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Preparing for a coalition government debate

Coalition YESCould the outcome of the October 2015 federal election be a minority parliament where the issue of a coalition government becomes the key political question?

Voting day is still ten months away, but earlier this week Globe and Mail columnist Campbell Clark reported, “An aggregate of polls compiled by threehundredeight.com puts [Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives] at 32 per cent, four points behind the Liberals, effectively neck and neck to form a minority government.”

And earlier this month, CTV’s Don Martin made a series of new year’s predictions speculating that, “A Conservative minority government will be elected following a shaky foreign affairs policy performance by Justin Trudeau in the leaders’ debates, which cost him the lead in the polls. The Harper government will be toppled after losing a Throne Speech confidence vote in late November. A deal to support a Liberal government for two years will be inked by the NDP in exchange for enacting a national daycare program.”

If this begins to move past conjecture, we should look back to 2008-09.

After the October 2008 federal election, the country was gripped by the question of a coalition government. In November of that year, the Liberals and New Democrats reached an accord to form a minority coalition government. The Bloc Québécois agreed to support them on non-confidence votes and the Greens said they would support from outside parliament. But in December, Harper prorogued parliament and by January 2009 the Liberals had a new leader who didn’t back the coalition and the deal fell apart.

The Globe and Mail‘s Clark has also noted, “For Mr. Harper, winning a minority government in 2015 probably isn’t winning at all. This time, opposition parties would face a lot more pressure to oust him quickly. This will be the year when a minority PM must become a majority man. …If he wins only a minority government, anti-Harper voters won’t appreciate an opposition party that props him up in power.”

That would make it different than 2008-09 when a coalition government was framed as a controversial issue, almost a crisis, by the corporate media. The National Post called it “ugly opportunism”, the Ottawa Citizen described it as “a virtual coup”, and the Edmonton Journal said a coalition government “would be an insult we cannot tolerate”. Even the Toronto Star claimed it was a distraction from “what really matters to Canadians”, that being the economic crisis. And not surprisingly, Harper accused the opposition parties of trying to “overthrow” the government.

As such public opinion was somewhat split. An Angus Reid poll conducted on December 1-2, 2008 found that 37 per cent of respondents supported a coalition government formed by the opposition parties, while 32 per cent favoured a new election, 7 per cent an accord rather than a coalition, and 24 per cent were not sure.

We may need to be prepared for this again. CTV’s Martin predicts, “The threat of a coalition Liberal or NDP government will be the dominant fixation of Conservatives in attack ads throughout the year in an alarm-clanging push for another majority mandate.”

The Council of Canadians supported the formation of a coalition government in 2008. We rallied on Parliament Hill on December 4 of that year and chapters took part in rallies across the country that week in support of the ‘Coalition Yes!’ campaign. We asserted that a coalition government was a fully legitimate feature of parliamentary democracy. And prior to the last federal election in May 2011, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow again commented, “We continue to believe that the best likely outcome is a coalition government – based on a progressive policy platform.”

The federal election is scheduled to take place on October 19, 2015.

Further reading
One year to the October 19, 2015 federal election (October 2014 blog)