Is the Problem Coalitions in General or THIS Coalition?
Although the question of whether a coalition can take over is primarily a constitutional and parliamentary question, there's no doubt that public opinion is a factor, lurking in the background of all of these discussions. And the polls are coming in. They suggest that Canadians prefer Stephen Harper and the Conservatives to govern.
Although I think some of the media pronouncements of the death of the coalition are a bit premature, the failure to rally public opinion is a problem they have to deal with. The question that needs to be asked, though, is Canadians' problem with the idea of a coalition government itself or with this particular coalition. Although there has been some criticism of the coalition idea generally, for the most part, the problem seems to be with this coalition. Paul Wells makes the argument that had the coalition been structured differently or had circumstances been different, it might have a chance to succeed. I think he's right. The Liberals and NDP face a number of critical problems which make this a tough sell. The dependence on the sovereigntist/separatist/secessionist/treasonous/country-wrecking BQ (or whatever we're calling them today) is phenomenally bad optics. The fact that the combination of Liberal plus NDP seats does not outnumber the Tories makes this difficult to pass off. And the leadership of Stephane Dion makes this even harder. It's tough to sell him to Canadians when his own party apparently has no confidence in him. The best argument for the coalition, the fact that it has the support of the parties which got a majority of the vote in the last election is a good one, but not one that the coalition succeeded in making.
More importantly, I hope Wells is right that the right coalition can succeed. Coalition governments can and do work around the world and fit nicely into the logic of our parliamentary system (though not our electoral system, which is the topic for another post). It would open up more governmental options for the future in Canada and move us away from this cycle of repeated minorities. And it might encourage a less destructive form of politics where parties have to consider each other not only as adversaries but also as potential governing partners. As long as the BQ is around (and thanks to the rhetoric of our government this week, their future looks bright), it's going to be difficult to get a majority. This weeks events have introduced the idea of a coalition to the vocabulary of Canadian politics. I hope it hasn't poisoned it to the extent that it isn't viavle under different circumstances.