11 December 2008

What's behind the coalition shock?

Judging by the tortuous arguments being raised against the NDP/Liberal agreement, many Canadians seem to be suffering from coalition shock. This is to some degree understandable in that we don’t do coalitions very often. In most democracies, they are commonplace. Israel, a thriving democracy, has never had a government that wasn't a coalition.

But then most democracies wouldn’t entertain the idea of a political party that only had the support of 38 per cent of the electorate forming a government. Canadians do, even thought it is clearly undemocratic, largely because of our corrupt "first-past-the-post" voting system. This system routinely produces false majorities -- a majority of the seats in the legislature with only a minority support of the electorate. Elections are a democratic instrument, but in Canada they produce undemocratic results. Most democracies insist that elections reflect the will of the people, and they achieve this with proportional voting systems and coalitions. First-past-the-post has so inured us to unfair representation that we tend to be taken aback when we encounter an instrument, e.g. a coalition, that contributes to fair representation.

The arrangement crafted by the Liberals and the NDP more closely resembles the people’s will as expressed on October 14th and would therefore, with the support of the Bloc on confidence votes, form a fairer, more democratic government. It would, of course, be thoroughly constitutional.

Ideally, we might ultimately institute a proportional system of electing our representatives. We would then become accustomed to fair representation and would no longer be shocked by commonplace methods of achieving it.

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