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Canada's political parties brawl over claims of secret coalition

04-02-2011 16:40 BJT

OTTAWA, April 1 (Xinhua) -- Canadian political candidates are locked in a war of words over whether the country should have a coalition government after the May 2 federal election.

In the Canadian political system, a coalition could be formed by political parties that do not have a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons of Parliament, but could cobble one together by making a post-election deal.

The governing Conservatives, who claim they expect to lose power to a coalition if voters do not give them a majority in the May 2 vote, argue that coalitions thwart the will of the voters because they could prevent the party that won the most seats in Parliament from running the country.

Ironically, Canada is the creation of a coalition government that broke years of political deadlock in the years when Canada was a British colony.

In 1864, the leaders of the country' s two major political parties in the region that later became the important provinces of Ontario and Quebec agreed to set aside their differences and work together to forge a nation that took in all of the British territory north of the United States.

The Conservative leader of this coalition, Sir John A. Macdonald, went on to become Canada' s first Prime Minister.

During World War I, Canadian politicians reached across party lines to form a coalition government. This Union Government was created as the Western Allies seemed to be losing the war. Enlistments were inadequate to maintain the army, and the Parliament building had burned down in a fire that was possibly set by enemy agents.

But, unlike in British, Italian, Irish, Israeli and many other Western parliamentary systems, Canadian MPs do not normally form coalitions. They sometimes make agreements to keep Parliament functioning and to avoid elections, but they do not include opponents in their cabinets or share patronage appointments.

In the past seven years, Canadians have elected three "minority" governments. In 2004, 2006 and 2008, no party won a clear majority in the House of Commons, the lower chamber that is elected by voters aged 18 and above across Canada.

In 2004, the Liberal Party, which once dominated Canadian politics, was reduced to a minority. The leaders of the three opposition parties -- the socialist New Democrats, the neoconservative Conservative Party, and the Quebec separatist Bloc Quebecois, agreed to work together to install a Conservative government.

They did not agree on a coalition, but the Conservatives promised to enact some of the policies of the two smaller parties.

The Liberal government of Paul Martin managed to survive.

The Conservatives won the most seats in 2006. Since then, they have worked with all of the political parties at different times. Two federal budgets were passed with the support of the Quebec separatists.

But coalition politics became an issue in late 2008, when the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois agreed to a deal that would have put the Liberals in power. Liberal and NDP members would be in the national cabinet. The Bloc Quebecois would support them in Parliament.

Television coverage of the leader of the Quebec separatists appearing on a stage to sign the coalition document caused outrage through Canada and saved Prime Minister Stephen Harper' s Conservative government.

Since then, he has tried to portray leaders of the Canadian opposition parties as opportunists who have a secret deal to bring down his government unless Harper wins a majority in next month' s vote.

"Canadians need to understand clearly, without any ambiguity: unless Canadians elect a stable, national majority, Mr. Ignatieff will form a coalition with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois," Harper said Saturday, on the first day of the campaign. "They tried it before. It is clear they will try it again. And, next time, if given the chance, they will do it in a way that no one will be able to stop."

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff tried to smother the issue by claiming that his party will not join a formal coalition with any other political party and that he would not try to stop Harper from naming a cabinet and facing parliament if his party wins the most seats in parliament.

But, according to Dr. Ned Franks, one of the country' s most respected constitutional scholars, there' s nothing illegal or improper in the Westminster system if the opposition works together to form a government.

"Let me go through some countries with working coalition governments: Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and India," Franks said. "Pretty much every major Commonwealth parliamentary government has a coalition at this time. Almost every government in Europe is a coalition government. They tend to function just fine -- better or worse depending on whether you are in on the coalition or left on the outside."

But Harper calls an opposition coalition "reckless" and, in a campaign stop on Thursday, said it would threaten free trade talks between Canada and the European Union. And he suggests that any coalition that relied on Bloc Quebecois support would have to make deals that would undermine the very survival of the country.

"You can break up the country or you can govern the country but you can't do both," Harper said last week.


Editor:Yang Jie |Source: Xinhua

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