreed “with how I have described the workings of our democratic system.”
It’s a hard enough case to make, politically, at the best of times — “I may not have won the most seats, but I’m still Prime Minister, dammit!” — but given the stands Harper has taken, probably impossible. In other words, Ignatieff’s giving Harper a taste of his own populist, constitutional-niceties-be-damned medicine.
By Andrew Coyne - Saturday, March 26, 2011 at 9:37 PM - 413 Comments
As Jerry Springer might put it, what have we learned after day one of the campaign?
This morning’s statement from Michael Ignatieff on the coalition question was, for the most part, admirably clear:
Whoever leads the party that wins the most seats on election day should be called on to form the government.
If that is the Liberal Party, then I will be required to rapidly seek the confidence of the newly-elected Parliament. If our government cannot win the support of the House, then Mr. Harper will be called on to form a government and face the same challenge…
If, as Leader of the Liberal Party, I am given the privilege of forming the government, these are the rules that will guide me:
… We will not enter a coalition with other federalist parties. In our system, coalitions are a legitimate constitutional option. However, I believe that issue-by-issue collaboration with other parties is the best way for minority Parliaments to function.
We categorically rule out a coalition or formal arrangement with the Bloc Quebecois…
That certainly sounded like he was ruling out a coalition altogether. Indeed, the conditions were similar to those suggested in my previous post.
There seemed nevertheless to be a possible loophole: the statement explicitly mentioned only what would happen if the Liberals were to win the most seats. But the whole coalition issue has centred on what would happen if the Tories won a minority, but were then defeated on a confidence motion in the House. Did the no-coalition pledge apply in that case? Was the Grit statement a carefully worded dodge, leaving room for the party to claim later that it had never ruled out a coalition in the latter event?
I called the Liberals to inquire. Their MP, David McGuinty, called me back. He was careful to make sure he understood my question, and I was careful to make sure I had heard his answer correctly. And it was unequivocal: the same rules would apply in either case. No coalition, no formal arrangement with the Bloc.
I consider the issue settled. It has taken far too long to get Ignatieff to this point — he should have ruled out a coalition long ago — and there can be little doubt the reason for his silence until today: he was trying to keep his options open. But now he has been forced to choose. Unless he is just flat out lying — the biggest lie that ever was: formally, publicly and in black and white, on a matter of the highest importance and the hottest controversy — there will be no Liberal-led coalition. The Tories are certainly entitled to point out that the Liberals in general, and Ignatieff in particular, said there would be no coalition before the last election, too. But while the Grits might claim, weakly, that those earlier statements were honestly intended at the time, that circumstances arose they could not have anticipated, they can make no such defense of breaking such a blood oath as Ignatieff has just issued. This one is — must be — ironclad.
Now: none of this means that Ignatieff has promised not to topple a Conservative minority government, should one be returned, or replace it with one led by him. He has ruled out a coalition; he has not ruled out a minority government of some other kind. Nor should he. There is absolutely nothing “illegitimate” about one government being replaced by another in this way, that is by the vote of Parliament rather than the votes of the people, and the Tory leader was wrong to have claimed there is. For that matter, there’s nothing illegitimate about coalition governments, either — though the involvement of the Bloc would be an exception to that rule. On this Stephen Harper was right: you can seek to break up the country, or you can govern the country, but you can’t do both.
The only issue with regard to the possibility of a Liberal-NDP coalition was a political one: would voters, especially right-of-centre voters, care to see a government with NDP cabinet ministers? His pledge today should assuage that concern. Voters must still weigh whether they are comfortable with a Liberal government propped up by the NDP, perhaps via some sort of electoral pact, a la the Peterson-Rae accord in Ontario in 1985 — for the Governor General would want some assurance, in the event the Tories were brought down, that whatever replaced it would be likely to last. And whatever was cobbled together between them would probably still be short of a majority, meaning it would have to seek the support of either the Bloc or the Tories to pass legislation. The Tories are perfectly entitled to point all this out. But that is a very different thing than a coalition. People who consider this a matter of potato-potahto do not know their constitution. It is the difference between the legislative and executive, between MPs and cabinet ministers.
But what of the Conservatives? Weren’t they proposing a coalition themselves, via that notorious 2004 letter to the Governor General? No. While it’s abundantly clear that Harper was ready to replace Paul Martin as prime minister under exactly the circumstances he now denounces — making him not just wrong but hypocritical — it is equally clear he was not proposing to form a coalition. The letter makes no mention of it. All three leaders denied it at the time. And all three have continued to deny it to this day: asked about it at his morning press conference, Duceppe protested he did not want “to invent things.” (Duceppe later tweeted that Harper “talked about” a coalition in their meeting, but has not clarified what this means. Did he propose one? Then why was no such coalition proposed in the letter?) Harper’s readiness to form a government, with the support of the other two parties, in 2004 does not mean he was plotting a coalition, for the same reason that Ignatieff can promise one without the other now: cooperation is not the same as coalition.
Still, it’s worth pursuing Harper on this point. What would he do if his party was returned with a minority, or if the Liberals were? I presume he, too, would rule out a coalition, and I’m prepared to take him at his word on that point. But if he now believes it is “illegitimate” for one government to replace another without going back to the people, is he then formally swearing that he would never again make the kind of agreement with the other parties, whatever it was, he was so evidently prepared to make in 2004?
By Andrew Coyne - Friday, March 25, 2011 at 9:49 AM - 373 Comments
The day-after-the-budget press conference was going rather well for Michael Ignatieff, until the predictable, inevitable question arose: If the Tories failed to win a majority in the coming election, would he form a coalition with the other parties to unseat them and form a government? In other words, is the Tory accusation, repeated at every opportunity, true?
“There’s a blue door and a red door in this election,” he said. Voters can take the blue door (the Conservatives) or the red door (the Liberals), ie they can elect a Conservative government or a Liberal government.
With respect sir, the questioner shouted back, you haven’t answered my question.
Ignatieff began again. “There’s a blue door and a red door…” Continue…