By: Clement Nocos
Just a few pie charts on the state of last weekend’s Canadian political affairs.
By: Alex Ripley
Full disclosure: I have been working with Joyce Murray’s campaign for several months, and presently serve as the Toronto Youth Chair. I have sought to keep this analysis as objective as possible, and apologize for any bias which has shone through.
The recent departure of Marc Garneau from the race for the leadership of the Liberal Party has kept the pundits busy. Mr. Garneau’s bowing-out has left Joyce Murray as the sole remaining serious challenger to the dauphin, Justin Trudeau. Trudeau is unbeatable, says the media (and Mr. Garneau). I disagree. The race has lots of life in its yet. Let me tell you why.
Canada’s “first-past-the-post” (FPTP) electoral system has historically led to long lasting majority governments in both federal and provincial level parliaments; where the lead party obtains a legislative majority of seats. The Canadian political experience with majorities under FPTP has entrenched a reactionary disdain for minority government in Canadian politics. The governing party of a minority parliament normally sees itself in an unstable, temporary state that it must endure before obtaining majority status in the next election. Pundits declare a virtual loss for whichever party wins the most seats in a minority and assert that the new minority government is an inefficient lame-duck. Majority government has become the “natural” way to govern Canada.
Nevertheless, minority governments are sometimes the products of close elections, but they do not necessarily need to be the unstable, lame-ducks that Canadians tend to think of. A coalition is just one of several solutions in managing a decidedly unstable minority parliament with responsible government. The idea of a coalition parliamentary government, however, has been relatively absent from Canadian politics save for its brief consideration after the federal election of 2008. Though coalition governance is ubiquitous in parliamentary democracies throughout the world, it is a term still unfamiliar to Canadians. In other countries governed by parliamentary democracy, multi-party coalitions are the norm. Canadians, on the other hand, think of coalitions as formal party mergers such as the Canadian Alliance-Progressive Conservative merger of 2003 that formed the broad coalition that is today’s Conservative Party of Canada.  Coalitions in this paper will be defined as cooperative parliamentary government formed between distinctly separate political parties.
Coalitions should be seen as a means to effectively govern minority parliaments, yet its opponents in Canada have pre-emptively declared multi-party government to be undemocratic. This assumption negates the merits of coalition governance and overlooks Canada’s lack of experience with it. By examining the Canadian experience with minority government, by providing foreign examples of coalition parliamentary governance, and by highlighting the implications of coalition governance such as the need for electoral reform, this article will argue for the application of multi-party coalition governance to Canadian parliamentary democracy.