The Parliament of No Mandate

Peace Tower

Conservative Sandy Crux worries about the future:

The notion that a minority is the best thing for this country is a fallacy. Just listen to the hysteria and bombast coming out of the mouths of the opposition leaders now? Do Canadians want that indefinitely?

Thing is, Sandy: with almost two thirds of Canadians opposing the Conservatives, though they may not want a minority, they clearly don’t want a Conservative majority. It takes two to tangle, and if the opposition hasn’t been called out for their excessive partisanship with regards to the previous government, it’s because Stephen Harper has returned it in spades.

But there’s a good point here: however unpopular Stephen Harper is, his main opponent, Stephane Dion, appears to be even less popular. A number of Conservatives have asked a very good question: if by some miracle Dion becomes prime minister in a weak Liberal minority government, does he have the votes he needs to pass his agenda, including his much vaunted Green Shift? And if he doesn’t, what then? Back to the polls in spring 2009? Can this country handle such a power vacuum at the top during the coming economic troubles?

Many polls are confirming that Conservative support is dropping, but no party appears to be rising to meet them. Indeed, combined Liberal/Conservative support has dropped below 60%, a historic low. If these polling trends continue, we may have a situation where the Conservatives and the Liberals both lose seats, and where the balance of power is difficult to find (the Bloc Quebecois don’t seem to want to commit it to any particular party over a longer term, and the Liberals and the NDP seem unlikely to command majority support between themselves).

So, what happens next? Are we screwed? Are we as voters irresponsible, as Sandy suggests, for not giving Harper the majority he needs to implement the platform he wants, without significant oversight from the rest of parliament?

I think these people haven’t thought things through. Even if Stephane Dion won enough seats to (barely) sit in the Prime Minister’s chair, he wouldn’t have a mandate to impose his Green Shift. Indeed, no party would have a mandate to do anything. Look at the numbers: every single party running for this parliament would have had its platform repudiated by the majority of voters. In short, in this upcoming minority parliament, no party would have a mandate to do anything.

So, where does that leave us?

I put it to you that, with such a clear repudiation of every party’s platform, we wouldn’t have a four or five party parliament anymore. Instead, the mandate would drop to the 308 parliamentarians who have been elected by the voters of their riding to represent the interests of their riding. It would be their task to find common ground to decide what to do next, and perhaps that common ground could cross party lines. All party promises would go out the window, and the individual MPs would be charged with finding the way forward together, pragmatically.

People who are wringing their hands over how a weak minority can navigate the stormy economic waters ahead have reason to worry, but if I may be permitted a bit of optimistic fantasy, if the situation is as serious as it is, could the 308 parliamentarians not perhaps drop their party affiliations and work together to meet the coming crisis?

It would take a strong act of leadership from whomever is tapped to be prime minister, but could not strong words of multi-partisan agreement and commitment to the good of the country by both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition re-assign the seats of government into a multi-party coalition whose primary goal is to address the immediate economic problems, something like what now exists in the Northwest Territories where non-partisan members of the territorial assembly decide among themselves who sits in cabinet, with everybody else sitting as the “opposition”?

Crossing party lines is, after all, what they’re committing to do in the British Parliament. The leaders of both the Conservative and the Liberal Democratic parties are speaking words of conciliation toward Prime Minister Gordon Brown, vowing to work together to deal with the coming crisis. And is this not what Canada has done in the past, with the Union government of the First World War?

I can see why some partisans think it unlikely that our politicians could drop their partisan attitudes overnight and work together, but if the economic waters are as troubled as economists say them to be, I think such thinking more than possible. Yes, Harper and Dion and Layton and Duceppe would have to sacrifice something in the spirit of compromise and pragmatism to work together, but surely each leader loves his or her country enough to set aside partisanship and share the reins of power in times like these?

I think only the most partisan supporter doesn’t think so.

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