OPINION: CPC uses threats of coalition government as scare tactic

Oct 18, 2019 | OP-ED, Opinion

Galvin Zaldivar, News Editor

As this election comes to its end this Monday, the pollsters have taken in all the data and have come to the same conclusion, the next government will not have a majority.

This country hasn’t had a minority government since 2011, when Stephen Harper’s second government was brought down by a vote of no confidence.

Andrew Scheer, in response, has increased his efforts in getting his vote out over the past week, stressing that if the Conservatives don’t win an outright majority, they will get a “NDP government wearing a Justin Trudeau face.” 

Leader of Canada’s Conservatives Andrew Scheer campaigns for the upcoming election in Brampton, Ontario, Canada October 17, 2019. (REUTERS/Carlos Osorio)

This isn’t the first time a Conservative leader has used the prospect of a coalition as a sort of electoral bogeyman. In the December 2008, the Liberals and NDP agreed to form a coalition with the support of the Bloc Quebecois, in anticipation of a vote of no confidence in the Conservative’s upcoming budget.

In response, then Prime Minister Harper advised then Governor-General Michaëlle Jean to prorogue parliament until Jan. 26 the following year. By the time parliament met again the coalition agreement had collapsed, and a new legislative agenda was able to appease the Liberals enough to support the government.

In the interim, Harper attacked the prospective coalition as “unconstitutional and undemocratic,” as well as “divisive,” for needing the support of the Bloc to hold a working majority in the House. Some Conservatives characterized the possibility of the coalition as a coup against the government.

The Conservatives are attacking any notion of a coalition government for the reason that since the merger of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties in 2003, they have no natural coalition partners. The Liberals on the other hand have partners aplenty.

Coalitions are not the disaster or the subversion of the democratic will Conservatives have characterized in the past. Coalitions, being formed from the widest number of voices in the House, are probably more democratic and more accountable than majority governments. 

They are not, as Scheer asserts, a government beholden to the whims and platforms of a different party.

Coalitions are the result of careful negotiation between parties and always result in careful compromise. Supporters of action on climate change, for example, would have to negotiate the pragmatism of the Liberals, the idealism of the NDP and the ambition of the Greens. 

In the event of a coalition, these forces would have to be balanced between the needs of the different parties and the practicality of any proposals or legislative programs of passing parliament.

Take for instance the Liberal minority government which held power between 1963 and 1968 with the support of the NDP. While it was not a formal coalition, the 26th and 27th parliaments saw the introduction of Canada’s healthcare system, flag and pension plan. 

Coalitions were formed on the provincial level a number of times since 1919 when in Ontario the United Farmers of Ontario and the Labour Party formed one. Today, the closest formal coalition in Canada is the confidence and supply agreement between the NDP and Green Party in British Columbia, giving John Horgan a working majority of two.

Even a minority government, without the formal support of a coalition partner, has to consider what can be supported by a majority of the house.

As the 2008-09 prorogation dispute proved, a minority government that does not consider the other parties is vulnerable to votes of no confidence. Without the power of an outright majority, a minority government can be held closer to account and have less room to act with impunity.