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Five reasons British coalition is not a harbinger for Canada

Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg arrive for their first joint press conference in the Downing Street garden on May 12, 2010, in London.

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

There has been considerable discussion about what British coalition government means for Canadian politics. Most points to it laying the procedural and ideological precedent for a future coalition government here. While the process may indeed now be more palpable to Canadians, there are at least five reasons why we are unlikely see a similar parliamentary outcome.

1. The New Democrats are not the Liberal Democrats, rather they are more like a relatively unsuccessful Labour Party, one still encumbered by a version of Labour's Clause Four. When Tony Blair took over, he aggressively signalled his reform agenda by immediately repealing the clause in the party's constitution that linked them to both the union movement and to a socialist agenda. A similar break has not, and is unlikely to, occur in the NDP. As long as New Democrats remain at their core an anti-liberal party, it is unlikely they will be able to merge with either the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party.

2. The Green Party is the closest thing we have to the Liberal Democrats. Like Nick Clegg's Lib-Dems, Elizabeth May's Greens pull policies from across the political spectrum and both are fiscally liberal and socially progressive. However, unless we see electoral reform (allowing the Greens a number of seats proportional to their popular vote), or the Green Party radically alters its electoral strategy (perhaps by ceasing to run candidates in every riding), then they remain highly unlikely to gain the number MPs necessary to hold the balance of power.

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3. Stephen Harper is not David Cameron, and the CPC has little in common with the current iteration of the British Tories. Part of what made the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition possible was that Mr. Cameron ran on a quite radical conservative platform. Drawing heavily on the civic communitarian red toryism of Philip Blond, he assuaged Thatcherite economics for what he called "The Big Society." While voters remained confused by what precisely this entailed, which was part of the reason he fell short of a majority, Mr. Cameron's deviation from dogmatic free-market conservatism laid the groundwork for the possibility of negotiating with the Lib-Dems. Mr. Harper has of course done no such thing, and as long as the Reform Party wing wields control of the Conservative Party, such a fundamental ideological shift remains highly unlikely.

4. Perhaps the closest equivalent to the British coalition government would be if a liberal faction of the Liberal Party broke off and merged with a re-constituted Progressive Conservative party. This merger, likely to include many Greens, would form a strong fiscally and socially liberal alliance, and would allow for the Reform Party and the NDP to remain true to their ideological pedigrees - a fiscally and socially conservative party, and a socialist democratic party respectively. As long as both the LPC and the CPC still hold hopes (however delusional) of forming a majority government, the odds of such a reconfiguration are nil.

5. Possibly the main lesson of the British coalition is procedural. Brits have once again shown Canadians that they take parliamentary democracy seriously. There was no talk of coalitions with socialists and separatists, Gordon Brown stepped aside with dignity, Mr. Cameron and Mr. Clegg authored an incredibly thorough agreement that has a legitimate chance of lasting, and the media overall treated the historic events with substance rather than gamesmanship. In short, they were adults.

While the possibility of coalitions governments should at least be part of the Canadian political discourse, unless we see significant electoral reform or a radical reconfiguration of the ideological spectrum and parties that inhabit it, then minorities remain the far more likely outcome.

Taylor Owen is a Trudeau Scholar and doctoral candidate at Oxford

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