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Was there just a coup in Portugal? Why did Canada's media ignore the story?

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Aníbal António Cavaco Silva

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Did you know a coalition of the left has been denied the traditional democratic right to replace Portugal's Eurocentric right-wing austerity government by the country's president, who fulfills the same constitutional parliamentary role as Canada's governor general?

You're forgiven if you didn't. As far as I can tell, there's been zero coverage by Canada's mass media of the serious constitutional crisis now brewing in Portugal.

Nothing in the Globe and Mail or the Toronto Star since the Portuguese national election that sparked the crisis on Oct. 4. Ditto for the CBC. Nothing at all in the National Post or any of Postmedia's little Regional Posts in the same period.

This is a moot point now that our federal election has ended in a majority government, I guess, but it's still more than passing strange when you consider Canada has just been going through a long campaign that could very well have ended up much the same way as did Portugal's national election.

Don't you think this would have been a worthwhile topic for discussion by Canadians as our country neared a close election in which the Conservatives could easily have emerged as a minority government?

After all, that's just what happened in Portugal when the pro-austerity conservative governing party failed to win a majority. A coalition of parties on the left with an absolute majority and an agenda to get out of the austerity program established by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund tried to form a government. President Aníbal António Cavaco Silva told them to take a hike.

"He deemed it too risky to let the Left Bloc or the Communists come close to power, insisting that conservatives should soldier on as a minority in order to satisfy Brussels and appease foreign financial markets," wrote Ambrose Evans-Pritchard Friday in Britain's Telegraph newspaper, which is covering the affair, as are a few U.S. papers.

The Telegraph summarized the president's view as, "democracy must take second place to the higher imperative of Euro rules and membership."

There's a word for this: Coup. And at least some people in Europe, on both the left and right, are using it.

The Portuguese president, unlike the Canadian governor general, is an elected figure. Governor General David Johnston was appointed by outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he of the autocratic instincts and seething contempt for Parliament.

But it's still a fair question to ask what would have happened in Canada if the Oct. 19 election had ended in a Conservative minority but the Liberal, New Democratic and Green parties had been willing to work together to form a coalition government?

We can't know. Johnston would probably have done his constitutional duty. He certainly can't be blamed for the disgraceful and anti-democratic scheme cooked up by Harper and then-governor-general Michaëlle Jean to prorogue Parliament rather than face a democratic confidence motion in the House of Commons in 2012. But it's something to think about, isn't it?

History tells us that neoliberal governments don't give up power easily, or have much time for democracy when their primacy is threatened.

All this is being watched warily next door to Portugal in Spain, where another conservative government that has obeyed the austerity diktats of Brussels and the IMF faces what could be a close election on Dec. 20.

We should probably be careful of imagining conspiracies where garden-variety incompetence is the more likely explanation. Still, one thing is very clear: Canadians are no longer being very well served by our mainstream media when they fail to cover important and relevant stories like this.

You have to wonder: What else are they missing?

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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