Wednesday, April 6, 2011

When can the majority form a Canadian government?

By John W. Warnock 
Act Up In Sask
Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Jack Layton and the federal NDP caucus gave us the Stephen Harper government in 2006. By defeating the minority Conservative government the other day, they have now given this right wing party a chance to get what they really want - a majority of the seats in the House of Commons, which can be achieved with less than 40% of the votes.

Recent public opinion polls suggest that the federal Conservatives have a good lead over the opposition Liberals, led by Michael Ignatieff. They reveal that the general support for the Harper government rests on the fact that so far Canada has avoided the full effects of the Great Recession. The Harper government has done everything it could to prop up the large bubble in the Canadian housing market. While this has been appreciated by current home owners, there are indications that this bubble is about to deflate, as it has in all the other industrialized countries except Australia. It would seem that this is the best time for the Harper Conservatives to hold an election. The housing and economic situation could be quite different in the fall.

The majority of us are not Harper conservatives.

The March 2011 EKOS poll, which is a well-respected stratified sample of 2500 Canadians, reveals that the Harper Conservatives have a hard core of 35% support, but with little support among the other 65% of the population. EKOS is projecting another Conservative minority government.

The question for the majority of Canadians is when will it be our chance to have our government? The right wing ideology of Stephen Harper’s government does not represent the majority of Canadians. Far from it. On the major issues, take a look at the annual public opinion survey done by the Environics Institute: Focus Canada 2010.

A majority of 55% believe that the existing taxation system is unfair, while 70% say that taxes are good. A majority of 66% recognize that the gap in income between the rich and the poor is widening and 81% say measures should be taken to reduce the gap. When it comes to government spending, 78% say the highest priority should be eliminating child poverty while only 26% say any priority should be given to military spending.

There is a strong difference of opinion on the “hot button” issues identified with the Harper Conservatives. A majority of 58% favour emphasis on crime prevention compared to only 36% who want to stress punishment. Support for gun control is 55%, a majority of 68% approve of same sex marriage, and 74% support the right of a woman to have an abortion.

Why we need the option of a coalition government

But given the distortions of the Canadian first past the post electoral system, how can we, who are in the majority, get a government which supports our political goals? Apparently only by adopting some form of coalition government. Such governments are the norm in the industrialized western countries. There are coalition governments now in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. We should all remember that in 2004 Stephen Harper formally asked the Governor General to consider appointing a coalition government of the Conservatives, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois.

But forming a coalition of the majority has not been on the agenda of today’s opposition political parties and their leaders. They choose to put their first priority on boosting their own perceived interests rather than the general good of the majority of Canadians. That is undoubtedly why voter turnout has been declining, to only 57% in the 2008 election. It would be no surprise if it were even lower on May 2. Hopefully, after electing another minority Conservative government, Canadians and their political parties will decide it is time to seriously address our unrepresentative political system.

John W. Warnock is Regina author and political activist.

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