Majority Rule: The New Coup

stephane_dion.JPGI once had the unpleasant experience of being subjected to an unhinged attack from Cato’s Ilya Shapiro who’s apparently the kind of libertarian who sees dogmatic American nationalism and attacks on other people’s patriotism as the highest form of classical liberal values. Later, I had the more pleasant experience of learning from some colleagues of Shapiro’s that he’s actually a Canadian.

So naturally, he now has an item ranting and raving against the “palace coup” that’s going to take the Conservative Party out of power in favor of a center-left alliance between the Liberals and the NDP acting with the tacit support of the Bloc Québéquois. He raises some substantive objections to the new coalition’s agenda — reacting in particular with a righteous fury against the claims of French Canadians that seems odd for such a patriotic fake American. The main point, though, is to try to raise procedural or fairness type objections to what’s happening.

But to review, at the most recent election left of center parties won a majority of votes. Thanks to the operation of Canada’s electoral system, some left of center parties received a much lower proportion of seats than they got proportion of votes. But the generally left of center BQ got a higher proportion of seats than its proportion of votes would imply. But the left of center bloc was divided, and a clear plurality of seats was won by the Tories. Traditionally in Canada, a plurality party forms a “minority government” without the support of formal coalition partners and that’s what the Conservatives’ Stephen Harper did. But a government in that place needs to tread cautiously — it doesn’t have a majority of seats. And when the government in that position is also relatively unpopular — securing the votes of only thirtysomething percent of the population — it really has good reason to tread cautiously. Instead, Harper moved very boldly with measures that the opposition parties deemed intolerable. His high-risk bet was that the opposition would be unable to collaborate effectively and thus he would be able to push through a controversial agenda with a minority of seats and a minority of popular votes. But he was wrong and no a combination of parties representing a majority of Canadians will displace him.