The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon), Thursday, December 11, 2008
Coalition move can checkmate Harper
by David Orchard
At the Prime Minister's request, the newly minted
40th parliament of Canada has been prorogued, closed
until January 26th, creating a situation unprecedented
in Canadian history — a government has avoided defeat by
dismissing the nation's lawmakers.
Over the next seven weeks, we will see a wave of
propaganda and mobilization, amply funded, from the
Conservative Party attacking the opposition leaders.
This spending will take place outside the election writ
period and thus, like the attacks on Liberal leader
Stéphane Dion over the past two years, will be subject
to no spending limits whatsoever.
At the end of January, on the date that he has
chosen, Mr. Harper will meet Parliament and present a
If his budget and/or throne speech fail to pass the
House, Mr. Harper will seek — perhaps successfully — to
dissolve parliament and go to a general election. He
will have the momentum of seven weeks of wall-to-wall
campaigning, without bothersome election spending
restrictions, at his back.
If the Conservatives receive a couple of percentage
points more of the vote (or if, for example, the Green
Party takes one or two percentage points more), Mr.
Harper may well receive the majority he has been
With a majority, Mr. Harper will be able to move
rapidly to do many of the things he has been restrained
from doing so far — whether this means emasculating the
opposition parties by removing democratic, proportional,
public funding, completing the destruction of the
Canadian Wheat Board, or undermining Aboriginal and
If the Liberals and the NDP enter the next election
competing against each other as usual — something Mr.
Harper is counting on — they will divide once again the
votes of progressive Canadians (the majority) and may
well leave themselves, and our democracy, badly damaged.
One thing Mr. Harper may not have counted on is that,
instead of falling apart, the coalition may solidify and
take the initiative.
This could happen if the NDP and the Liberals (and,
hopefully, the Greens as well) make a concrete agreement
not to run against each other in any riding in the
If the opposition parties took this step, they could
win a solid majority of the seats in the election Mr.
Harper is hoping to take the country into shortly.
A clear agreement not to run against each other, made
ahead of the election, would also have a salutary effect
on Mr. Harper's actions in the House of Commons and may
well cool his ardour for another election.
Professor John Ryan of Winnipeg has written a paper,
"Canada needs a Liberal-NDP-Green coalition," in which
he asks, how is it that a little more than a third of
the voting electorate can decide who forms our
Proportional representation would give Canada a more
representative government than our current
first-past-the-post voting system, but in the meantime
the opposition parties have the power to stop Mr. Harper
and create a more democratic Parliament.
By forming an electoral coalition, in which the
Liberals, NDP and Greens maintain their distinctive
identities, but agree not to run against each other,
Professor Ryan estimates the coalition could end up with
almost twice as many seats as the Conservatives, and the
will of the population would be much more accurately
reflected in the House of Commons.
Last election saw a record number of Canadians
abstain from voting. Many people, the young among them,
are appalled at a system which regularly elects a prime
minister and a governing party that most Canadians have
voted against. Some ask, "Why should I waste my vote?"
The coalition formed in the House of Commons this
past week has galvanized a great deal of interest and
hope for an end to vote splitting on the centre-left.
Cooperation between the Liberals and the NDP in the
past has given Canada some of its most progressive
legislation, including national medicare, the Canada
pension plan, a new flag and the establishment of
A Liberal-NDP electoral coalition that would see the
Conservatives reduced to winning approximately one third
of the seats in the House, i.e. roughly the percentage
of their vote nationally, would re-energize all those
Canadians who long for a more representative Parliament,
one that more accurately reflects their views inside the
House of Commons, rather than leaving them outside as a
David Orchard is an author and fourth-generation
farmer. He was the Liberal candidate in
Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River in the last election
and farms at Borden and Choiceland, Saskatchewan. He can
be reached at tel 306-652-7095, email@example.com,