Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Hope for the coalition?

The Nelson Daily News did a bit of homework. The Montreal Gazette had called it an "improvised ersatz coalition of the over-eager." The Windsor Star compared it to "a game of chicken." The Saskatoon StarPhoenix warned of "separatist sentiments in the West." The Edmonton Journal called it "an insult, we cannot tolerate even for a few months." For the Calgary Herald, the NDP-Liberal coalition "has the legitimacy of a police force maintaining pubic order with the assistance of a biker gang under contract."

  Someone left the backroom door ajar.

Was the Herald editorialist comparing the Bloc Quebecois to a biker gang? I remind myself that these are articulate professionals with some analytical ability and an aptitude for expressing themselves in words. So the intense emotion along with a nearly complete absence of analysis are characteristics of this outburst that are noteworthy.

See also the routine description by the anglophone press of the Bloc in terms that, on another day, it might use to describe Hamas or Hezbollah. It is "a party conceived for no other purpose than to facilitate Quebec's exit from Confederation" (Herald), and its "stated purpose is the breakup of Canada" (Post). Some homework and attention to detail needed here.

Reasonably more cautious, the Gazette alluded to "the backroom plotting, the parcelling out of cabinet posts, the papering over of differences." Still, lost in the storm of emotion was the recollection that backroom plotting, parcelling out of cabinet posts and the papering over of differences are the daily business of political parties. The difference in this case was that the paper covering the differences was released to the public, making clear what principles were to be followed in the parcelling out of cabinet posts. Someone left the backroom door ajar. For a brief moment, minority government and a predictable coalition of opposing parties gave us an opportunity to witness what normally goes on only while the curtain hides the players from public view.

Daily News editor, Bob Hall, went on to proclaim his own feeling of "betrayal." He used the word three times without ever explaining why he felt betrayed. Maybe the excerpt from The National Post held a clue. It had called inclusion of the Bloc in the coalition "an outrageous betrayal of the country" foreshadowing emergence of the ever-inflammatory "traitor."

The unfortunate suspicion that all this emotion is fueled by Canadian editors' longing for news "as interesting as the American election" gets confirmation when the Herald editor works in the phrase "trying to steal the election."

Purporting to speak for us all, Hall says "This is not what Canadians signed up for when we went to the polls last month." He doesn't mention that no one ever votes for coalitions or, for that matter, minority government. However, some of us believe that both minorities and coalitions are more transparent and democratic than Parliaments in which the majority party works its will without effective resistance.

When the NDN cites editorials from the Ottawa Citizen, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, the Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, the Montreal Gazette, Windsor Star, and National Post, we need to remind ourselves that all of them are owned by CanWest Global.

For "balance" the NDN editor chose to include the St John's Telegram, Newfoundland and Labrador's largest daily. The Telegram was part of the Thomson chain until 1996 when it was sold to Conrad Black's Hollinger, then to CanWest Global (2000) and finally to GTC Transcontinental (2002) of Montreal.

At least this much of the press was caught with its ignorance showing. They must have known that emails were urging the Liberals, NDP and the Bloc to form a coalition before the election and chose to ignore them.

The coalition, for its part, may have missed the boat by its failure to come together before voting for the Throne Speech. That means we are in a period during which the opposition has officially expressed its confidence in the government. Alas.

However, the people, that Great Sleeping Giant, are stirring. A proposal for a "cooperative government" is on the table though the Liberals don't appear to have the stomach for it. It will be a long time before anyone can pretend to be surprised by the idea that a minority government might be run by a coalition composed of some combination of opposition parties, including very small ones (like David Cadmon).

No one can predict which way the newly awakened giant will turn. We can hope that emotions will cool. The times are clearly ripe for education about the facts of our democracy. The media may not be up for that, but this won't be the first time we have had to fend for ourselves.
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