30 December 2008

A moment to reflect upon politics.

I've had more than a few conversations about the current political situation in Canada. I am not as distressed about the situation as I am by the fact that so many people are distressed about the situation. I often forget just how deep my cynicism runs.

The current situation, as it stands, is a little like this: We have recently had a federal election. The party with the largest number of seats in the house of commons was the Conservative party, however the Conservatives did not hold a majority of the seats. Shortly after the election, the Liberal party formed a coalition with the NDP party with some support from the Bloc Quebecois party. Together the coalition had more seats than the Conservative Party, and the new coalition threatened to pass a vote of non confidence upon Harper if Harper did not turn power over to the coalition. Harper, in an effort to avoid the non confidence vote, prorogued parliament until the new year. It all sounds dicey, but it is legal.

As is often the case with me, I look to the past and see what lessons history can hold. Unfortunately, history holds no direct analog to this. The closest we have is the King Byng Wing Ding of 1925-1926.

That went down a little like this:

The 1925 General election was one of the first in Canadian history for which Canadians could vote for three parties, in this case, the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Progressive party. The Conservatives took 115 seats to King (the standing Prime Minister) won 99, with the Progressives taking 24. Instead of resigning and handing over power, King instead requested of the governor general, Lord Byng Of Vimy, (that Vimy. He was the commander of the Canadian forces when they stormed the ridge. Oh, and you hockey fans, the Lady Byng Trophy was donated by his wife) to be allowed to continue to form the government with the support of the Progressives.

Over the course of the next few months King lost several seats through questions of order and, ultimately, when one of his members was found to have taken bribes. King was in danger of losing the confidence of the government and facing charges of scandal. King went to Lord Byng and requested to be allowed to dissolve parliament for the second time in one year to hold another federal election. Byng used his reserve power and told King to allow the Conservatives, as the holders of the largest number of seats in the house, to form the government before calling another election. King stepped aside and allowed Arthur Meighan to become Prime Minister. Sort of.

At that time, if a member of parliament changed his status, that is, if he went from a normal member- a 'backbencher'- to a more prominent position, usually a position in cabinet, they had to resign their seat and seek re-election in a by-election, to allow their constituents to decide if they wanted a representative who would, in effect, no longer represent them, but would now be focused on national issues.

Arthur Meighan's Conservatives would have needed to have far too many resignations for the party to remain viable in parliament. Meighen himself had briefly been Prime Minister in 1920-1921, and was a capable man with only one problem: he doesn't seem to have been able to do math. Meighan himself resigned, and he appointed a shadow cabinet. The Liberals and Progressives pounced, and passed a non confidence vote almost immediately. It passed by only one vote.

The election was run in a predictable way. The Conservatives claimed corruption on the part of the Liberals, and the Liberals claimed a constitutional crisis caused by Byng's disregard for parliament. The Liberals were returned with a majority, Byng was recalled as Governor General, and laws were changed to make the Governor General an almost completely ceremonial post.

After all this, it is hard to see how this situation will play out in the new year. All I see here is evidence that this power play could blow up in both their faces. I should stress here again: What both sides have done thus far is all legal.

There are few things I keep hearing over and over again. I'll address a few here.

1. The Liberals are wimps/wussies/corrupt and trying to get power over the clear winners of the last election.

I'll grant the wimps wussies corrupt thing. It is my opinion of politicians in general, regardless of party. But, as I said, this is legal. There was no clear winner in this last election. The conservatives had the most votes, it is true, but together the Liberals and the NDP had more votes than the Conservatives. If you wish to argue against this, the best argument I can think of would run like this: while it is true the NDP and Liberals do have more votes when added together, during the last election not a single vote was cast for a coalition of the two parties. No one mentioned a coalition during this campaign.

2. The Liberals are counting on the support of the Bloc, who want to break up Canada.

True. And Stephen Harper also formed a loose coalition with the Bloc when he formed his first minority government a few years back. Everyone has dirty hands on this one, and you can't claim that the Liberals should be disqualified from ruling on this point unless you concede the Conservatives are likewise.

3. We should do away with this problem altogether and replace the governor General with and elected one and introduce proportional democracy.

The G.G. is just a figurehead with no real power, so I don't really care one way or the other about that. I don't particularly want a 'president' either, which is what most of those suggesting this idea call the replacement.

As for proportional democracy, I find the idea fascinating, and therefore I am against it. I have seen far too many interesting ideas turn into disasters. Proportional democracy, for those who don't know, is the idea that seats will be allotted in the House of Commons according to the proportion of votes each party gets. I see several problems with this: 1. We are now voting for no one in particular, we have representatives who really don't represent anyone or anything concrete, and can't get voted out, as long as they are on their party's list. 2. The idea of a list isn't another one of my favourites either. I think the only people who will be put on such lists will most likely be the party's fawning bootlickers. Mavericks and free thinkers need not apply. This system will most likely perpetual minority governments such as this one, making the possibility of coalitions and other issues like this more likely, rather than curing these situations.

In conclusion, this is the kind of problem that is going to happen from time to time. These people are politicians, and they're acting like politicians. My respect for them is so low this little 'crisis', if you can call it that, really has no effect on my opinion of them. Everyone is dirty in this game and there are no angels up on Parliament Hill. Only Angles and Advantages. Right now, all the parties are playing for their angles. In the end, it will blow up in all their faces, save one. Which one, I can't say. The new year will tell.

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