Monday, March 28, 2011

Blog - Day 3 of the Run of the Rodents

Sir Robert Borden is burning in Hell.

He must be. After all, he’s the only Prime Minister of Canada ever to lead a coalition government. Sir Bob, as good a Conservative as ever drew breath, wanted to draft Canadian boys to fight in the trenches of Flanders in World War I. So he made a deal with the dev…, er, Liberal MPs from English Canada, and cobbled together a Union Government.

Now, I do understand that Stephen Harper would rather be caught by a CBC camera crew in a Hull motel room with Leanna VIP than head anything with “Union” in the title, but I wouldn’t rule out a Harper-led coalition.

And if he did put one together after this election, hey, that’s how the system works.

Yes, Steve Madely, (who was flayed by Paul Dewar and David McGuinty on CFRA this morning when he tried to re-write the constitution in an exercise in mental gymnastics that became sad and painful to listen to), you read that right. That’s how the system works. The Westminister parliamentary system. Not the U.S. presidential system, though, as Al Gore learned the hard way, he who has the most votes does not always win there, either.

In most elections, the vast bulk of Canadian voters actually cast their ballots for candidates of parties that do not win. A political party can come to power with a majority having won about 42% of the vote. That gives almost unbridled control over the mechanism of state to parties that won about two out of every five votes cast.

(Adolf Hitler came to power under the same circumstances, never winning anything near a clear majority. Having taken power in a coalition government, Hitler tossed his opposition into concentration camps, burned down the parliament building and tore up the constitution. I hope I am not giving anyone ideas here.)

In 1985, Frank Miller, a Progressive Conservative, won the most seats in an Ontario provincial election. He named a cabinet, recalled the legislature, and brought in an amazing budget that did every nice thing, short of giving everyone free Molly Maid service. The Liberals and NDP worked out a deal – what they called an “accord” – published it, and made it clear they would vote Miller down in the legislature.

Now, this is where it gets interesting. Frank Miller did not go bawling onto your TV screen. He did not call his opponents thieves or traitors. Despite his taste for plaid suits, acquired during his years selling cars in Muskoka, Frank Miller had some class.

Miller went to the Lieutenant Governor, told him the PCs did not have the confidence of the legislature, and asked the Lieut. Gov. to call on Liberal leader David Peterson to form a government. Peterson did so, governed for two years, then won a solid majority.

And that’s the way the system works. We elect Members of Parliament. We do not elect Prime Ministers. And the person who has the support of a majority of MPs gets to govern.

Stephen Harper knows this. His first two budgets were supported by the Bloc. He’s used the votes of separatist MPs, socialist MPs and even of Stephan Dion himself to stay in power. When the rules suited him, he was eager and ready to play by them.

How do I know this?

Got it right from the horse’s mouth. Here’s Harper explaining it all to the strangely-coifed Paula Todd on TVOntario in 2004:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

New Ottawa magazine blog post

Ottawa magazine Blog-Day 1

Back in the early 1970s, psychiatrists at what was then called the Ontario Hospital for the Criminally Insane came up with a great idea to cure psychopaths and serial killers. They would crowd them into a small room, prevent them from leaving, and force them to learn co-operation and empathy.

For 100 days, they would be cut off from visitors, mail, radio, TV, newspapers. They were not allowed to smoke cigarettes. The lack of physical space was supposed cause them to make small concessions to each other. They would learn empathy.

But the Hundred Day Hate-In was a failure. Rather than communicate with each other and change their ways, the inmates spent their time in isolation looking out the window, watching groundhogs frolic in the green fields of Penetanguishene.

Imagine being locked for 37 days in a steel tube with Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff or Jack Layton, plus their handlers and a bunch of reporters. Certainly, there’s a psychiatry thesis in there somewhere. It may not be 100 days, but the potential for crazy-making must be about the same.

And, as most of us know, there are no groundhogs at 40,000 feet.

That’s why anything can happen in a campaign. Canadians always say they don’t want an election. Unfortunately, we cannot export our ballots to Egyptians and Yemenis, who have faced tanks to win the right to vote. Nor, yet, have we outsourced our politics to Calcutta or Xinjiang.

So we are stuck with elections and the strangeness they create. Serious issues will be reduced to slogans. The workings of a $250 billion-a-year government will be explained in platitudes. Strangers will come to your door. People in very expensive suits will say how worried they are about your job.

None of them will take your kid to the dentist, although Jack Layton would probably do it if his hip didn’t hurt so much. As for your laundry, you’d probably have to explain the workings of the machine to Michael Ignatieff. You could count on Stephen Harper to feed your cat, when he’s in town. The guy loading your garden shed onto a flatbed truck with Quebec plates is Gilles Duceppe.

But to get an honest answer about how the books will be balanced without big hits to the Ottawa magazine readership, about Canada’s ongoing military adventures abroad, the real cost of new fighters, about real reforms to make government open and democratic, would take more than a Hundred Day Hate-In, let alone just 37 days of entrapment in buses and planes.

There are lots of uncertainties. Will Demerol make Jack Layton an interesting speaker? Will Michael Ignatieff be caught wandering the darkened streets of Whitby seeking a meal of human blood? Will Stephen Harper’s hair be caught in the wind, hurling it into flesh of a fresh young Tory campaign worker, a member of the rally prop guild?

Will Gilles Duceppe’s addiction to crumpets, marmalade and boiled sausage be exposed? Or will someone find a secret PCB dump behind Elizabeth May’s house?

As certain as Peter Mansbridge’s head will shine tomorrow morning, something unexpected will happen in this campaign.

After the Hundred Day Hate-In, one murderer said “I’ll shine people’s shoes, but I can’t love them.” Politicians may feel the same way about us. And, in their efforts to shower us with money, flowers, compliments – anything but real love – we should find some reason to either dance with the one that brung us, or seek out some new action with the strange dude with a coffin in the basement.