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Minority Government: The Most Democratic in Our Undemocratic System Gets

 

By Susanna Kelley

Susanna KelleyAs we know, many Liberals and Progressive Conservatives are disappointed in the election results because neither party got enough votes to form a majority government.  Surely that includes the Premier himself.

Ontarians need a "strong, stable majority government" said Dalton McGuinty during the campaign.

"A steady hand on the tiller" is needed to deal with how global economic insecurity may affect our province, he said.

It was the same refrain we heard from Prime Minister Stephen Harper during the federal election last May.

Both said majority government would enable them to enact their "mandate."

And in his election night speech, Premier McGuinty pointedly signalled he was in no mood to find common cause with either the Tories or the NDP:




Even with a so-called "majority," in our first-past-the-post system, with a multi-party House of Commons and a three-party Ontario Legislature, nobody has a "mandate" to do anything - except compromise.

Let's consider the federal results of the last election in May of this year.

Out of a total of 308 seats, Mr. Harper's  Conservatives received 39.6 per cent of the votes and won 166 seats.  The NDP received 30.6 per cent of the popular vote and 103 seats.  The Liberals got 18.9% of the votes and 34 seats; the Bloc Quebecois 6% of the votes and four seats; and the Green Party 3.9 percent of the votes and 1 seat.

That means 59.4 per cent of those voting voted against Mr. Harper.

Let's go a bit deeper.  Just 61.1 per cent of eligible voters actually cast a ballot.

Doing the math, then, Mr. Harper actually got 39.6 per cent of 61.1 per cent of those eligible to vote in Canada.  That comes out to 24.2 per cent of all eligible Canadian voters.

Or to look at it another way, 75.8 of eligible Canadians either voted against, or did not vote for, Mr. Harper and his policies.

This is hardly a mandate to govern as if a majority of voters chose the party.

In the case of the Ontario election, Mr. McGuinty has even less of a case to make.

The Liberals won 37.6 per cent of the vote and were awarded 53 seats.  The PC's came in just behind with 35.4 per cent of the popular vote, but only won 37 seats.  The NDP won 22.8 per cent of the popular vote and took 17 seats.

That means 58.2 per cent of those who voted chose parties other than the Liberals.

On top of that, voter turnout was the lowest on record in Ontario - 49.2 per cent. 

So let's do the math again.

Mr. McGuinty actually received 37.6 per cent of the 49.2 per cent of those who voted.

That works out to 18.5 per cent of total eligible voters in Ontario.

Conversely, 81.5 per cent of eligible voters either voted against Mr. McGuinty or did not vote.

Seen through this prism, the cry for a "stable, majority government" rings hollow - there really is no such thing in Canada.  There is only a majority of seats, won in a winner-take-all riding race.

By "stability," Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Harper actually mean the ability to push through their policies without having to worry about what the majority of voters might really want.

This is a democratic mandate?

I would argue it is neither.

The other argument we often hear is that a "majority" government if more efficient.

Yes, it is.  If by efficient you mean, again, pushing through an agenda the majority of the voters didn't vote for.

Taken to its logical extreme, if you want efficiency, dictatorship is your best bet.

In the absence of a truly proportional representation system, a minority government is the most democratic we can get.

(Voters in Ontario voted down a referendum on a type of proportional representation system (Mixed Member Proportional) in 2007.   However, despite the efforts of some bureaucrats, very few resources were dedicated to educate a confused public about it. Hence it failed.)

At least with a minority government Mr. McGuinty will be forced to find items both his party and at least one member of another party can support.

Even that will not be very democratic.  That's because Mr. McGuinty put himself into a box the weekend before the election.

He ruled out most formal and informal arrangements with any opposition parties to stay in power - a coalition, an accord, even an "entente."  In other words, he will brook no formal way of garnering input from those representing the majority of voters.

That means issue-by-issue negotiation. 

Which may not be a bad thing.

Still, before that happens, watch for the Liberals to try to entice an opposition member to cross the floor, lured by the prospect of a cabinet seat.

As well they will likely try to convince a member of the opposition to run for Speaker of the Legislature.

Both moves could put them in a "minor majority" situation, rather than a "major minority" as Mr. McGuinty describes it now.

But minority governments have produced some of the most revered of Canadian iconic policies:  universal medicare, the Canadian pension plan and the national flag.  In Ontario they were responsible for the introduction of rent controls and stronger environmental protection.  

During the campaign, Mr. McGuinty often invoked the words of his late father, former MPP Dalton McGuinty Senior.

"We are stronger together than we are individually."

If Mr. McGuinty is sincere, he should aim higher than simply trying to tempt another member to cross the floor.

Instead he should respect the will of the Ontario electorate and consult the PCs and/or the NDP to find common ground.

These worrying economic times we are in are quite extraordinary.

Ontario could only benefit from Mr. McGuinty pulling all the brightest minds at Queen' Park together, no matter what party, to help find our way out of the morass we may be heading into.

He needs to remember his campaign theme.

Forward.  Together.


Follow Susanna Kelley on Twitter: @susannakelley

Posted date : October 11, 2011
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