17 October 2008

Will the political class get the message?

In 2004, Canadians elected a minority government. In 2006, we elected another one. A perceptive observer might conclude we were sending the political class a message. We didn't trust any of the parties to govern us alone; we wanted them to work together. The message was reinforced by poll after poll after poll. The politicians, particularly Prime Minister Harper who acted seemingly on a whim, did not give a damn what Canadians wanted and called yet another election. So we have had to send the message again. That's three times now, quite aside from the polls. Politicians are by and large intelligent people. Surely after being sent the same $300-million message in a row, it will sink in.

I know it won't be easy. Political parties are all about power and they hate sharing it. And the political class thrives on campaigning. But dammit, the people want them to co-operate and the whole point of democracy is serving the people ... isn't it?

It's not as if minority governments can't work. Lester Pearson never had a majority in his entire time as prime minister, yet he presided over the most productive parliaments we have ever had. They brought in Medicare, the Canada Pension Plan, the Auto Pact and a new flag. They instituted the 40-hour work week, two weeks vacation time and a new minimum wage. Pearson established the world's first race-free immigration system. He set up royal commissions on the status of women and on bilingualism that contributed to legal equality for women and introduced official bilingualism (not bad for a unilingual prime minister). He also, no small matter, resisted American pressure to participate in the Vietnam War.

Pearson was a diplomat and diplomacy is exactly what's required to make a minority government work. Harper unfortunately is not, but, if as The Globe and Mail insists, he is growing into the job, then here is the challenge for further growth.

The beauty of a minority government is that it involves most Canadians in making their laws. This is a far more democratic beast than one in which only 40 per cent are involved, as is commonly the case in this country. At least Canadians seem to think so at this point in our history. The people have spoken (and spoken, and spoken) and should be heard. Will the politicians listen?

1 comment:

  1. And Pearson was PM from 1963 until 1968. You forgot to mention a very important fact in why this liberal govt moved so much progressive legislation in a minority situation. And it had to do with the Canadian who won the "CBC's Greatest Canadian" competition - Tommy Douglas.
    Pierson got support for his minority government in the House of Commons from the New Democratic Party, led by Tommy Douglas.