What we just learned over the past week is that most people don’t understand how our government works.
Essentially, if you said that the Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition was undemocratic, you were either lying and misrepresenting how Canada’s government works or you don’t understand how Canada’s government works. If you were misrepresenting, then congratulations, you’re a liar. If you don’t understand parliamentary democracy, then I suggest you get on it, because you’re being a bad citizen. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t just get to waltz into a voting booth and make a little x next to your candidate of choice. You have a duty to be informed and this includes understanding how this entire machine works.
People blame this on the incredible gravitational pull of the States’ elections, but I don’t think this is true at all. I mean, the electoral college system and the simultaneous House and Senate elections are a system that’s just as complicated as our own parliamentary system. The problem is that people don’t actually understand either of these systems, but think they do. Their perception of democracy is one of 50% + 1. People don’t want to go through the effort of understanding how the entire thing is put together.
There’s a reason why our country is lead by a Prime Minister and not a President. You might think that they’re two names for the same job, but they’re not. The President is the head of state. The Prime Minister is the head of the government. The President of the United States acts as both the head of state and head of the government. Canada’s head of state is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, who is represented by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaelle Jean, Governor General of Canada.
The head of the government in Canada is the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada. This is an important distinction, because we, the people, do not choose the head of the government. We elect members of the government. The Prime Minister is chosen by the Governor General, based on which member of the government would command the most confidence in the House of Commons. Usually, this is the leader of the party with the most Members of Parliament. This does not necessarily have to be the case.
This distinction is emphasised more in a minority government. I think that we’ve been spoiled by having so many majority governments that we come to expect them and think of minority governments as temporary anomalies. We’ve come to believe that minority governments are bad because they’re perceived to be unstable and unable to accomplish anything. And it’s become apparent that the minority governments themselves think this too. Instead of concentrating on governing, they’re obsessed with trying to get a majority in the next (presumably quickly approaching) election.
I’ve always been a firm believer in the merits of minority governments. Instead of just handing over the reins of Parliament over to one party, the government is forced to work with other parties. There are many industrialized democratic states in which minority and coalition governments are the norm. This becomes more important as we move further away from having our Parliament dominated by two parties.
History shows us how minority governments should work. Lester B. Pearson, the fourteenth Prime Minister of Canada, is considered to be one of our greatest Prime Ministers, but he never had a majority government. He led two consecutive Liberal minority governments, in which he chose to work with the Tommy Douglas’ New Democrats instead of antagonizing the opposition. With their support, he put into place many institutions that are still in place today, like universal health care, race-free immigration, and the Canadian flag. His government planted the seeds for what would eventually grow into NAFTA and official bilingualism.
In today’s case, Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister, put the interests of his party before the country, and as a result, he lost the confidence of the House. The proposed coalition government was a government that was willing to govern and place the country before party. They chose to cooperate together instead of trying to tear each other down. In other words, they’re working in the way that minority governments were intended to behave.
Democracy in Canada was working as intended. Anyone who says otherwise is lying to you.