Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Case For Another Minority Parliament

The Parliament of 2004-2005 has been a poor advertisement for minority governments. It barely stumbled out of the gate, with some people wondering whether the Government would even survive the first Throne Speech debate.
Since then, Parliament's existence appeared to hang alternately on the health of Chuck Cadman, the price of Gurmant Grewal, and the colour of Belinda Stronach's dress. Why on Earth would anybody want another minority government?

Part of the answer must be that few people who think about it really want a majority government, either. While polls have fluctuated during this election campaign, the public has consistently indicated that it feels (1) that the ruling Liberal Party is overripe, if not rotten; and (2) that the Official Opposition Conservative Party is not quite ready to take over. These opinions are obviously well-founded on both counts.

The steady stream of unflattering leaks and revelations coming out of Liberal ministries are a tell-tale sign that this Government has too much baggage to carry comfortably.

Conservative campaign commercials designed to persuade us that Stephen Harper and his gang are really just a regular group of Canadians is providing a steady source of material for the Royal Canadian Air Farce. The Conservative Party's policy imagination seems limited to tax breaks and tax incentives, while Stephen Harper vows to protect medicare with all of the enthusiasm and sincerity of a recalcitrant schoolboy reciting "I shall not misbehave in class".

Another minority parliament therefore seems to be both very likely and preferable to giving either of our two major parties a free hand for 4-5 years. And with luck, it will be based, either formally or informally, on a contractual agreement between two or more parties. Such an accord would have both the virtue of stability (defined as at least two years without a serious threat of defeat) and of integriy, by forcing the government to keep its election commitments (assuming that is desirable and affordable) and closing its credibility gap on a number of key issues: finally delivering on public daycare, actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions, achieving real democratic reform, and restoring levels of foreign aid spending to what they were 15 years ago.

Most importantly, such a Parliament--and clearly, I am thinking of an NDP-Liberal entente and not a Conservative-Bloc Quebecois one--could buy some precious time for our single-tier healthcare system. A moratorium on decentralization and privatization is probably a good idea while we assess (1) how successful the Romanow recommendations and the waiting list management strategy are in achieving their stated aims; (2) what our domestic constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada, has to say about the ban on private healthcare insurance; and (3) what our external constitution--the international trade rules contained in the NAFTA and the WTO --says about the scope of exemptions for public services from international trade law.

Although both Mr. Martin and Mr. Harper have been rhetorically unequivocal in their support for single-tier healthcare, Mr. Martin has also been unequivocal in his support for the Charter of Rights as interpreted by the Supreme Court and his opposition to the use of the notwithstanding clause, while Mr. Harper has repeatedly supported letting the provinces have more room to exercise their jurisdiction and letting markets play a larger role in governance. In both cases, we need to know--what would they do when these fundamental values collide with the value of single-tier medicare? Since we don't know, and probably won't know before January 23, I suggest that it would be unwise to give either man a monopoly of political power at this time.

So sit back, relax, and look forward to a minority government that looks more like the Pearson years of 1965-1968 and the Trudeau years of 1972-1974 than ones we have just been through. It could prove to be a more expensive ride, but it will ultimately be a safer and more enjoyable one.


Anonymous said...

"Mr. Martin has also been unequivocal in his support for the Charter of Rights as interpreted by the Supreme Court and his opposition to the use of the notwithstanding clause, "

Quite frankly your full of shit. Martin brings out the Charter and notwithstanding when it suits his argument against Harper but then conveniently ignores the Charter when he talks about "reverse onus" as it pertains to "innocent until proven guilty" for accused criminals. He will say anything at anytime to get elected regardless of whether it is true or not or contradicts what he said at the last whistle stop. He is a sad and dishonest, crooked politician. Good riddance to him.

"Even though they stole all our money and ruined the country I'm still going to vote for the Liberals cause I'm a f**king moron"

Horny Toad

Mark Crawford said...

I take your point, but I am far from letting Paul Martin off the hook, as my previous blog, "PM3: Paul Martin the Post-Modern Prime Minister" attests.