Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A New Style of Political Leadership for Canada?

One of the failings of Canadian Parliaments has been the pursuit of majority governments by the two dominant, corporate-financed political parties in a "first past the post" electoral system. The result has been non-responsive majority governments elected with less than 40% of the popular vote while important political views - Greens and Social Democrats - often win fewer seats in the house than is fair based on their percentage of popular vote.

The problem is not caused only by the corporate-financed Liberal and Conservative parties who see themselves as the alternative natural governing parties of Canada. It is also caused by the smaller parties in the opposition who see themselves as future majority governments and insist on protecting their ideological purity until that day happens. The 800 pound gorilla in the room is the Bloc Quebecois. It has been treated like a pariah by all the other parties who are concerned that - if they make political alliances with the BQ, they will be tagged as separatist - in spite of the fact that the BQ advocates not separatism but a form of joint- sovreignty with Canada.

It doesn't take rocket science to understand why an 800 pound gorilla has begun to look like Marilyn Monroe. When Prime Minister Harper threatened to cut off federal funding for political parties, the parties who stood to benefit least from corporate largesse began to pay closer attention to their common interests and the potential of forming a governing coalition of their own. This coalition building effort is the most exciting thing to happen in Canadian politics since Confederation because it requires a style of leadership that has been practiced in progressive European democracies for almost a century. In those countries leaders build majority coalitions based on negotiation and compromise between the diverse parties in parliament. And those majorities are maintained by leaders who are sensitive to the needs of coalition partners who represent regional and cultural as well as philosophical differences.

What is critical is whether this opposition coalition-building process does represent a new style of leadership or whether Harper can bribe it to a halt by restoring federal financing of political parties. Let's hope for the former.

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