Wednesday, April 04, 2007


As promised, let's look in a bit more detail at Andrew Coyne's suggestion that the three opposition parties work together to form a governing coalition in the event that Harper requests a trip to the polls. While I'd welcome the possibility of such a coalition, there are two serious obstacles to it managing to emerge.

The first is simply a matter of timing. I presume that it's most likely that on the Cons demanding an election, Michaelle Jean wouldn't likely call on another party to take power unless she had already received some indication that a stable coalition would be possible. Which means that the opposition parties would have to put vital resources into hammering out at least the broad terms of any coalition ahead of time, then signal their intentions publicly before Harper brought his own government down.

And that presents some significant downside risk based on the uncertainty as to the Governor General's reaction. If Jean were to choose to accept Harper's request for an election rather than offering an opportunity for other parties to form government, then each party which was willing to participate in the coalition would then be easily painted as having accepted the faults of every other coalition party, with no opportunity to make up for that perception with a stay in power. Or to be more precise, the NDP and Libs would each face all the downside of a formal electoral coalition, without the benefit of having a better chance of any single seat.

While that problem is one which would be in place no matter how badly each opposition party wanted to form a coalition, the second goes to the question of whether a coalition can be formed at all. With the Bloc having supported the Cons' budget based entirely on the amount of money provided to Quebec, there's not likely any way they could then turn around and accept a budget which offered less. Meanwhile, at last notice the Libs were still sticking to the position that the amount provided was intended as a resolution to a phony problem to begin with.

The obvious solution would be for the Libs to find a reason to justify supporting the same amount of funding in a coalition budget, if perhaps not based on "fiscal imbalance" language. While that might require some fancy footwork and a bit of backtracking from Dion, it could also be used as evidence that the Libs' new leader is no less politically astute than Harper if it succeeds in keeping the Cons from choosing the timing of an election.

One other way around the budget problem would be for the opposition parties to simply surprise the Cons by failing to oppose the budget such that it passed automatically (and this time intentionally!), then launching their coalition afterward to govern within the Cons' fiscal framework. Once again, a daring maneuver - but also likely one that would work wonders in shattering the myth that Harper is fully in control of Canada's political scene.

Of course, any benefit to the image of any opposition party would be based on such maneuvers succeeding in creating a stable government. As a result, if there's any doubt about whether all parties could be trusted to keep working together (and likely in the face of a series of Con opposition motions/bills designed to split them), it may oddly be a safer course of action to simply go to the polls and see what happens.

That said, I'd still like to see at least some effort by the Libs and NDP to see if a coalition can be put together. But it's worth recognizing now what the downsides are, to ensure that they can be minimized if things don't work out as hoped.

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