I'm intensely interested in politics. Not just federal politics, but provincial, municipal and yes, foreign politics. I'm interested in how ideology shapes politics and of the theoretical basis of the many different systems in play and those proposed for the future.
Political campaigns are the absolute worst place to try to learn anything about politics. They're filled with all the things that cloud reasoned attempts to educate oneself. Rhetoric, partisanship, outside influences with vested interests, media that is no longer purely objective, opinion, innuendo, truth, lies, ugly smear tactics, subliminal attacks, strategy and on and on. It does not resemble real politics as is practised on a day to day basis between election periods. For those who pay little attention to politics, elections provide about a month of total confusion and bombardment that often has them throwing up their hands and foresaking the polls on election day.
I believe democracy is still the best system we have, although very little attention has been paid to moving democracy from somewhere in the 1800's to what it could be in the 21st century. I'd like to think of this blog is a place to incite thought and encourage lifelong learning. You don't need to go to school to learn, you just need a few tips on research and methods of dealing with conflicting information. Since you're accessing this online, you have internet access and a search engine, a good start.
There is something of utmost importance when a democratic nation has an election. Your vote is critical. It's not, as some would argue, that if you don't vote you don't have a right to complain. You still pay plenty of taxes, you are still a citizen, of course you have a right to complain. Your vote is of critical importance because it is the only time you hold absolute power. The only time politicians fear anything you have to say. It is the single opportunity for you to show your agreement with what your government is doing, or change direction. I believe every Canadian should value the vote that was paid for with the blood of millions of men and woman who fought and died so tyranny would not impose itself upon future generations.
So let me try to give a bit of a primer on Canadian style democracy, just to foster a bit of understanding in a confusing flurry of electio-babble.
On May 2/2011, Canadians will decide the formation of the next House of Commons. We'll go to the polls in our various ridings and at the end of the night, we will know which seats are in the hands of which party. The gritty truth of our system is such that, no matter who your local candidate is, even if they are the most wonderful person on earth, you can't choose them on a local basis if they run for a party that has practises and policies you don't agree with. Individual candidates have no influence on overall party policy going in to an election. Even if they stand for radical change, the nature of our system of governance shuts that down the minute they are sworn in. I will also point out, for the most part, you are also not voting for the leader of any party. All parties are coalitions of diverse interests and party policy is driven by those who can get their particular issues and ideology on the plate. Your best bet to choose your vote during an election campaign is to examine the platform presented, and take time to look into the party policies, all of which should be readily availble to you on the internet. Keep in the top of your mind that platforms are a group of promises and not a binding contract, therefore any or all of said platform may or may not get enacted once a party is elected, due to any number of factors.
So we get to the results. We'll end up with 308 MP's of a variety of political parties. That is a certainty. The parties will have standing in the house, based on the number of MP's elected under the party banner. This is also a certainty. To clear the air, a single party must attain 155 seats to gain a majority in the House of Commons. A majority, during this election, has been an issue. People would have you believe it is of utmost importance or society is in trouble, that's just a scare tactic. A majority simply means the ruling party has the ability to enact whatever legislation/agenda it wishes without fear of losing confidence of the house and needing approval from the populace. This often leads to parties enacting unpopular measures that seem to come out of nowhere. Since it never got mentioned in any campaign, you never had a choice to make up your mind on it, you're stuck with it, too bad, so sad. Yes I have a bias against majority government.
Now we have our 308 members, and we are clear what we get if we hand anyone a majority of seats in the house. It will take a little longer to discuss the possibilities if no party gets a majority, but hopefully, by the end, you'll understand why there is nothing scary about it. Hopefully it will help you vote the way you want without unfounded fears clouding your judgement.
For the purposes of this lesson, all we need to know is that no single party has been able to attain the 155 seats required. This means the majority of seats in the House of commons belong to parties other than the one who got the most seats. So we have a minority parliament, nothing new.
At this point, protocol dictates the party with the greatest number of seats is invited to form a government and to attempt to gain the confidence of parliament. The Government will choose a cabinet and prepare a "speech from the throne", essentially a summary of the agenda of the government. Generally, you wouldn't expect the government to fall on a throne speech, although the possibility exists. The first major test of a government would be their budget. This would be the most likley point where a government would be unable to gain the confidence of the house. We'll explore those options shortly.
Minority governments, to function effectively, must rely on cooperation and compromise. The sole reason we've gone to the polls so often in the last few years is directly related to Stephen Harper's notion he can govern as if he had a majority when the reality was otherwise. When one wishes to lead a minority government, one must come to terms with the "blunting" of their agenda. One must be able to find enough common ground with the majority opposition to continue the business of the goverment in an uniterrupted fashion, even if it means toning down or scrapping those things that can and will not be tolerated by the majority of the house.
Suffice to say, should Stephen Harper gain a minority government once again in the coming election, unless he changes the attitude he has had and has continued to exhibit throughout the campaign, he will be unable to hold the confidence of the house for any length of time. So what happens at that point?
This, under the legitimate process set out under the laws and constitution of our country, opens options. It does not mean we have to go back to the polls, that is but one of the options. Should an elected minority government be unable to maintain the confidence of the house, the next step should rightly be, and we should demand it, that the governer general invite the leader of the official opposition to attempt to form a government. Once this invitation is extended, the opposition leader can proceed in one of two ways. He can accept the offer prima facie and attempt to govern without any formal cooperation agreement with the other parties in the house. When this option is selected, it becomes incumbent upon the new Prime Minister to find a way to get enough of the opposition to support any future confidence motions going forward, most notably, they will probably need to make budget concessions in order to secure enough votes to move forward. I must also stress, they need only have support for legislation that are matters of confidence, the majority of which are spending bills. Other legislation can pass or fail on its own merits without the risk of the government falling once a week.
The second option has been the boogeyman of this election, the coalition. Nothing evil about it, just another form of cooperation, although it formalizes a cooperation agreement in the house. The difference you would see is in the makeup of Cabinet itself. As a trade off for their support, in a coalition, parties will insist on seats at the cabinet table where decisions are made. It kind of like having a team government rather than a single ruling entity.
The thing about the second option is it really requires hard work and cooperation/concilliation. In order for it to work, as with any other group dynamic, the parties have to concentrate on agreement. In a majority, everything gets rammed through and you have no say whatsoever until the next election, and a lot of bad things can happen in 4 or 5 years.
I hope this has been somewhat informative to you. Again I encourage you to get out and vote, it's the only voice you have. There is nothing to be scared of, but as always, I encourage you to look deeper as there is always a bigger picture.
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Mark McCaw ~ twitter's @bigpicguy
Author of "Insights Inside a Mind" ~ blogging the big picture