Politics in the 11th hour: The Canadian Cons

The Conservative Party of Canada has deliberately lied to the Canadian populace about several of the major issues that they have focused on during this election season. The intent of this piece is to describe why we have very good reason to believe this.

Who do Canadians support?

Anyone closely following Canadian politics knows that the Liberals, NDP, Green Party, and Bloc Quebecois have fairly similar policies. This is made visually obvious to anyone who has taken the CBC vote compass quiz. The conservatives are on the other end of both the social and fiscal spectrum from the rest of the major Canadian parties.

Roughly 37-39% of Canadian voters support the Conservatives1 . This means that about 61-63% of Canadians support the other four parties. A democratically defined government in Canada will thus be oriented more towards those four parties than towards the Conservatives. The left side of the political spectrum is split four ways, but it is still supported by the majority of Canadians.

The core Conservative messages

The Conservative party has launched an unrelenting attack on the idea of coalition governments. A quick glance through the Conservative Platform, taking note of the right side of the page, will quickly show you how central this claim is to the Conservative election strategy. On a quick scan through just now we counted 31 instances in that right column of a boilerplate claim that goes like this:

THE IGNATIEFF-LED COALITION with the NDP and Bloc Québecois opposed this measure to **(insert specific claim here)**, when they opposed Stephen Harper’s Budget last month, and chose instead to force an unnecessary and opportunistic election.

The Conservatives repeat these statements at least 31 times in their platform document. On page 55 and page 60 this statement appears three times. It is apparent that this is one of the primary messages of the document. Red colouring of the specific claim text is used so as to catch the eye. As far as we can tell, this is the only part of the document specifically designed to grab our attention in this way. These statements are central to the message of the Conservative platform, so we will focus on them here.

We will try to elaborate on the ways in which these statements are very misleading.

Government fell on contempt charges, not budget

The Conservative platform states that these 31 measures were opposed by the opposition parties when they opposed the budget last month. This is connected, in the same sentence, to the idea that these opposition parties forced an election. This makes it seem that the election was forced by a vote of non-confidence on the budget (a relatively typical way for a Canadian government to fall). This is untrue.

The government fell on charges of contempt of parliament for hiding information and misleading the House. The election campaign by the Conservatives has consistently claimed that their government fell because of opposition to their budget. This is an attempt to hide the literal truth of the fact that they were found in contempt by a majority of parliament, representing a majority of Canadians.

Conservative opportunism

There is a nugget of truth in the conservative statement regarding how the other parties opposed the budget. However, this nugget of truth does not make their claim true. In fact, it appears extremely likely that the Conservative party was the one acting opportunistically to force an election. This section will attempt to describe why this is so.

It is true that the opposition parties had demonstrated their distinct lack of support for the conservative 2011 budget. If the government had not fallen on contempt, it was almost certain to fall very shortly thereafter when the budget was voted upon. The Conservatives knew that they were forcing the hand of the opposition by proposing a budget that did not sufficiently accommodate the demands of the opposition.

As a minority government, the Conservatives needed to cooperate with other parties on the content of the federal budget to have it passed. Their unwillingness to do so is reflected in the fact that the none of the opposition parties showed signs of supporting the Conservatives proposed 2011 budget. The Conservatives knew that if they did not come to an agreement with any of the opposition parties on the budget, the opposition would be forced to declare non-confidence in the government, forcing an election. Thus it is untrue to claim that it was the opposition who “chose instead to force an unnecessary and opportunistic election.”

Opposition to the whole, not the parts

It is very clear to us that these sections of the Conservative platform were written with the intent of conveying the message that ALL of the opposition parties were opposed to ALL of these specific funding allocations. In so doing, the Conservatives are attempting to portray the opposition parties as being opposed to every program in the budget.

These accusations are of course made separately in each specific context. On page 10, the opposition parties are opposed to helping students and new Canadians. On page 13, they are opposed to helping small businesses. On page 14, they are opposed to helping Canadian manufacturers as well as failing to support research and development. The rest of the document continues with specific claims made with regards to jobs in the digital economy, aboriginal Canadians, families, energy prices, caregivers, low-income seniors, veterans, workers, vulnerable communities, northern communities, national parks, clean energy, culture and the arts, municipal infrastructure, at-risk youth, health care in rural communities, volunteer firefighters, farmers, the forestry industry, the mining industry, and the fishing industry.

It is spectacularly obvious that these statements are intended to send the message that the opposition parties do not support these issues and groups, and that the Conservatives do. This is a political gimmick, couched in a lie, intended to turn voters against all of the other parties.

Opposing the budget is not the same as opposing every single spending item in it. The Conservative budget did not make enough concessions to the demands of the opposition parties to gain majority support in the house. The other parties believed that the proposed budget was significantly flawed, and made demands about how it should be amended. The Conservatives refused to amend their proposed budget, so it was extremely likely that the budget would not have passed.

War on coalition

Wikipedia defines coalition as follows: “A coalition is a pact or treaty among individuals or groups, during which they cooperate in joint action, each in their own self-interest, joining forces together for a common cause.”

A major part of the Conservative election campaign has been claiming that the opposition parties will form a coalition government if given the chance. They claim that the only way to avoid this is to vote in a Conservative majority. They also paint the non-conservative coalition as undemocratic.

In saying this, the Conservatives are acting hypocritically. In 2004 they tried to form a coalition with the Bloc Quebecois to take power from the Liberals. Read the CBC News story on how Harper tried to make a coalition in 2004.

Now, let’s deal with the actual claims. Are coalitions undemocratic? In a word, no. A ruling coalition is a political agreement made by parties who decide that they can work together to form government. There are a very large number of such coalition governments in the world. These governments represent majorities in their countries, and are thus democratically elected.

Another claim that is put forward by the Conservative platform goes something like this: “The party that receives the most votes gets to form government.” While this situation occurs much of the time, it is by no means a fact of Canadian electoral law. In order to form government, the confidence of the house of commons must be demonstrated. If the Conservatives are unable to keep the confidence of the house (as they were unable to a month ago), they cannot continue to be government.

Now lets talk about after the election. If one party has a majority of seats, they form government. If no parties have a majority, then it falls to the party with the most seats to try to get the support of one or more other parties so that they can demonstrate the confidence of the house. If they can successfully do so, they can talk to the Governor General about forming government.

As far as we know, what we are about to discuss has never happened in Canada yet. If the party that receives the most votes is unable to get the confidence of the house, then they can’t form government. This may be possible after the 2011 Canadian election, as it seems unlikely that the Conservatives will gain a majority. Also, since the Conservatives have been found in contempt of parliament, the stage is set for the opposition parties to work together to form government. We believe that this may be possible, since the opposition parties would then be able to demonstrate the confidence of the house of commons to the Governor General.

Based on these observations, we believe that it is reasonable for us to conclude that the Conservative party is trying to mislead Canadians about these issues. We believe this is because the Conservatives believe that if they can successfully convince the Canadian public of the truth of these claims, then they will be more likely to get the majority that they want.

The Conservatives are lying. They have among their ranks people who understand very well the democratic validity of coalition governments, and have tried to use coalitions to their advantage in the past. They also know that their government fell through a non-confidence motion regarding their government being in contempt of parliament. They know that their party has attempted to thwart democracy in this country by concentrating power into the Prime Minister’s Office and stacking the senate in their favour, despite campaign promises to do otherwise.

Not only have the Conservatives lied, they have made these lies an integral part of their election platform in 2011. In doing so they have insulted both our democratic tradition and the Canadian public.

Footnotes
  1. Globe and Mail: Gap between Tories, NDP narrows to 6 points in 11th-hour polling. May 1, 2011. []

Ben Harack

I’m an aspiring omnologist who is fascinated by humanity’s potential.

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