Over the upcoming 6 weeks of the election campaign, Canadians will no doubt hear the Conservative Party talking point about a “coalition” being bad and scary and undemocratic. Here’s a quick reminder of recent history, which the Conservatives seem to have forgotten.
1. The Conservative Party of Canada formed from the merger of two parties, the Canadian Alliance (a derivative of the Reform Party) and the Progressive Conservative Party, in late 2003. The decision to merge was announced in October 2003 and was ratified in December 2003.
This merger occured while the 37th Parliament was still in effect, having been elected in 2000 when the two parties ran separately. The results of the 2000 election for the formerly distinct parties were as follows:
- Canadian Alliance: 66 seats, 3,276,929 votes, 25.5% of popular vote
- Progressive Conservative: 12 seats, 1,566,998 votes, 12.2% of popular vote
The 37th Parliament of Canada was dissolved on May 23, 2004 and the subsequent election occurred on June 28, 2004. This means that MPs who had been elected as Alliance or PC candidates became members of a merged party in parliament for about 6 months. It should be obvious that the merger of two formerly separate parties into a new party is much more significant than a temporary coalition among distinct parties.
In the 2004 election, the newly formed Conservative Party of Canada won 99 seats (more than in 2000) but received only 4,019,498 votes or 29.6% of the popular vote — less than the combined totals of the two separate parties in 2000.
2. After the 2004 election, which gave a minority government to the Liberal Party of Canada, Stephen Harper (Conservative Party Leader and Leader of the Opposition) signed a letter along with Gilles Duceppe (Leader of the Bloc Quebecois) and Jack Layton (Leader of the NDP) that sugggested to the Governor General that these parties could form a government together if the Liberal minority government were to fall soon after the election. In other words, Harper was fully prepared to form a coalition government with the Bloc Quebecois and NDP right after the results of the election were known.
3. The Liberals and NDP did attempt to form a coalition in late 2008. They had the support of the Bloc Quebecois in this effort. However, rather than allow his minority government to fall, Harper asked the Governer General to prorogue parliament so that a vote could not occur in the House of Commons. (Parliament was prorogued again in late 2009). This led to protests and criticism that the Harper government was subverting democracy.
4. In response to the attempt of the Liberal Party and NDP to form a coalition, the Conservative Party claimed repeatedly that this was undemocratic and ignored the will of voters. As noted in a previous post, if the Liberals and NDP had run as a single party (as the Conservatives did in the 2004 election), they would have won by a wide margin.
I doubt any of these facts will deter the Conservative Party from using the scary coalition campaign tactic ad nauseum, but hopefully most voters won’t be fooled.