Politics - Federal

Left-Leaning Coalition in the Making?

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 28, 2008

After squandering its huge budget surplus on tax cuts to their corporate friends and nickel-and-dime tax credits to nearly everyone else, the Conservatives have the government right where they want it: with no alternative but to make more ideological cuts to program spending under the cover of the global recession.

So much for all the recent talk about transcending party lines and doing what's good for the country during a time of crisis.

Experienced at pushing their opponents to the wall, the Conservative Government also announced a plan to scrap the party financing system that allocates public funds to political parties based on the number of votes cast for each party.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty went so far as to announce that the Conservatives will make the cut a matter of confidence, assuming that the Liberals would rather back down (as they did many times during the previous Parliament) than risk another election while broke and leaderless.

The Liberals and NDP responded by threatening to topple the government in favour of a centre-left coalition. Liberal MP Dan McTeague summed up the situation when he said, "They're either very stupid or very arrogant in thinking we'd simply just buckle. We don't have many more cheeks to turn here."

Harper responded by dropping the plan to scrap the public party financing system. Unlike the previous capitulations, which were merely political losses, this decision would effectively bankrupt the Liberals when they are already struggling to pay off their election campaign debts.

Stephen Harper and his advisors have been remarkably savvy in how they have managed Parliament over the past few years, but they may have crosed the line this time with a partisan move that threatens not only the fortunes of is opponents but their financial viability.

It remains to be seen whether the back-channel coalition talks will continue, now that the Conservatives have backed down on this particular plan.

The Liberals and NDP combined have 114 seats (77 and 37, respectively) to the Conservatives' 143, so a coalition would need to include the left-leaning but nominally separatist Bloc Quebecois as well. The Bloc has 49 seats and independents hold the last two.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2008 at 13:52:37

Ryan, ever since Paul Martin began cutting corporate tax rates around 2001, corporate revenue has increased as a percentage of overall tax receipts. Yes, on the surface it appears that corporations are getting a free pass, but the result is that there is more money in government coffers to spend on programs that you support.

The reason why the Fed's are suffering a shortfall today is not due to less revenue, but rather excessive spending. The conservatives have been spending money faster than the economy has been growing, so it's easy to see why the surplus has left us.

There are many reason why this government should be criticized for its handling of the economy, but a lack of spending on programs for average people isn't one of them.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted November 28, 2008 at 15:42:17

If the Liberals or any other opposition party introduce a confidence motion on Monday and force an election, I will not vote. Democracy in this country is hardly that. It's backdoor politics with little or no regard for the country they're supposedly governing.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 28, 2008 at 16:08:52

If my understanding of Parliamentary procedure is correct, the opposition could take a vote of no confidence, forcing the Prime Minister to resign and letting the Governor-General appoint the leader of the opposition as the new Prime Minister without an election.

Given that some two-thirds of voters chose a centre-left party, it actually makes more sense democratically for a left-leaning coalition to run the Parliament than a minority right-leaning government that has only one-third of the popular vote and only a plurality of seats in our first-past-the-post system.

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By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2008 at 00:58:52

Ohhh, Ryan ... You should write for the Toronto Star. Your left-wing views are sooo dated and tiresome.

Corporations employ millions of Canadians ... tax cuts allow them to hire more people and invest in research and development.

Don't like your 2% GST cut? You and anyone else who are so appalled by it can send it back to the Feds. Every 'nickel and dime' makes a difference in today's tough economic climate. Are you forgetting the GST was created to pay for the financial ruin that Trudeau left us in ... and promised to be scrapped altogether by the Libs?

Financial contributions should not be subsidized by our tax dollars. Contributions made to political parties already cost the Feds hundred of millions a year in income-tax deductions.

The Liberals are in horrible financial shape. Can you imagine if Dion was running this country during a world-wide recession? You don't know how lucky you are to have Harper in these times.

I'm sure a lot of people on this board will disagree with me ... but look around you. Have decades of sloppy NDP-style governance made (downtown) Hamilton a success story?

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By here (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2008 at 11:34:21

to correct

The 2% cut was implemented instead of a personal income tax cut. Most economist viewed the GST cut as mere politics whereas income tax cut would be beneficial. By cutting the GST in good economic times, they lowered the surplus and left themselves with little room to move. Standard economic theory also posits the need to leave taxes alone or even raise them in good times and cut them in bad. As they already cut taxes, limited their income, the Conservatives are in a bind which they demonstrated in their do-nothing economic statement.

The GST was created to replace the hidden Manufactures Sales Tax (13.5%)shifting the tax burden from the manufactures to the consumers. Mulroney claimed this would help increase exports. Speaking of financial ruin, Mulroney wasn't a good guardian of treasury either. Credit Chretian/Martin.

For the 15 years I've lived in Hamilton, I don't believe the NDP elected a mayor nor a majority of councilors. Sure there is a culture of corruption and sloppy rule but the Liberals/Conservatives have taken turns in that department.

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 08:07:03

A Sign of the Times: You may not like the NDP but the people in Hamilton have voted for them. Anyways, the NDP have come out to numerous public forums, yet the liberal and conversatives are mostly no shows.

Anyways, you can thank the conservatives and their common sense revolution for the raising business taxes.

The liberals do not do much for the people either in their hour of need, just a lot of talk, talk,talk.

What is missing from the mix is the voices from the people, the grassroots groups that allow the people to step and speak their minds.

There is no easy answer but to leave it in the hands of just the business people is not viable. The people deserve to have their voices heard form their own mouths and not just from the politicos.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 09:17:28

let's not forget Trey's piece after the last election highlighting the boost to the economy that elections bring. The Conservatives forced the last unnecessary one, now another party might force this one. Perhaps all the parties got together behind the scenes and agreed to call one election after another in order to 'stimulate the economy'. Stranger things have happened.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 01, 2008 at 09:46:37


The absolute last thing in the world the Liberals want right now is an election. They have no money and no leader. The Conservatives know this, which is why they decided to put the screws in with their mini-budget, which they made a confidence motion to force the Liberals to back down.

However, they overplayed their hand this time, especially by threatening to end the public financing of political parties based on votes received in the last election. Instead of backing the opposition into a powerless corner, they set in motion a plan to cobble together a coalition of opposition parties that may end up voting no confidence in Harper as Prime Minister.

It's important to understand that according to the Parliamentary process, political parties as such don't matter. The Governor-General appointed Stephen Harper as Prime Minister because she believed that he could command enough support among MPs to pass his legislation. The fact that those MPs who support him happen to be in his political party is incidental.

If parliament loses confidence in his ability to lead, the GG can dismiss him as Prime Minister and appoint someone else who seems more likely to be able to retain the confidence of a majority of the House of Commons, i.e. the leader of a coalition of smaller parties. More importantly for the debt-ridden Liberals as well as exhausted voters, the transition could take place without another election. This is entirely legal, entirely democratic, and would, in fact, result in a government that accorded more closely with what the public supports than the current one.

Of course, the coalition talks may still come to naught if the Liberals, NDP and Bloc can't set aside partisanship long enough to agree on how to share power, in which case the Conservatives will have won this round and actually gained effective governing power, despite having to delay some of their plans.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 10:38:03

The last thing they want is an election...which is why they aren't trying to force one with a non confidence vote.

As far as your left leaning coalition - Two parties who weren't chosen to run the country with even a minority government can band together and run a country as a majority government... that can only happen in Canada. Your statement about a left leaning centrist majority only holds water from your perspective. From mine, in the last elections, voting Canadians chose to have a minority Conservative party run the country allowing the others at least some say in the laws and motions passed in parliament.

Let's say I was a Liberal voter, I would've voted as such because I identify the Liberal party as the party I feel able to lead the country. Now, let's say I voted NDP, that's equivalent to me saying that the NDP can somehow run our country. In NEITHER case have I said I think a liberal-ndp coalition can run the country. This type of coalition should be illegal because it actually voids the results of an election during which the nation of Canada democratically elected a minority conservative government to represent them at home and on the world stage.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 10:41:06

Added to that, from my perspective, although Gilles Duceppe might be a smart man, it's my personal opinion that his party shouldn't be allowed to run in a federal election and also that any party that consorts with a separatist party to gain a majority position in parliament should be coloured with the same brush.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 01, 2008 at 11:18:59

Your comment betrays a misunderstanding of how the parliamentary system works.

To put it plainly, the Conservatives were not chosen to run the country. Canadians did not choose to have a minority Conservative party run the country.

Instead, the federal election was simply an aggregation of 308 individual riding elections. In 143 of those ridings, the winning candidate was a member of the Conservative Party, of which Stephen Harper is the party leader as well as the elected MP for Calgary Southwest.

Your voting card did not have Stephen Harper's name anywhere on it, unless you live in Calgary Southwest. You voted for a candidate to represent your riding, a candidate who happens to be a member of this or that party (or is running independently, as two MPs currently are).

The Prime Minister was appointed by the Governor-General, not elected by the voters. The GG's job is to appoint a PM who has the confidence of the House of Commons, meaning a majority of MPs will support the PM's legislative agenda.

Normally, that person is the leader of the party that has the most members elected to Parliament, simply because those members will generally vote along with the PM.

In a majority government, the leader of the party with the most seats is effectively the only person who can command the confidence of the commons, so it's a no-brainer who the GG will appoint.

In a minority government, however, the game is very different. The party that has the most seats has less than half of the total. As a result, it is by no means a fait accompli that the leader will retain the confidence of the House, since at least some members of opposition parties must either vote along or else abstain.

That's why minority governments are unstable - the opposition could either defeat a confidence motion or pass a no-confidence motion at any time.

If this happens, the GG has a choice: she can either dissolve Parliament and call an election, or she can look for someone else to appoint as PM, someone who can retain the confidence of the house. If two other parties agree to form a coalition that will support their leader, that leader can effectively serve as PM.

Again, if you voted for the Liberal candidate in your riding, all you voted for was your support for that candidate as the best person to represent your riding (whether because of party affiliation, riding advocacy, personal charisma, or some other reason).

It is absolutely legal for the GG to appoint the leader of a coalition of parties to be the Prime Minister. The most important condition of a Prime Minister is the ability to retain the confidence of the House of Commons. That is the litmus test, not membership in the party that won the most seats.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 11:24:50

as much as voters don't want another useless election, I'm sure they'd prefer to trudge back to the polls instead of have the GG appoint a new PM. At some point the NDP and Liberals will likely start to talk about merging parties similar to what the PC and Reform did a few years back. This time Harper could actually gain some votes if the public is ticked off enough at the opposition. Last time the Conservatives forced the election and had virtually the same results as the prior election. I think they could actually make some gains if it's clear that the other parties are responsible for forcing the next one. At some point, somebody needs to step up on one of these rather useless parties and show some vision for Canada instead of all acting like spoiled brats simply feuding with each other and their party machines. Another strike against political parties in my books.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 01, 2008 at 11:27:34

jason wrote:

as much as voters don't want another useless election, I'm sure they'd prefer to trudge back to the polls instead of have the GG appoint a new PM.

Why? She appointed the last one, and the one before that, and the one before that ... all the way back to Sir John A. MacDonald.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 12:51:49

yes, 'she' appointed the ones that won an election.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 01, 2008 at 12:56:54

"Let's say I was a Liberal voter, I would've voted as such because I identify the Liberal party as the party I feel able to lead the country. Now, let's say I voted NDP, that's equivalent to me saying that the NDP can somehow run our country."

If we are going to make assumptions about why voters vote the way they do, then we can't discount the "strategic voters" which, whether conservatives like it or not, generally vote for whichever party is most likely to keep the conservative from winning the riding.

Many conservative supporters consider this unfair - and some even claim it should be illegal - but the reality is that these huge swaths of strategic voters have, in fact, expressed a desire to see anyone in power other than the conservative party. For many this preference could include a left leaning coalition.

Unfortunately, our system is flawed and tends to fail most Canadians. This coalition is not a solution for the failure of the voting system, but it is probably closer to what most voters wanted than a conservative minority is...

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 01, 2008 at 13:40:53

jason wrote:

yes, 'she' appointed the ones that won an election.

Go back and read this comment:


In Canada, strictly speaking, political parties do not win federal elections. We talk about them as though they do, but this is actually a kind of shorthand that is true only when a majority of riding seats are held by people who belong to a given party.

In truth, individual candidates win individual constituency elections, and those elected members collectively comprise the House of Commons. The elected member who seems best able to maintain the confidence of the House of Commons is appointed as Prime Minister.

Normally, that MP is the leader of the party of which the most MPs are members, but the test of qualification for Prime Minister is NOT being the leader of the party that won the most seats. The test of qualification for Prime Minister is being the PM who can most credibly claim the confidence of the House of Commons.

Again, when one party wins a majority of seats, the leader of that party IS most able to claim the confidence of the House. If NO party wins a majority of seats, that is no longer true.

This is the situation in which we find ourselves. According to our Constitutional parliamentary process, it's 100 percent valid for the Governor-General to dismiss Harper as Prime Minister and appoint someone else as Prime Minister, if that other person seems more capable of retaining the confidence of the House of Commons - as would be the case in a coalition of the Liberals and NDP backed by the Bloc.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 15:54:40

wow...interesting stuff. For once our politics is more fascinating than south of the border. Lol.

by the way, is there any easy shortcut to come back to a blog like this that has fallen off the front page and is in the previous month?? Or am I just being plain lazy? haha.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 01, 2008 at 16:29:22

There are four ways to find the blog entry:

  1. Direct Link:


  1. Blogs by month for November 2008:


  1. Blogs by category for Federal Election 2008:


  1. Search bar, top right corner of every page.

I hope that helps. :)

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 16:31:53

yes, it does. thanks. I just used the 'recent comments' feature and it worked great too.

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