Consider A Coalition Government — But Consider It Very Carefully

- May 28th, 2014

WYNNE: I’m not going to pre-empt the decision of people on June 12. I’m just not going to do that. I am going to spend the next 16 days or 15 and 3/4 days talking to people about what we need in this province in order for the economy to thrive and our kids to be successful.

REPORTER: You’re NOT ruling out a coalition?

WYNNE: I’m not ruling out anything except working as hard as I can over the next 16 days to make sure that we get to Queen’s Park and we can implement our plan.

 

So Kathleen Wynne is open to the idea of a Liberal-NDP coalition government if that’s what it takes to hang on to power.

Big flippin’ deal.

If the last budget — the defeat of which brought down the rotting shell of McGuinty’s regime — had been passed (and thus no election called), then Ontario would now be ruled by a coalition government in all but name anyway.

A coalition government in and of itself is no big deal.

Consider Germany, a country that is considered the economic and political giant of Europe and a country where I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years.

In the 18 federal elections held in democratic Germany since the end of World War II (including seven since the reunification of East and West Germany), only one — ONE — has resulted in a majority government.

Every other federal election — 17 out of 18 — has produced a coalition government.

Sometimes the  conservatives are the top dogs and raise up the chancellor (as is the case with Angela Merkel). Sometimes the socialists do. Sometimes other minor parties — even the Greens — become junior members of the coalition government with a few token cabinet posts.

It works, more or less. Some coalitions have worked better than others but they’ve all worked. More or less.

As I said, Germany is the powerhouse of the European Union (despite France’s mewling), thanks in large part to the concept of coalition, co-operation, collaboration  and co-option.

I’m not just talking about the political structure. Hard to believe now, but Germany’s economy was in rough shape 15 years ago, dragged down and uncompetitive because of antiquated, cumbersome and ultimately debilitating labour and social welfare rules and practices.

It took a massive reorganization of the entire German economic and social order a decade ago to create the efficient, effective, innovative model of German productivity we now take for granted.

And that tidal transformation occurred because a socialist chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, was strong enough and daring enough to force business, labour and every other major stakeholder in German society to agree to a wide-ranging package of reforms known as the Hartz reforms (named after Peter Hartz, the Volkswagen personnel director who chaired the commission that came up with the game plan).

It was, in effect, a massive backroom deal in which the average German citizen had very little input and very little sense of ownership of the new system that was imposed on them.

And here’s another thing: Just because something works in Germany doesn’t mean it will work in Canada.

It is inconceivable that every sector of the economy and society in Canada could be brought together and actually agree to the kind of massive changes that brought about Germany’s revitalization. Inconceivable. Impossible, in fact.

Germany has such a different culture from Canada’s despite our commonalities and compatibilities.

For one thing, workers’ representatives sit on the board of directors of every major public corporation in Germany. It’s the law, a law that was in place long before the Hartz reforms were even considered. So business and labour in Germany have a much different — less adversarial — relationship than Canada’s.

Also Germany’s politicians are elected on both a proportional and first-past-the-post basis. It’s an incredibly confusing and (to my thinking) crazy system that can result in anywhere between 598 and 630-plus members being elected to the Bundestag. But the bottom line is that you get an entirely different political culture and power structure and power-sharing attitude in Germany than you do in Canada.

I don’t mean to go off on a tangent, but I wanted to point out that just because something works in Germany, it won’t necessarily work in Canada. Probably won’t work in fact.

Now here’s the thing about German coalition governments that I hate.

I want you to consider this carefully when you evaluate the pros and cons of a possible coalition government in Ontario.

In a coalition government, everything is done behind closed doors.

The deals are done, the buying and selling is done, the political discussion and arm-twisting and bribery and threatening and pleading and whoring — EVERYTHING — is done behind closed doors.

And then the doors are opened and the coalition partners come out arm-in-arm with big smiles on their faces and rah-rah proclamations of unity and solidarity. And nobody on the outside is involved in the discussion.

And democracy takes another hit.

I know there are all sorts of backroom dealings in Canadian politics. It’s the nature of the beast.

But it’s done on a much more ad hoc basis here and the blood-letting on the floor of the Legislature is still a vital and generally healthy part of the decision-making process.

And it’s public. Not a closed circuit.

I do believe coalition governments can be corrosive and soul-destroying for the political parties involved. Especially the junior partners, who are usually the ones that end up bending to the will of the senior partner — no matter how resolute their intentions are in the beginning.

Just ask the UK’s Liberal Democrats, who will become even more of an endangered species in the next British elections.

So, no, there’s nothing earth-shattering about coalition governments.

But are they a good idea? A politically healthy thing? A desirable outcome for any election?

I really don’t think so.

 

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2 comments

  1. Albert G says:

    Coalition governments are MORE democratic and MORE representative of what the voters voted for than most “majority” governments around here where 40% or fewer voters actually voted for the party that ends up with the majority of seats. If one party takes 35% and another takes 20%, and those two make a deal where they agree to a coalition, then the resulting government is now representative of 55% of the voters. I fail to see where this is worse than a so-called majority.

  2. Rod Sheridan says:

    Hi Alan, good balanced article, I enjoyed reading it.

    I don’t agree however that coalition governments are bad, I believe political parties are the problem.

    No party has a monopoly on good ideas, in fact party ideology often results in rejecting the best idea because it doesn’t conform to the party ideology.

    In my opinion, non party aligned politicians would be able to select the best solution regardless of which side of the political spectrum it came from….

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