No surprise the election kicked off with coalition accusations and counter-accusations. All politicians must resort to slagging coalitions - at least until they form one.
Simple math explains why the issue will pervade the campaign: none of Canada's five parties is likely to elect enough members to command a majority. Therefore, all equally need to be judged in large part by the company they will keep after the election. None wants to come clean on that, for the simple reason that talk of partnerships with an opposing party blurs party lines.
Not exactly a good way to heal divisions, or to work at problem-solving by building from mutual needs, or to engage people concerned about the public interest, but this is the system that Canada, one of the most democratic countries in the world, is shackled with.
Obviously, the reality that coalition governments are becoming the norm is "concerning," as doctors sometimes say after annual examinations. Voters lose their power the moment the election is over, and untrustworthy politicians are free to cut deals for which they had no mandate from supporters. Just watch the turmoil in the UK.
But voters' concerns reflect the inevitable stresses of an obsolete system for choosing political representatives, a system that's more damaging than even the champions of proportional representation recognize. Of course, there are incredible abuses associated with first-past-the-post.
Just so we understand, complaints about votes not counting are non-partisan; it's just as grievous when no Conservative from Toronto, despite hundreds of thousands of Tory votes, ever gets to Parliament or Cabinet. The same thing happens to Liberal voters in Quebec or Alberta. And to New Democrats and Greens everywhere.
But lack of proportional representation is made worse by other recent trends. Most importantly, the old-line parties, which were true coalitions, have died. Progressive Conservatives, as the contradiction in the name suggests, were a coalition of Progressives from the West, Conservatives from the East and Red Tories from Central Canada.
New Democrats (descendants of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, which openly presented itself as a federation instead of a party) were a coalition bringing together unionists and farmers. Liberals, reviled by opponents as "standing for nothing" because their coalition was farthest-reaching, historically included viewpoints from such groups as French Quebeckers, Irish Catholics and southern and eastern Europeans in the 1960s.
Now parties have to form alliances after the election instead of before.
One reason for the breakup of these parties may be the rise of ultra-conservatives, who denounce collaboration with the "vital centre" that dominated policy in the old days. Hard-right parties cater to hard-right voting blocs largely based on cultural resentments rather than economic needs, and exploit divisions among their opponents to do the rest. Obsolete partisanship among non-hard-righters continues to guarantee the success of this strategy.
Ironically, the decline of coalition parties did not lead to parties being more principled and distinctive. Instead of The End Of Ideology, mainstream politics drifted toward The End Of Principle.
The hard-right Conservatives turned a deficit-free legacy from the supposedly free-spending Liberals into a massive deficit, thereby positioning their government as sound non-ideological managers who could be trusted to spend their way out of a recession.
Unlike the NDP, which now puts itself forward as the party of hard-working middle-class families, Conservative Jim Flaherty claims to stand for hard-working working families. Alas, no-one stands for the children or elderly from lazy middle-class or working-class families, let alone solo individuals, the precious subject of early democracies, the ones who - whether hard-working or not, employed or not, married or not, parents or not - were vested with rights and privileges in classical democratic theory.
True to their ideology, Conservatives grant tax incentives that reward corporations and individuals for taking certain actions in the market economy, and thereby displace government programs funded by taxes. By definition, this is regressive, since tax breaks go only to high-income earners. And it's bad policy, since there is no guarantee that money saved from home reno or energy bills will go to the public good.
But contrary to any ideology or lesson from history, New Democrats and Liberals also promote tax-incentive-based policies for the environment. The NDP's new focus on eliminating tax on home heating for seniors is another kind of problem, since it subsidizes energy inefficiency, creates no jobs in retrofitting and doesn't account for income level.
The idea that taxes should support universal conservation programs that create jobs and protect the climate is a dead duck for the foreseeable future.
The decline of party tradition, principle and accountability permeates the entire political system, over and above what any particular mainstream party does on any particular issue, which, as of now, could change with any new flavour of the month.
In my view, these are more worrisome trends in politics than the possibility of a coalition. I'm hoping the electorate will push back and give all politicians a run for their money.