Canadian Democracy at the Crossroads

The following is fact sheet prepared by writer and activist Helen Forsey. I thought I'd share it

Canadians are privileged to live in a democracy. Our parliamentary system has evolved over centuries, and our political parties reflect the diversity and freedom of thought we enjoy as citizens.

One result of this freedom and diversity is that in some elections, no one party wins a majority of seats in the House of Commons. This means that whichever party forms the government has to co-operate with others in order to get laws passed and stay in power. This is called “minority government”, and it can work very well. All it takes is honesty, respect, and a willingness to co-operate across differences.

However, the present government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper has thumbed its nose at our elected Parliament and made “minority” a dirty word. Harper’s Conservatives have misled the House of Commons, kept vital information secret, fired public safety watchdogs, systematically sabotaged parliamentary committees, and twice shut down Parliament itself rather than face criticism.

This election really is about our democracy. Canadians have a right to expect fairness, honesty and respect from our system of government. Instead, the Harper regime has given us five years of injustice, corruption and contempt.

Harper uses a stack of fairy tales about our parliamentary system to trick people into thinking they have to vote Conservative in order to avoid disaster. In reality, his threats about the opposition “seizing power” or forcing a fresh election are shameless scare tactics based on lies.

Lie #1: Coalitions are evil and illegitimate.

Not true. Coalitions are totally constitutional, and can be the most sensible way to govern co-operatively and respect the will of a majority of voters.

Lie #2: Canadians elect the prime minister.

Not true. We elect some 300 Members of Parliament to the House of Commons.

Lie #3: The party that wins the most seats necessarily forms the government.

Not true. The governing party must win – and keep – the confidence of our elected MPs through confidence votes in the House.

Lie #4: Defeating a government on a confidence motion forces a fresh election.

Not necessarily. If a recently elected House votes to defeat a government, the Governor General calls on the leader of the opposition to form a government and seek the confidence of the House.

Lie #5: It is an illegitimate “seizure of power” if the opposition accepts the Governor General’s invitation to replace a government that has lost the confidence of the House.

Not true. In fact, the opposition has what amounts to a constitutional duty to try to form a viable government with the recently elected Parliament, with no need for a repeat election.

As Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has treated our elected Parliament like an annoying irrelevancy. His government has behaved so outrageously that it has finally been formally found “in contempt of Parliament”. Now he wants to win a Conservative majority so he can do even more damage.

People all over the world are risking their lives to achieve democracy. Let’s not allow the Harper Conservatives to destroy ours from the inside.

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