Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
December 15, 2008
Canadian coalitions needed to preserve national unity
Whether this proposed coalition government would be good for Canada – and there are ample reasons to doubt that – the notion of coalitions or at least political cooperation is vital for the country's future. Confederation itself was spurred by a coalition government formed by two bitter enemies – John A. MacDonald and George Brown – and successful national parties have themselves typically been an amalgam of regional interests and diverse political ideas.
In recent decades, Canada has come to accept the unacceptable – that we have a Constitution rejected by one province. Two attempts to heal that wound have failed. This has left Canada in an uneasy peace. We are a nation that has been unable to formulate a guiding document accepted by all parts of the federation.
To top that off, the majority of members of Parliament elected from Quebec for more than 15 years have been committed to the breakup of the country. They are not part of the proposed Liberal-NDP coalition. They will not take responsibility for governing the country (or anything else); they prefer to sit passively-aggressively on the sidelines.
For their part, most Canadians in the other nine provinces do not want the Bloc Quebecois to be part of any governing coalition. They feel that the country should not be governed by those committed to its dismemberment.
Our politics is splintered in many directions. Elected members typically go to Ottawa with the best of intentions to work for the good of Canada and find themselves shoe-horned into partisan gamesmanship. The bitter antagonism among parties appears to grow stronger by the year.
None of this bodes well for the future of the nation.
The willingness of three parties to put aside their antagonism and some of their differences to strike a temporary working arrangement struck many as opportunistic. It might instead be seen as a sign of hope that partisanship does not always have the last word.
At some point, Canadians and their political parties are going to have to rise above their differences and develop a governing model and governing policies that foster mutual trust. It might seem that this is too much to hope for – that our differences are too many and our tendency to reduce everything to issues of East vs. West, right vs. left are too ingrained.
If this is so, Canada does not have a healthy future. It may not, in fact, have any future. The centrifugal forces are many. The common bonds and commitments, if they exist, are not easy to name.
Most Canadians still think this country is worth maintaining, celebrating and enhancing. But if we believe that, we need to form coalitions and put words around the unity that exists and that can grow in the decades and centuries ahead.
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