Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Happy anniversary

Bob Rae writes today about the 25th anniversary of the Liberal-NDP governing accord in Ontario. Excerpts presented here for historical reminiscing and well, who cares it's just good educational, timely and topical stuff in light of the UK events too:
This week marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Liberal-NDP Accord in Ontario. The election in early May of 1985 had elected a minority parliament, with the Conservatives at 50, the Liberals at 45 and the NDP at 25. The vote split was roughly 37/37/25.
The Conservatives and some media commentary insisted that they had “won” the election and had a right to govern. They had been doing so for forty two years. Eugene Forsey, who at that time was generally recognised as a constitutional guru, said an arrangement between two parties, each with fewer seats than the governing party, but able together to command a working majority in the House, was “constitutional in every respect”, and insisted I had the obligation to explore every option to create a stable and working legislature.
But the majority view that emerged was that a public agreement between the NDP and the Liberals, based on clear objectives and timelines, would be a better option than the Russian roulette of a minority government living by its wits day by day. My own sense was that we had to decontaminate the notion of a minority parliament being synonymous with instability, and show people that the legislature could work better.

The Accord that was negotiated was not a coalition, but a working partnership. The government gave up the right to declare votes of confidence whenever it wanted, limiting itself to budget bills. It would accept a loss on anything else. The deal would last for two years, and the government committed itself to a series of measures – on pay equity, labour law reform, social housing, environmental legislation, the protection of medicare and many others, all within a framework of fiscal responsibility – with timelines clearly set out. A management committee of both parties would meet regularly to monitor the progress of the agreement.

The Lieutenant Governor was kept fully informed about the discussions. The Conservatives insisted on meeting the House and bringing in a Throne Speech, but their defeat followed soon after and a new government was sworn in without a constitutional crisis. The Accord government worked effectively and efficiently, and passed the laws it said it would.
In a parliamentary system elections produce a parliament, and parliament makes a government. That was the lesson learned in 1985. Prattle about “winning a mandate” with less than a majority in parliament is just that – partisan spin, all sound and fury, signifying nothing. It is a lesson worth remembering.
Yes, it is.