The Current Brouhaha in Canadian Politics, Explained Briefly

by Joey deVilla on December 2, 2008

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In his blog Quoderat, David Megginson provides an excellent summary of the brouhaha that’s currently taking place in Canadian politics right now. If you’re not familiar with the Canadian parliamentary system of government, worry not: he summarizes it quite nicely and lists American governmental analogues to the various parts of Canadian government.

If you’re really pressed for time and can only spare a moment to read six bullet points, my summary of David Megginson’s summary should get you up to speed:

  • The Prime Minister announced a piece of financial legislation to eliminate the public funding of political parties.
  • Viewed through a strictly Machiavellian, la fin justifie les moyens lens and ignoring all other factors, it’s a clever move. The Prime Minister’s party, the Conservative Party of Canada, are good at fundraising and can live solely off their donations; the others, who for various reasons haven’t got the knack, would be hobbled.
  • Viewed through the lens of public relations and real-world pragmatism, it’s a dick move. It’s reminiscent of the Simpsons episode where Mr. Burns blocks out the sun to force the people of Springfield to constantly require power from his nuclear power plant for light.
  • The problem: the Prime Minister’s government is a minority government. It means that while his party has more seats in the House of Commons (American readers: the closest analogue is your House of Representatives) than any other party, it does not have enough seats for a majority vote. That means that in order to get things done, the Prime Minister has to get the cooperation (and votes) of at least one of the other parties.
  • And therein we see the flaw in the Prime Minister’s plan: the legislation to “cut off the air” to the opposition requires the support of the opposition.
  • A vote of no confidence in the House of Commons is all it takes to unseat a minority government. Under normal circumstances, this would force a federal election, but since we had one only six weeks ago, the Governor-General can opt to declare another party leader the new Prime Minister if s/he can make a convincing case. The leaders of the three major opposing parties have formed a coalition, picked a leader and are angling to do just that.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Anita Kuno December 2, 2008 at 11:17 am

Way to cut through the fog and illuminate the fine points so quickly, Joey.

Nice job.

David Janes December 2, 2008 at 12:15 pm

Your point two is incomplete, misleading and wrong:

  • Corporate donations are banned by C-24; the CPC does not live off even in part on “corporate donations”
  • Other political parties – which we’re often reminded comprise 60% of the vote in total – can and have lived of private donations as C-24 is only legislation that is 6 years old; it’s just a matter of their supporters getting of their collective asses and tossing in 10 or 20 bucks (or a 100 or 200). Given that their supporters tend to be urban and above the median income line, this is hardly asking for a lot.

That all said, you used the same word I was using yesterday: Harper was being a dick and is now going to pay the price with his head.

John Bowman December 2, 2008 at 12:24 pm

There’s another problem with the summary. The Conservatives have removed the cancellation of public financing from their financial update. It’s no longer an issue. The other parties are now saying Harper is mishandling the economy because it didn’t include a stimulus package in the update.

In any case, Harper has lost the confidence of the House and is screwed unless he can prorogue Parliament — just weeks after the Throne Speech and without actually accomplishing anything as a government.

Joey deVilla December 2, 2008 at 12:51 pm

@David Janes: Noted, and corrected.

I got the bit about corporate donations wrong. I also decided to make explicit what was in kmjy head as I was writing the article: that the Conservatives have been doing the necessary legwork in their fundraising activities, while other parties, notably the Liberals, haven’t been so hot at it. I’m reminded of the difference between the Republicans’ and Democrats’ online grassroots efforts during the 2004 American elections, which are noted in a blog entry of mine from the Internet+Society conference at Harvard in 2004.

Thanks for the heads-up!

David Megginson December 2, 2008 at 3:21 pm

Excellent summary! I wish I could have been so succinct.

Keith MacDonald December 2, 2008 at 9:41 pm

Joey,

Congrats on choosing “Brouhaha” to describe the current situation. It is unprecedented but it is *not* a crisis. Let’s everybody stay cool. Brouhaha provides the necessary ironic distance a responsible citizen should maintain in their thought and discussion.

There’s a (probably NDP sponsored since that’s whereI got the link from) petition to support the proposed coaltion at http://www.62percentmajority.ca/

Rohan Jayasekera December 3, 2008 at 5:49 am

As I view this post, there is an ad on the page showing a photo of Stephen Harper and the text “His IQ is 125 – Are You Smarter than Stephen Harper? Take the IQ Test Here!”

Well, right now it seems as though just about everyone is smarter than Stephen Harper. It’s a good reminder that being “smart” depends not just on raw IQ but also on other factors such as sensitivity to others. Mr. Harper may have a decent IQ, but he still made a boneheaded decision because, as usual, he didn’t really care what anyone else thought. Unfortunately it’s not just him who has to pay the price for his arrogance — we all do.

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