The question before us: coalition government or an election?

Events in Ottawa over the last four days confirm democracy is alive and well in Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper had an opportunity to make his minority government work. After the October 14th election results, there were modest indications that Harper understood what voters had said. Two-thirds of them had not supported the Conservatives, a number that should have reminded Mr. Harper that he needed to listen more. He gave the impression that the minority message had registered with him. He even talked about taking a more conciliatory approach in the House of Commons, an approach that you would expect to see from a minority Prime Minister.

However, all that promise came to a crashing halt when his Finance Minister tabled his now famous Fiscal Update. Like other members of the G8 and G20, Canada was expected to do its part in outlining a plan for fiscal stimulus that would address rapidly deteriorating economic conditions. Instead, the Finance Minister talked about "belt tightening", not fiscal stimulus. There was no plan to address critical problems in the manufacturing sector. And just to be clear that he wanted to avoid a deficit, the Minister talked about a major sell-off of public assets.

The Update included a direct attack on collective bargaining rights. The Finance Minister told Canadians that his government was going to suspend collective bargaining rights of federal public sector workers for the next two years.

Harper's Update also included a provocative jab at democracy itself. Canada's commitment to publicly finance political parties was going to be eliminated.

The reaction to Harper's Update has been fast, furious and uniquely Canadian. Groups that previously had very little in common began to find broad agreement on one thing: Harper's plan was vacant and vindictive. Instead of providing leadership at a time when Canadians were looking for exactly that, Mr. Harper was showing that he was incapable of being that kind of leader. Within days of the Update, all three Opposition Parties in the House of Commons decided that if Harper wasn't prepared to show leadership, they would.

In an unusual display of compromise and cooperation, the three Opposition Parties have drafted an agreement to form a coalition government. The agreement details the fiscal and legislative measures that they will all support. It also details a commitment to maintain the coalition for at least the next two years, a commitment that will provide stability during a time when Canada most needs it.

Now comes the hard part. Harper is about to unleash an attack on the prospect of a coalition government. He will certainly try and portray the proposed coalition as "anti-democratic", this despite the fact that two-thirds of Canadians didn't vote for him. The challenge now is to contact your MP and tell them that you want a coalition, not an election. If the coalition is prepared to do what Harper will not, then it's time to give them the opportunity to lead.

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.