Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tell us how we can avoid parliamentary paralysis

The following is a re-print of an article of mine that was published on the Postmedia Network Inc. website as part of their Real Agenda on-line federal election project.

As we end the first week of this election campaign, I wonder at not hearing more from our leaders about the reasons we find ourselves in the fourth federal election since 2004, when Paul Martin formed a minority Liberal government. In 2006 Stephen Harper's Conservatives replaced the Grits with his minority government and in 2008 Mr. Harper won a second minority government, only to go down in defeat in early 2011.

“Surely it’s time to debate the merits of minority government and our ability to properly govern ourselves during a string of them.”

Should this election follow that recent pattern, either Prime Minister Harper or Michael Ignatieff will form a minority government in May, and we'll be back at the polls some time in 2012 or 2013.

So much for minority governments.

Think about issues like the initial free trade agreement with the United States, or moving from the antiquated federal sales tax to the value-added tax we know as GST, or tough, belt-tightening budgets like the ones Paul Martin brought down in the 1990s to reduce and then eliminate crippling annual deficits.

Could these have been achieved by the 2004 through 2011 minority governments? I doubt it.

Just getting a budget passed in the next parliament seems likely to be a tricky proposition. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says he'll reintroduce the same one he tabled recently. But Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff says that he'll not support that budget. Parliamentary paralysis? Maybe.

What sort of circus will we have on Parliament Hill when the current health-care accord with the provinces, set to end in 2014, comes up for debate in a minority parliament? Does "three-ring" come to mind?

Yet, given the dearth of non-fiscal issues being discussed by our leaders, it seems former prime minister Kim Campbell was right when she famously said that an election campaign was not the proper time to debate important issues.

Surely it's time to debate the merits of minority government and our ability to properly govern ourselves during a string of them. Shouldn't our leaders be telling us what they plan to do differently next time? Or perhaps they believe it's a good thing for Canada to hold elections every two years or so. If nothing else, every party's platform should have a cost item of $300-million for "general election."

Seriously, though, all platform policies do seem to boil down to tax hikes/cuts or new spending initiatives. Instead of multi-million dollar promises and silly "gotchas", this would be a terrific opportunity for politicians to give us their views on a whole range of issues, including making minority governments work. But, sadly, we are more likely to enter the next parliamentary session doomed to repeat the mistakes of the recent past.

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