The Coalition of 99

Tisdale, September 30, 1999
By: Timothy W. Shire

I must say I was surprised this morning to hear of the deal worked out between the premier and the leader of the Saskatchewan Liberal party. Like most people I realised something was cooking when the premier did not announce a cabinet on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday but a coalition government is a historical oddity in this province and almost unheard of in the country.

As Saskatchewan moved into the depression in 1929 Anderson, a conservative, had won the election, or at least had the larger number of seats and he made a deal with some liberals and independents to form a coalition government which lasted a full term until the election in 1935. My guess is that this what was in the mind of the premier and those who put this deal together. An election had taken place, it is the responsibility of those elected to make something work and this, for Premier Romanow, looked like the best deal that would insure stability and see them through until the public would be more willing to go to the polls once more.
I think you can see by the look on my face that I am a little less then pleased by this turn of events, because I was quite looking forward to a minority government situation that would see our provincial politicians forced to pay attention to those who elected them. However skeptical I may be, there is merit in this concept of a coalition. The whole thing will rest on the "reasonableness" of both the four Liberals and the government. If they can come up with this present compromise it would look to me that this is a creative and workable solution. Dr. Melinchuk has been made Minster of Education and that is one of the most important posts in the government, it is also one of the areas where the Liberal party has positive and responsible planks in their campaign. I like this move.
The premier's statement was extremely brief this morning so what he said was important. He said that they were going to work together and that they would try to fix the things that the voters wanted fixed, among those things was improvements to Medicare and to build on fiscal responsibility. I am willing to take him at his word. Compromise and team work contributes considerably to honesty.
Now let's take a minute and examine the historical background to this idea. We have to go back to the very beginnings of representational democracy to understand the idea of majority government and the administration of government by the king's advisors, his cabinet. Several times in the early days of our British form of parliament there were situations where no one group had a clear majority in the house of commons and compromises were worked out whereby those with similar attitudes were able to work together to cobble together a government. The more fragmented a parliament was, with many different and opposing views represented with several political parties increased the possibility of the need for a coalition.
Hear in Canada they have been really rare at the federal level but it was just such a coalition that existed to set things up for confederation in 1867. Balancing my interests and yours so that we can find some common interests is a very positive concept because it produces results that we both will accept and work with. Coalitions can work. The world's best examples of positive coalition governments has been in Israel where there are large number of very diverse parties and a small group of moderate ones. Through the years skilled Israel politicians have discovered that no matter which extreme they come from there will be significant numbers of moderates who will help them govern and they have done so successfully.
The storm of protest this morning from Liberal executive members and lots of other people is to be expected, this is really a rare situation and few politicians have been willing to take a chance on being able to reach compromises. Melinchuk, demonstrated to the public under the extreme heat of a political debate that he could remain calm and look for common ground, clearly, the premier admired that as much as did the public, because that is why they elected four Liberals and now we are going to see that moderate compromising attitude put to practice. It will not be easy, but it will work and I am certain that you will be surprised at the success the coalition of 99 will bring.