Coalition by the Numbers

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Coalition by the Numbers

Dumb, dumb and dumber....this accurately describes Michael Ignatieff's Just Say No approach to a pre-election coalition with the NDP.

Or does it? Perhaps the Mad Count is aware of something everyone else has overlooked.

Ignatieff, the current interim leader, and the Liberal brain trust believe that running on a Liberal party first and coalition second strategy is a winning ticket. The tarnished Liberal brand hasn't worked for more than six years but hey, if it ain't broke why fix it right?

However, the Liberal Party of Canada cannot win a majority because they have been rejected - over and over again - by Quebec voters in favour of the Bloc.
Politically, the Bloc sits to the left of the Liberals on most issues, a territory well mapped by the NDP. A recent Ekos poll suggested that a formal Liberal-NDP coalition that favoured NDP policies could win significant votes in Bloc held ridings. Thus establishing and running an election on a formal coalition could break the Bloc's stranglehold on Quebec ridings and give the coalition the numbers it needs to form a majority government.

From a practical perspective, establishing a coalition before the next election would allow the parties to coordinate and cooperate on the campaign trail rather than compete on every issue and in every riding.



Just Wait.

If there's a reason for the Mad Count and the Liberals to be concerned about establishing a coalition before hand, or at all, it's the numbers.

Even if a Liberal/NDP coalition retained all of their current ridings and somehow managed to steal  24 Bloc ridings in Quebec, it's still possible that the Conservatives could win another minority government. Recent polling suggests that an NDP-Liberal coalition would leave much if not all of the Conservative support intact. In other words, stealing seats from the Bloc does not dent the Tory seat count one iota, it just re-arranges deck chairs on the good ship Parliament.

Winning 24 additional seats in Quebec would be nice but it's not plausible in the current state of things. Canada's electorate is far too Balkanized to allow for large shifts of support one way or the other. The best that could be hoped for is that a coalition or merged Liberal/NDP bleeds enough support from the Bloc and the Conservatives to allow for a strong minority government.

An analysis of the 2008 election suggests that it's more likely a Liberal/NDP coalition or merger would only wrest 10 seats from the Bloc in Quebec and possibly another 21 seats from the Conservatives in the rest of Canada, assuming the coalition maximized it's efforts to win seats by running only one candidate in key ridings. (My analysis looked at all second place finishes for the Liberals and NDP where their combined vote was greater than the actual winner.) This would result in a coalition minority: Liberal/NDP 144, Conservatives 123, Bloc 28. This straight-forward analysis doesn't take into account disgruntled Liberals who might vote Conservative in protest to a coalition or merger or disgruntled NDP supporters who might vote Green or not at all.

Thus a coalition or merger could benefit both parties but a majority government would be unlikely.

The upside to a coalition is that is more likely to work than the status quo and the longer Ignatieff waits the less he seems to resonate with voters. He has not proven very adept at parliamentary swordplay and it's doubtful he will improve on the campaign trail. In short, Ignatieff needs whatever help he can get.

If Ignatieff and the Liberals decide to stand alone then it's unlikely, at this juncture, that anything will change in Ottawa. And if the Conservatives eek out another minority government it will be too late for a coalition to be of much use. Unfortunately, the constitutional convention in Canada is that government's form coalitions not the opposition (see 1925 and 1975 for examples). Moreover, a sitting government that still has more seats than any one opposition party or a combination of two will not be asked to step aside by the Governor General in the aftermath of an election.

In this scenario, the only opportunity to change the status quo would be to engineer a non-confidence vote at earliest possible moment. Having run a recent election as a coalition would strengthen the Liberals and NDP claims to having a mandate from Canadians. The downside is that the Bloc, having lost seats to the Liberals and NDP could be hard pressed to support the coalition when push comes to shove.


'University of Ottawa constitutional expert, Errol Mendes #2 looks behind this loser’s statement and asks if the Harper government understands the fundamentals of Canada’s constitutional democracy. He fears they are trying to rewrite it with an American slant:

... in order to design a form of  American presidential republican democracy without the safeguards of a true separation of power and the requisite checks and balances. This is a recipe for a new form of authoritarian order that Canadians should rightly recoil from.

'He goes on to note:

The recent statement by the Prime Minister that there can’t be a government of “losers” reinforces this republican perspective. This statement is particularly ironic given his strong support of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who was a “loser” to Tzipi Livni and the Kadima party who won more seats, but did not form the government. The President of Israel, Shimon Peres, had correctly concluded that the right wing parties although “losers” in Harper’s view had a better chance to establish a more stable government ... '