Monday, March 28, 2011

Lamestream Media Lets Iggy Off Hook

The media seems to think it has forced Michael Ignatieff to box himself in on the issue of the Grits' forming a government despite having fewer seats than the Conservatives. In fact it has left not just the back door, but the front door wide open.

In the National Post, John Ivison says: In Montreal Sunday, [Ignatieff] put the final nail in the coalition coffin lid, when he clarified one possible ambiguity in the statement he made the day before: did the commitment to rule out a coalition and a formal arrangement to the Bloc extend to a Conservative minority? “Yes,” he said. “We will work with other parties but a coalition is out of the question. I have an obligation to voters to be as clear on this as I can.”

But a coalition or formal arrangement with the other parties isn't the only way in which a second-largest party might form a government early in a minority situation; it's not even the most typical way. The likely scenario is this:
!. Conservatives get more seats than the Liberals but not a majority.
2. Conservative government stays in office; prepares throne speech.
3. Combined opposition parties defeat Harper government on throne speech.
4. Mr Harper resigns, either immediately or (possibly) having been refused a request for another election.
5. The G-G asks the leader of the next largest party whether he believes he form a government. Mr Ignatieff says "Yes".
6. Liberals form government, not based on a coalition, or a formal arrangement with another party (e.g. the Liberal-NDP 'Accord' in 1985), but simply seeking support from any and all parties on an issue-by-issue basis, just as the Conservatives have been doing for the last five years.
And for that matter the Liberals might make a "formal arrangement" with another party say six months later, to keep the thing running.

I don't know whether Ignatieff has secret intentions along these lines or not. He might not have thought it all through yet. He does not seem to know much about the constitutional niceties of these situations. It is not true, as he says, that after an election the G-G invites the leader of the largest party to form a government. Rather the government stays in power until it resigns; it is fully entitled to go back to Parliament and proceed with a Speech from the Throne even if some party has more seats, as numerous governments have thought of doing in such situations (e.g., the St Laurent Gov't in 1957). Theoretically it could even do so if another party had a majority of the seats; it is the disapproval of the public and his own party that prevents a defeated prime minister from doing this. The Prime Minister's use of the word "coalition" has helped Iggy keep his options open so far. Harper can legitimately use the word to include a de facto arrangement, while Ignatieff uses it in its stricter sense and so evade the issue. But if Canadians don't want to have a second-place party forming a government, the media will have to be a lot more specific, and get a commitment from all the parties that they will allow the party with the most seats a reasonable time to govern on the principles it has set out during the campaign.