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British Prime Minister David Cameron welcomes Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, right, to Downing Street for their first day of coalition government on May 12, 2010 in London, England. (Matt Cardy/Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
British Prime Minister David Cameron welcomes Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, right, to Downing Street for their first day of coalition government on May 12, 2010 in London, England. (Matt Cardy/Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

U say you want a co-a-li-tion? Add to ...

At year's end, a Globe editorialist opined that Canadians were being "told by Stephen Harper to focus on the imaginary coalition of 2008 at the expense of the real, and more interesting one, that actually governs in Britain … [which] may have something to teach Canadians about something spoken of at length, but not yet practised, in Canada: austerity."

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A bit to the northeast, on the other hand, where British-style austerity is graven into the Atkinson Principles as a four-letter word, the Toronto Star must be seeing something quite different. In fact, it already knows enough about the British experience to have issued an editorial endorsement of the opposition parties in our next federal election:

"... it is probably better that we have an election in 2011. The odds are that it would produce the same result as in 2008 and 2006, but the post-election dynamic could be very different this time. The opposition parties could get together immediately after the vote to appeal to the Governor General for a change of government. With the record of the past five years, it would be hard for him to say no."

In light of this wide gap in understanding of the British experience to date with coalition government, you'd think that our papers would be full of news of the latest developments from across the pond. If so, you'd be mistaken.

Yesterday, for example, Britain's VAT - their equivalent of the GST - increased from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent. Coming on the heels of steep increases in university tuition fees, support for the Lib-Dems, the junior partner in the coalition, is now at an all time low - as is support for party leader Nick Clegg. (The deputy leader of that party also recently suffered a serious setback; though that setback involved some dubious journalism practices and Rupert Murdoch's ever-expanding media empire, it too received little press attention in Canada.)

In any case, I suppose you could cite the VAT increase as an example of "austerity," although I suspect that Stephen Harper would call it a tax hike. And I doubt that the Toronto Star likes the idea of a steep increase in university tuition fees. But let's be fair: the actual policies of a coalition government in Canada would be dependent on its components. And on the outcome of negotiations between and among these components after the election. As was the case in the coalition negotiations among the opposition parties in 2008, when considerable water was added to wine on issues such as Afghanistan.

Because of this truth, only one thing can be said for certain about the coalition government endorsed by the Toronto Star: the platform that the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc run on in the next federal election would be on the table in the negotiations leading to its formation. That's been the case in the U.K., where the Lib-Dems reneged on a written campaign commitment regarding university tuition fees - and where both parties reneged on oral election statements regarding the VAT. And it's an experience worth considering as we head toward an election.

 

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