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Speaking the unspeakable: Do Canadian voters even care about coalitions?

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The coalition ginned up by Stephen Harper in 2004

According to the Canadian chattering classes, it's the political sin that dares not speak its name! But does anyone else really care about coalitions any more?

And I'm not talking about the one Prime Minister Stephen Harper proposed to build with the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP back in 2004.

That's mostly been consigned to the official Memory Hole, except at Canada's only remaining non-neo-con daily newspaper, the Toronto Star. The Star will be punished, presumably, if Harper gets his majority.

Nor am I talking about Harper's minority Parliaments, which from a commonsense perspective are nothing more than a species of coalition for the time they remain afloat.

For that matter, I'm not really talking about the coalition that never was, but which nevertheless looms large now on Canada's political radar scope. That is to say, the would-be coalition of December 2008 between the Liberals under Stephane Dion and the New Democrats under Jack Layton, with the Bloc Quebecois cast as a flying buttress, supporting the rickety structure from the outside.

That one has relevance to this discussion because of the frenzied reaction to it by some voters drummed up by Harper's Conservative Rage Machine in a moment of nearly hysterical fury at the thought that what they viewed as rightfully theirs might be snatched away by a perfectly democratic and Constitutional Parliamentary tactic.

The Canadian Tea Party Moment ginned up by Harper and tacitly encouraged by a Liberal MP named Michael Ignatieff, who was then eyeing his leader's job, was what entrenched the idea of a Parliamentary coalition as the C-Word of Canadian politics. That is, the most obscene thing that could be uttered within our borders, something not suitable to be spoken aloud in the presence of small children, clergypeople or the faint-of-heart.

Indeed, the fear the word inspires in political circles is so great that we were able to witness the enjoyable spectacle of both Ignatieff and Prime Minister Harper uttering sputtering denials that they would ever contemplate such a thing, even if a willing electorate were to beg passionately for a governmental moment of national unity!

I can tell you with certainty that any time one mentions this word, even on a humble blog, the Rage Machine is turned as if with the flick of a switch, and reams of anonymous invective is sure to flow from the zitty-faced Tiny Tories who race to their laptops in the service of their party.

And I can speculate with reasonable confidence that the spooked leaders of any of the Opposition parties will likely be as displeased to see this topic publicly discussed as any of the dyspeptic teenagers employed by Harper's campaign to fling ordure and opprobrium at the prime minister's long list of enemies

But really, people, does the idea of a Parliamentary coalition matter a whit to Martha and Henry (et Martine et Henri) in their kitchens throughout the land, or is this notion that ordinary Canadians just hate coalitions just another peculiar weed that's sprung up in the unwholesome soil and steamy climate of the Ottawa Valley?

Oh, sure, there's probably a poll out there somewhere that supports this conclusion. But you can get any answer you want if you craft the appropriate Russian Ballot question -- "Do you want a majority government or would you prefer to see demonic forces of anarchy and plague loosed upon the land?"

Is there a body of voters in Canada sufficiently large to sway a national election, but so disengaged by reality as to believe anything they are told in a TV clip that features a Conservative politician? Anything's possible, I suppose, but you've gotta have some faith in your neighbours, not to mention the inability of Conservative provincial governments' education policies to deliver the level of ignorance they seem to be aiming for!

I mean, really folks, surely by now it has sunk in to most Canadians that even if our American cousins don't do it, politicians back in our Mother Country do it, upside down politicians in the antipodes do it, Harper's Israeli friends do it, and even the Dutch do it... and the Dutch keep everything clean!

We've had a few years now to become used to this idea. Doesn't it seem likely that among ordinary Canadians -- if not the chattering classes and the professional politeratti -- the whole idea of a coalition, and whether or not you have one, is a total non-issue?

Isn't it probable that what Canadians really want from their government is that whoever gets elected to run the country simply makes things work?

Isn't it possible that Ignatieff did far more harm to himself by getting rattled and denying everything than he would have if he'd just manned up and said, "we're campaigning to win a majority, but of course we'd consider a coalition if the circumstances call for it and it's good for the country"?

Well, never mind. The C-Word is completely, totally and utterly off the Canadian political agenda ... until the next time Harper needs to consider one.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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