Who gets to be prime minister?

Last night's debates were less than interesting to me, and Elizabeth May's exclusion left the nation with a guilty conscience for even watching... but we did watch and while there was little new released in the debate, the question-period style format (opposition bickers, government gives non-answer) didn't really help. It wasn't an intelligent format, and suffered the same rot people universally accuse of plaguing the commons.

That said, one thing that did come out of the debate was the hash tag #coalitionwatch ... which is hilarious. I've talked to a few folks and Stephen Harper seems to be correct -- people do seem to believe that he who wins the most seats forms government. But, lets be crystal clear here, that is not our electoral system and popular opinion wont change that. It also doesn't matter who gets the most popular vote.

Our system is a geographically represented system, and Jack Layton raised how absurd it is that the bloc has 50 seats and the greens none last night. He proposed proportional representation, and I'm a big supporter of that, however... today, we have a british parliamentary democracy, and our democracy is geographic. This is a fact. You cannot vote for a party or leader, you can only vote for a local candidate to represent your geographic riding.

After polling, the nations representatives (it's newly minted MP's) will take their seats in the house of commons. There is no government decided yet and all MP's are at this point still equals. The _former_ cabinet is still in place, just as they are during the election period. It is not until later that a new prime minister and thereby a new cabinet will be appointed by the governor general.

What happens next is what Stephen Harper is concerned about. A confidence vote.  In a majority government situation this is a mere formality, however in a minority government situation this vote becomes very important. You see, the party that wishes to form government must have the support of the rest of the country as represented by their geography. If they cannot obtain this confidence, they cannot form government. Full stop. If you win more seats than the other parties in a minority government, you are not automatically the governing party. Again, another fact.

In order to form government in Minority, the CPC will _require_ the support of at least one other party. Will they be 'supported by the separatists' and is this scenario a coalition between the CPC and the Bloc? Should we tag it #coalitionwatch?

If Stephen Harper's Conservative party fails a confidence vote -- and given that it was a confidence vote that resulted in this election -- what happens? It goes back to the Governor General, who will decide whether to call another election, or whether to allow another party to seek the confidence of the house of commons. This happened after the 1925 election, when a Liberal government was formed with 101 seats to the Conservatives 116.  It may happen again in 2011.

This is not a coalition. Lets make that crystal clear. Confidence and Coalition are two entirely separate concepts. What was agreed in the previous Dion-Layton coalition (a true coalition) was the merging of the two parties to form a coalition government with the additional confidence of the bloc.

From the debate last night it seems Harper is hoping you don't understand the difference between confidence and coalition, but the difference is vast. In a scenario today where the LPC attains the support of the house of commons to form government, there is no coalition. Only members of the Liberal party will form government (cabinet). Under the previous coalition agreement, NDP members would have been in government (cabinet). Michael Ignatieff has promised as an election platform that there will be no coalition, but has not promised he will not seek the confidence of the house of commons if the CPC fails to. This is not a coalition so long as no NDP members form government/sit in cabinet -- it would simply be classified as a Liberal Minority Government.

It is also conceivable that neither the LPC or CPC could attain the support of the house, and that the NDP (with some more seats gained in the election) supported by the Bloc or LPC could in theory also form an independent government.This would be a NDP Minority Government. Still not a coalition.

The trump card in the whole arrangement is the role of the governor general. He may appoint any party that has the support of the house to form government. He may also call an election or prorogue the house in the expectation that time passing may result in a different confidence result. This was done previously in support of the Harper government when the previous true coalition + bloc was expected to vote non-confidence and seek to form government with the confidence of the bloc but without an election call.

The actions the Governor General will take are totally undefined today. We could be headed back to the polls, be without a government or governed by any political party that can obtain the support of the house. Given the expected distribution of seats coming out of this election it is hard to think that we would return to another election in 2011 -- but its technically possible we could be re-voting again soon. Short of calling another election however, it means either prorogation while the CPC makes concessions to the house in exchange for support -- or appointing another party to form government.

Either way, Harper seems to be incorrect in the debate last night, and his #coalitionwatch hashtag is less than accurate. Simply winning the most seats in this election will not make him prime minister -- nor will Michael Ignatieff gaining the confidence of the NDP+Bloc mean a coalition. This is our system.