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CHRIS SELLEY: Politicians say they won't prop up a minority government? Don't believe it


As Andrew Coyne wrote here earlier in the week, the silver lining to the omnishambles at Westminster right now has been witnessing a Parliament work like it’s supposed to. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hellbent on playing chicken with a no-deal Brexit, many Tory MPs think he’s a madman, and they used their collective power to thwart his designs.

There’s nothing for Canadians to envy about Britain’s situation, but we can certainly envy their House of Commons — especially now we’re at that preposterous stage of pre-election posturing where party leaders promise never to prop up a minority government led by [INSERT RIVAL PARTY LEADER HERE], who is the living embodiment of all human evil. And then we in the media actually report on these vows as if they’re remotely believable, when they are not.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh have both made such pledges, and May’s is easily the least ridiculous of the two. If we get a minority government of any stripe and it doesn’t table new plans to fight climate change consistent with keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, she told CTV’s Don Martin on Monday, then “we actually would bring a government down and go back to the polls to get a government that’s prepared to be responsible.”

It makes some superficial sense. But there are very compelling reasons why Canada hasn’t committed to measures consistent with the 1.5-degree goal. According to the Climate Action Network, policies associated with that goal include the majority of cars sold worldwide being zero-emissions within 15 years, and a 65-to-95 per cent drop in industrial emissions within 30 years. These sorts of things may not lie beyond the limits of human ingenuity, but they almost certainly lie beyond the limits of Canadian politics — and not just Canadian politics.

The only countries in the world whose efforts are in the 1.5-degree-or-less league, according to the Climate Action Network, are Morocco and The Gambia, whose GDPs per capita are roughly seven and one per cent of Canada’s, respectively. It ranks no First World nation’s efforts any higher than Canada’s “insufficient.”

The sorts of things to which a minority government would have to commit to satisfy May’s conditions would be politically suicidal, rendering her threat of a return to the polls a bit limp. So are we really supposed to believe that May, suddenly holding the balance of power — presumably after a historic performance for the Greens — would forego the chance to make things better even if they weren’t perfect? If I were a Green Party supporter, I would certainly hope not.

Singh’s line in the sand, meanwhile, drawn after Andrew Scheer’s 2005 same-sex marriage speech came to light, makes no sense at all. “This is exactly why, if Canadians deliver a minority government in October, I will not prop up Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives,” he said in a statement. “We can’t trust Mr. Scheer or his caucus to champion the fundamental rights of Canadians.”

Where to begin? Firstly, practically speaking, the NDP is broke and will be even more broke after the election. Whatever the outcome, barring a sudden outbreak of Jagmeet Fever, the party will be in search of a new leader to save it from oblivion. It will certainly not want another election in short order.

Secondly, holding the balance of power in a hung parliament is by far the best the NDP can reasonably hope for right now, and would by no means be considered a defeat. Ask an NDP partisan about the party’s proudest achievements in Ottawa and (of necessity) she will point to the things it accomplished in minority Parliaments: Jack Layton essentially rewriting the Liberals’ 2005 budget to eliminate corporate tax cut and add billions in new social spending, for example, and demanding changes to the Conservatives’ 2006 Clean Energy Act.

Indeed, Saint Jack was justifiably famous for his ability to work with people across the political spectrum. We are to believe that his successor, holding the balance of power, would vote against the Conservatives at every turn, not try to press his advantage on anything whatsoever because Andrew Scheer opposed same-sex marriage 15 years ago? It’s preposterous — and furthermore, by Singh’s own logic, reckless. If Scheer’s social-conservative views are such a threat to Canadians’ rights, why on earth would Singh turn down a job holding his government in check? For heaven’s sake, he’s basically ruling out one of the only reasons for non-hardcore-partisans to vote for his party.

Why do we perform this pantomime every bloody time? Some of it is likely a product of the incredibly narrow spectrum of ideas and ideologies across which Canadian politics lies, which encourages cartoonish demonization of opponents. Some of it, no doubt, is the lingering effects of the 2008 coalition madness, after which forswearing any cooperation with other parties became de rigueur.

But it’s transparent nonsense. Any leader who absolutely rules out giving a minority government a chance to govern, rules out trying to make the best of it at least for a while, is either lying or delusional. I suggest telling them that if you get the chance.

• Email: cselley@nationalpost.com | Twitter:

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