The Shotgun Blog
Thursday, May 20, 2010
The Other Grand Coalition
Why there and not here?
Two of Britain's political parties negotiated a coalition government this week that will enable them to rule in tandem for the next five years. It was a momentous change. It took five days to organize. The country did not collapse in rubble.
Makes you wonder: Could Canada survive with a coalition government? But wait a minute, we already know the answer to that: Of course we couldn't. Because Canada is uniquely ungovernable by more than one party at a time. We learned that last year when the Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois agreed to a pact that came close to forcing Stephen Harper's government from office. The reason it only came close, and didn't succeed, is that the outcry across the land made clear Canadians wouldn't stand for anything so outrageous. We may not love the Tories, but we like them more than any hare-brained idea like a coalition.
Well, the Liberal-Democrats are technically centre-left, but they have a scattering of positions that range across the political spectrum. There is just enough common ground between the Cleggian Lib-Dems, and the Diet-Toryism of David Cameron, to make some kind of a government workable. They're basically in agreement on rolling back many of the Labourites infringements on civil liberties, notably dropping the idea of a national ID card, and roughly on the deficit. There are also three major parties in Britain, not four as in Canada. Thus one party can more easily play kingmaker. By having more working parts a Canadian minority parliament makes it easier to play the opposition parties off against each other.
Kelly McParland, the above author, goes onto note the high level of detail put into party manifestos in Britain compared to Canada. Two reasons for that. In Britain, even post-Blair, many of the best and brightest still go into politics. Until the expenses scandal, there was something of a cache to being an MP, something which will probably return in time. The typical Canadian Cabinet is, by comparison, made of poorer quality timbers. The average minister of the crown, here in the Elder Dominion, might make it as a parliamentary secretary back in the Mother Country. Our best and brightest go into business, science and down South. In Canada, those who can't do, teach, those who can't teach, teach gym, and those who fail at that run for elected office. There are exceptions. Very few.
The other reason British parties are, relatively, more principled than their Canadian derivatives is national unity. Until about the mid-1990s, no one seriously talked about the break up of the United Kingdom. Even the bleeding ulcer of Ulster was unlikely to be resolved by uniting North and South. This is not the case in Canada. On pretty much every major national issue of the last century and a half - Catholic Schools, prohibition, conscription, foreign policy, Medicare, Afghanistan - English speaking Canada leans one way, and French Canada the other. Raise controversial issues and you might start reminding the Solitudes how much they dislike each other. Thus our national politics has the colour, consistency and firmness of oatmeal. It's why Mackenzie King, the Great Equivocator, was our longest serving Prime Minister.
Posted by Richard Anderson on May 20, 2010 | Permalink
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