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the Gauntlet

Coalition talk is distracting

The media should focus on important issues and keeping politicians accountable

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As we all know by now, a federal election campaign is currently under way. So far this campaign has been dominated by talk of "coalitions," that scary sounding word and frightening political circumstance that, ever since 2008, has haunted the nightmares of every Canadian.

Or not. It isn't clear that the public has unified feelings about the idea of coalition governments in general. Indeed, coalition governments are constitutionally legitimate. But the circumstances under which they form are crucial to whether or not the public finds them legitimate -- after all, what the public finds legitimate is key to the political process.

Talking about coalitions is distracting us from the real issues. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is spending his time scaring us about coalitions instead of telling us why we should support his lackluster budget and ignore his affronts to democracy. NDP leader Jack Layton, of course, has no problem with the issue being kept alive because it's his only hope of real power. And the Bloc's Gilles Duceppe continues to ardently point out that Harper seemed willing to go in for something like "coalitions with the separatists" in 2004. While the accusations are true, it's more important to move past such accusations.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff at least seems willing to move on to some real issues. He was the most dogged by questions relating to coalitions, and rightly so since he was very unclear about his stance following the defeat of Harper's government in parliament. To his credit he released a definitive statement that he will not pursue a coalition government -- if he were prime minister in a minority parliament, he would rather work with other parties on a case-by-case, issue-by-issue basis.

That should be enough. Now we should all move on. But the media continues to press the issue and it is hurting the public discourse as this election campaign begins. It is an easy issue, another he-said, she-said dispute that the media can repeat and replay endlessly without getting at any real issues or substance. Indeed, the media too often reports and revels in the strategies of the political parties and their attempts to spin facts and events to their advantage, instead of holding politicians to account on what they say and do and getting them talking about the important issues. The media's relentless questioning of Ignatieff about his intentions regarding a coalition government were on point that first day, when he failed to be clear about what he would and wouldn't do. But now that he has made himself clear on the issue, they have done their job and should move on.

Of course, Harper is not helping this, continuing as he is to attempt to scare us with the prospect of a coalition. One hopes that the media loses interest and that Harper's protestations will seem increasingly absurd as time goes on, as it appears that he has no real plan apart from attacking the opposition's motives and character.

Well, no plan apart from his dead-on-arrival budget, of course, but that contains no real strategy other than meagre handouts to targeted demographics in an attempt to buy votes, wasteful spending on prisons which will not reduce the rate of crime nor help rehabilitate criminals and ill-timed corporate tax cuts to an already internationally competitive rate. These are substantive issues, some of the many which this election ought to be about.

For the good of us all, let's stop talking about coalitions. It is only a distraction.

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