Coalition: the c-word in this year's Canadian election

Photo: Francois Detemmerman. Source: Wikipedia Commons

It was an innocent enough question: why is Ignatieff so opposed to a coalition? The answer I got made me curious about what we mean when we talk about coalition here in Canada.

A couple of things emerged in talking to people of various political stripes. That no one seems to be against the spirit of coalition, working together, but there’s a difference between a formal and informal coalition and a difference between one formed during an election and one formed afterwards. Most seem to fear that a coalition with the Bloc Quebequois would lead to Quebec leaving the Federation.

BC Conservative Party President Wayne McGrath explained that in the UK it is the winning party who sometimes forms a coalition with the party with the second most seats in parliament. “The principle here is that the party with the most seats governs.” According to McGrath, who made it clear that he was speaking for himself and not his party, the last time there was talk about a coalition in Canada, it was a matter of the losers “ganging up to defeat the party that won.”

MLA for Vancouver’s West End, Spencer Chandra Herbert, also speaking for himself and not for the NDP, pointed out that “coalition governments have a history of success in countries all over the world. Particularly in places with fairer electoral systems [that] ensure people’s votes are reflected more accurately in their parliaments.  A coalition of sorts between the federal NDP, and the federal Liberals brought us pensions many years ago. Stephen Harper himself when in opposition proposed a coalition of sorts when he felt it was in his political interests.”

“Coalitions are actually popular with Canadians as they want to see political parties work together where they can. What I have heard people say quite clearly though is they don’t want to see coalition with the Bloc as it is a separatist party.”

As Green Party MP candidate for Vancouver Centre Adriane Carr noted, “you don’t have to have a formal coalition to supply balance of power to a minority government in order to keep parliament going. The NDP supported Trudeau’s government on a few key items not the whole list. Canada’s pension program and universal Medicare came from parties working together.”

To Carr, coalition simply means cooperation between different parties, “the notion of agreement to work together to achieve a goal, to sustain government, so work can be done on behalf of Canadian citizens. A variety of perspectives can work together in th country’s best interest.”

“A majority government tends to steamroll through its agenda and doesn’t need to listen to other views. A coalition is more inclusive.” Issues get raised that might not come up ordinarily.

Liberal Party candidate Daniel Veniez summed it up this way. “We don't want to form a coalition because we are running to win the confidence of Canadians and wish and expect to form a government. And once we do, we intend to implement our platform, not someone else's.” 

“Working with other parties? Yes. The LPC did that and can do that again. But forming a coalition? No. Doing so would be a declaration of defeat.”

To find out more about the Conservative, NDP, Green Party, and LPC platforms, visit their websites at:,

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