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Two heads are better than one (but proportional representation is best of all)

This Magazine Staff

Two-Headed Monster
From left to right, above: Stephane Dion, Jack Layton, Gilles Duceppe (Artist’s impression)

Your This Magazine bloggers haven’t weighed in yet on all the coalition talk that’s sprung up in the last few days, mostly because there’s been so much speculation and so little substance to talk about. The Parliamentary procedures that will dictate exactly how, or when, or if the coalition of the NDP, Liberals, and Bloc may make their move and topple the Harper Tory minority are arcane and far from cut-and-dried; a lot depends on the elaborate Kabuki theatre of “opposition days“, brinksmanship over proroguing Parliament, and how the Governor General responds when she returns to Canada tomorrow. It’s far from clear how this will all shake out.
It’s clear something has to be done, though. For me, this all comes down to the move by the Tories to end public funding for political party campaigning (the financial calamity/bailout issue is another tinderbox altogether). Even for a cabinet known for its cynical partisan moves, this was an astonishing maneuver that needed an urgent response. And given the sudden burst of pro-coalition activity on the web — rallies, petitions, even the blizzard of Twitter messages — we know that there is a huge pent-up demand for that response.
Now, whether a mashup government of centrists, socialists, and separatists is actually going to work? Well, I think we’ll just have to wait and see on that front. Coalition governments work, with varying degrees of success, all around the world, and frequently group together parties with way less common ground. So if it gets things moving legislatively again, and preserves democracy-strengthening measures like the public funding of political campaigns, then bully for them.
But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the core problem isn’t Parliamentary process or a minority government or any of the parties. The problem is that our first-past-the-post electoral system is fundamentally broken. It doesn’t represent the will of Canadian voters. Proportional representation would go a long way toward fixing that imbalance, and it would likely result in more coalition governments. That can be a mixed blessing (see the crazy quilt that is the Israeli Knesset) but on the whole, having your vote count in Parliament is the greater virtue. While it has the potential to be an awkward arrangement, the coalition that has now formed in Canada actually does, in the aggregate, represent a majority of the electorate. What a crazy idea.

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