I am not Canadian and this isn’t really applicable to the Canadian election held this week, but those non-majority government results did get me thinking about something interesting about parliamentary-style systems: coalition governments. That is, where multiple parties work together to establish the government, fill posts, and direct policy.
First of all, you should know that I am not into political parties (and neither, if you were wondering, was George Washington). I understand why they happen but I still hate them. All political parties. Partisanship is trash. I have dreams of non-partisan election/campaign formats (which may be more or less thought-through) but anyway.
Coalition governments are interesting in a number of ways but I’d like to highlight a couple of things and then see how I can contort them to my own ends. First, a benefit (as I see it) and second, a danger (likewise).
Forcing people to work together is great. During my admittedly brief time as a teacher, I did delight in, whenever possible, sticking students into groups that they would never have chosen had it been up to them. My “random” groups for projects were a ray of sunshine in a job that I didn’t generally enjoy all that much.
In coalition governments, of course, the partners tend not to be overly distant from one another, otherwise they wouldn’t have agreed to be partners. But even so, they may have wildly divergent policy ideas. Having them work together to create, ideally, a cohesive government is, I think, one of the primary triumphs of modern government. Not that other times didn’t have divergent groups that they needed to cooperate, but that having the source of law-making be entirely centered on parties that deliberately claim a distinct identity is a wonder.
One thing that can be worrisome, however, is the power of the junior partner(s). When a small party wields power way out of proportion to their share of seats in a body, things can get dicey. Sometimes, of course, it works out in favor of a side that I prefer, but just because I approve of some outcomes doesn’t mean that it isn’t a major flaw.
I can think of a few different scenarios in very contemporary world politics where a fairly small group can play the role of ‘kingmaker’ in forcing a major party to accede to their demands in order to have a functioning government. (If you’re curious, my top two recent choices involve the DUP in the UK and Yisrael Beiteinu in Israel). When only a relatively few seats make a difference between being able to form a government or pass any kind of legislation, it subverts the intent of democratic governance.
I’m not really a political scholar but there are a few cursory political thoughts for you today. But now, what does that mean for our lives, seeing as none of us (I assume) are MPs or TDs or whatever equivalent you like.
Actually, I lied. Now, cats. Then our lives.
So what I’m thinking about in response to our little government lesson (government scholars, don’t come at me) is how people can succeed or fail to work with one another. How to balance pleasing others with sticking to your principles and, conversely, to balance the integrity of your beliefs with actually getting something done. Huge questions that I have no intention of solving for you today.
But I offer to you this: living in coalition with one another. It is impossible that we should ever have a society where everyone agrees with one another on everything. Impossible and, I would add, undesirable. As I’ve said before, people are different and being different is okay.
I don’t want to exhort people to never play the role of the stick-in-the-mud/minor-party/kingmaker because sometimes values should be adhered to no matter the cost. But I also would advise extreme caution whenever you find yourself in that position because a) going mad with power isn’t a good look on anybody, much less someone without much to back it up and b) going through life expecting to leverage minor but important status into getting what you want is a sure way to set yourself up for disappointment.
If you find yourself in the role of largest party but with only a plurality of seats, I would ask that you consider the situation. You are important but you are not everyone. Listen to others because you will not find success if you don’t have people voting with you.
And last, a few words for you if ever you are in an absolute majority. First, be glad. Most people are with you, in one way or another. You are neither persecuted nor ignored, you are the one who decides things for other people. And second, on that note, consider with profound seriousness the responsibility you bear toward those other people. You are in power but that does not mean that you are right. Deal gently with those minorities under you lest democracy simply become the dictatorship of the masses.
In life, we inhabit a constantly shifting parliament in which our party may be larger or smaller in any given situation. Therefore, it is important to bear in mind that we are always in coalition with one another. We live here together so let’s act like it.