In the several weeks since that amazing statement was made, the news media have not had time to examine it. They have been, one must guess, too busy covering a speech by the likes of an ex-rocker for whom few cared to buy tickets (The Moncton T&T not only had him on the front page but in two full pages of colour photos). The press has also been heavily tied up in endless interviews of the one percent of parents who are protesting the closure of Moncton High School.
Mr. Irving’s column appeared when he was fresh from a grandly named economic summit It consisted largely of fellow businessmen, a neo-conservative think tank, along with assorted university presidents and community volunteers, with the presidents and volunteers attending who roughly in the same capacity as napkin rings and potted plants. Mr. Irving’s announcement was that he and his summiteers had formed a coalition with the New Brunswick government.
Coalition sounds nice and progressive and helpful. But that’s not what it means. Not any of those things. Coalition is from coalesce. It means taking two or more objects, and making them one and the same. When members of parliament form a coalition, it means that for voting purposes they are no longer members of their original parties but have become one, new party with a common policy and a common leader. Check the Oxford English Dictionary. There is only one meaning to coalition; and it is quite clear.
Mr. Irving announced that he and his chosen friends are now members of the government. Not friends. Not advisers. Not consultants. Coalition means taking two or more objects and making them into one and the same thing. When Hitler forced Austria into becoming a part of Germany, for example, he called it a coalition. (The German word is anschluss. It meant that Austria had ceased to exist as a separate country, and had become one with Germany.)
It is highly unlikely that a man of Mr. Irving’s education is ignorant of the meaning of coalition. It must be highly unlikely that a man in his position would issue such a public statement without showing it to his editorial and legal staff. I can’t believe that a provincial premier would be ignorant of the meaning of coalition.
I can believe that New Brunswick’s newspaper editors are unfamiliar with the meaning of the word; and I can believe they don’t know that such a coalition is unconstitutional. (They have frequently demonstrated serious gaps in their understanding of constitutional law.) Mr. Irving has announced that unelected he and his unelected friends are members of the government.
Mr. Irving’s statement was stunningly arrogant, and stunningly contemptuous of democracy and of the people of New Brunswick.
The basic principle of a democratic society is that we all have rights as individuals; and we all have the same rights. The fundamental right of a democracy is that we all have a right to have a voice in who shall govern us. We have that right not because we are mechanics or teachers or clerks or corporate directors. We each have that right, that same right – as individuals. We have won or inherited those individual rights in centuries of struggle. Many of us knew people–family, friends– who died to preserve those individual rights. (Curiously, Mr. Irving’s statement came a little more than a month after the day we had remembered those who died for our rights. It makes one wonder how seriously we take those words of Remembrance Day. “We are the dead. Short days ago, we lived, felt dawn, say sunset glow…)
Mr. Irving was not elected by any individuals. He wasn’t even in the running to be a loser. Nor were all his chosen friends. But he has the arrogance to claim he and they should be members of the government anyway. He and his friends and the elected members of the government are, he says, a coalition, one and the same.
He even adds something poisonous in his concept of representation. In a democracy, representation come from the right of all of us to have a voice, as individuals, in who shall govern us. Mr. Irving proposes that representation should be also be based on membership in groups–such as community volunteers, university presidents and, of course, corporate leaders and puppet think-tanks.
That kind of representation is not a new idea. It was the basis of aristocratic power in Britain well through the nineteenth century. Both the Anglican and Catholic churches toyed with the idea of it, largely because some feared the “ignorance” of the common people. It became known as corporatism and, in the 1920s, it became the starting point of Mussolini’s fascism.
Democracy and corporatism cannot be mixed. Democracy is based on the principle that we are all equal. Corporatism is based on the principal that some people have more rights than others, rights based on, for example, wealth.
In a democracy, therefore, people can be in government only if we elect them. That means coalitions can be formed only by elected members of the assembly. Their power to govern comes from us. To proclaim the right to be a part of the government because of one’s birth or money or influence is arrogant, undemocratic, and unconstitutional. What should be done?
All journalists in New Brunswick should be given copies of The Oxford English Dictionary. The great advantage of it is that it gives the full range of meanings for a word, and goes back over centuries to do it. There is only one meaning of coalition today and it’s the same one for those hundreds of years. Mr. Irving, without asking anybody – and certainly not asking the voters – has claimed he is a full member of the government. Once our journalists understand the word, they should start asking questions.
The first questions should go to Mr. Alward. He is, after all, reputed to be the premier. Did Mr. Irving ask him for a coalition? Did the premier agree to it? He shouldn’t have; it’s unconstitutional, and a denial of our fundamental rights. If he didn’t agree, shouldn’t he make a public statement?
And why haven’t those dozey Liberals raised any questions?
All of them, journalists, politicians and economic summiteers should read the work of Dr. Eugene Forsey, the scholar who was Canada’s outstanding authority on the constitution. They will find Mr. Irving’s claims are fully denied in Forsey’s writing. Such a coalition has never existed in Canadian history; and it is a denial of the whole democratic principle.
This is no small matter. Mr. Irving has made a direct attack on democracy in this province and, in doing so, has shown utter contempt for the people of this province. And he got away with it with nobody in a position of responsibility saying a word. This is reason, if he gets away with this, to expect more of the same.
Never back away from a bully.