Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Three-Way Pissing Contest Keeps Harper on the Throne

Whooee! Well, friends an' foes, I reckon my immodest proposal will attract some mud but here goes...

I just came from reading a blog post by a Dipper who used his first five paragraphs to trash Ignatieff before giving a nod to Layton for taking the high road and welcoming Ignatieff's support and expressing a willingness to work together on limiting the PM's prorogation powers. Ironic? Maybe. Counterproductive? Absolutely.

If we ever want to rid our country of the Harper dictatorship, the opposition parties will need to work together. If we want the public at large to accept a perfectly legal and constitutionally valid coalition, multi-partisan cooperation will need to extend from the top to the bottom and back up to the top again. Partisan sniping only demonstrates that the opposition would be unable to work together in a coalition.

Here's the radical proposal. There are a great many ridings where the three-way split between Greens, Liberals and New Democrats ushers in a minority victory by the Conservatives. Various strategic voting initiatives have emerged attempting to deal with the inherent unfairness of our first past the post (FPTP) electoral system. Since the Conservatives are still in power, it would be logical to assume that these strategic voting efforts have not been effective.

I propose a comprehensive top level agreement between the LPC, NDP and GPC. In ridings where vote splitting has allowed the CPC to elect an MP without a 50% majority, the parties should enter into non-compete agreements whereby the CPC candidate faces only one serious opponent.

How to choose which party will run a candidate in which riding? The simplest way would be to look at the last election results and have the 3rd and 4th place finishers step aside.

Why include the Greens, one might ask? Well, if we're aiming to eliminate vote-splitting among anti-Conservative parties, the Greens are a definite factor. Greens garnered more than 9% of the popular vote in 2008 and should at least run unopposed by LPC and NDP candidates in 9% of the available ridings.

It won't be enough for the 3rd and 4th place parties to simply bow out, though. They must endorse and work for the chosen banner carrier, regardless of which banner they carry. That will be difficult for hyper-partisans like a certain dead horse and plenty of Liberals and Greens. The benefits, in my opinion, would outweigh the obstacles.

Such a plan must be openly and honestly presented to the voter as a coalition. If the coalition is successful -- and I really believe it could be -- it must provide for a proportional cabinet that includes members of all three cooperating parties.

Of course, my back-of-a-napkin plan has some obvious drawbacks. Died-in-the-wool Dippers, Grits and Greenies may well refuse to vote at all if they cannot vote for their favoured party. Some may even vote Conservative rather than vote Liberal, Green or NDP. So be it.

Where does the Bloc fit in? Mostly, it doesn't. My proposal is about doing what's best for Canada. The Bloc is interested only in doing what's best for Quebec. If non-compete agreements in Quebec ridings would elect non-Bloc, non-Conservative MP's, good. Bringing the BQ into the non-compete agreements would be counterproductive in TROC and play into the CPC's hands by including the rotten separatists in the deal.

A coalition can be quite reflective of the voters' wants and needs. Solid cooperation from the top down by way of strategic non-compete agreements can serve to demonstrate to the voters that the ABC parties are capable of working together to get elected. If they can work together to get elected, they can work together to run the country.

Okay. There it is, hyper-partisans, naysayers and hacks. Unleash your vitriol and prove it can't be done.

JimBobby

22 comments:

kirbycairo said...

Hello Jim - Unfortunately the problems standing in the way of any coalition are not logistical or technical really, they are just partisan. And the British parliamentary system has never done anything to promote the idea of political compromise so our political culture just doesn't seem to understand the concept. Furthermore, at the moment the political split in the country is such an odd mix. The Greens are actually fairly right-wing in a number of ways and the Bloc has a fairly straightforward agenda that they will follow anything that they think is good for Quebec. This leaves the NDP and the Liberals as the only real viable coalition partners and there is very little sign that they want to do anything even at an informal level. It is quite ironic really considering that it seems as though the average Canadian voter is somewhere comfortable in between the Liberal and the NDP philosophies. (But then the average English voter is closest to the Liberal Democratic party in Britain but they still don't get elected.)

I agree with most of your sentiments. Something must be done to move this country forward and protect our rather fragile democracy. Some form of (at least informal) coalition seems absolutely necessary. So now the question arises, how do we change the public's perception of such political compromise? If we can answer that question then we can start to move forward.

Dr.Dawg said...

Better to use their parliamentary majority to bring in PR.

JimBobby said...

Thx for the comments.

Dawg: Parliamentary majorities are only achieved in our FPTP by the unfairness of disproportionality. If we're going to wait for a majority party to voluntarily give up a good number of seats that were only elected due to disproportional representation, we'll be waiting a very long time.

Any government MP who would dare propose PR would be summarily dismissed as a future candidate. FPTP works for the status quo and the main beneficiaries of FPTP cannot realistically be expected to do anything about the system that rewards them so richly -- even if it is unfairly.

bruce said...

Best headline I've read all day. It's so true.

Sudbury Steve said...

I appreciate that it’s often a good thing to think outside of the box, and I also appreciate that if your proposal ever caught on, that there would be a very good chance that the Liberals/NDP would form a “majority” government, and Harper would be toast.

I’ve been reading the Green Party’s “Vision Green 2010" document, just released yesterday. I’m part way through it now. What I see in terms of policy is an incredible turn-on, and it thrills me to be a part of a party with such hope and vision for the future of Canada. This is why I joined the Green Party. The NDP and Liberals, frankly, have very little to offer in terms of where they would take Canada which I find particularly appealing. Why would I want to trade in Harper for Ignatieff and/or Layton? Either way, the country continues down the wrong road.

Let the Liberals and NDP get together, but leave the Greens out of it. Our vision for Canada is too far apart from that being offered by the other Parties. Our desire to actually make constructive changes to our taxation system, for example, is sensible and long over-due, and would not be accomplished under a Jackie/Iggy coalition. Further, a Liberal/NDP coalition would continue to get carbon pricing wrong, creating a Frankenstein’s Monster Cap and Trade system which won’t go far to actually reducing emissions, and which will negatively impact low income Canadians.

Ya, if they want to get together, let them. We should not be a part of, or endorse, their lack of vision. Maybe that’s me being “hyper partisan”, but I tell you I’m only calling it as I see it.

JimBobby said...

Thanks for chiming in, Steve. As I recall, Elizabeth May was one of the top supporters of the 2008 coalition push. The rumours were that she was to be offered a senate seat and would be made Minister of Environment.

Frankly, I doubt that my proposal will gain much traction. We'll be stuck with FPTP and an outside chance longshot at ever electing a GPC MP. I'm enthused about the new Vision Green, too. Getting those policies into practice by the federal government can only happen, IMO, if we strike some sort of deal with other parties. We saw what happened when Dion ran on our tax shift policy. A good GPC policy was turned into political poison for the foreseeable future.

My other idea is that the GPC should swallow up the Liberals in the same way that the Reform Party swallowed up the Progressive Conservatives. In that case, however, the PC's were on the ropes. The Libs aren't quite that bad off.

JB

Toe said...

The first party that brings your ideas to their party platform and campaigns on it gets my vote Otherwise we're all just doing the same thing over and over again, expecting the same results.

Dr.Dawg said...

JimB:

The opposition parties are in the majority. I haven't gone over the FVC data about the distortions re seats vs. votes, but those three parties could bring it in in the next session of Parliament if there were any political will.

JimBobby said...

Both the BQ and LPC benefited from FPTP and would lose seats to PR. Only the NDP (and GPC with 0 seats/votes now) would gain. There's no incentive for either LPC or BQ to change the system that rewards them so unfairly.

popthestack said...

Hey Jim, great article, I'm all for crazy proposals like this, hopefully it makes people think outside the box and eventually we will get some real changes. I wrote about some similar proposals a few months ago.

One common response I got, and you are getting, is Green skepticism. Which I understand, there is a feeling that such proposals come from those who will win power and at the expense of the Greens and even NDP. I don't know how to solve this but I think it won't work nearly as well without the Greens on board.

I think such a dramatic proposal will be unlikely but I am hopeful that the Liberals, NDP and Greens will have the guts to face down the coalition meme before the next election and declare that yes, they may well form a coalition if they have the seats after the election. The media and everyone need to shout down any conservative trying to imply such a move is undemocratic or anything remotely like a coup. Whoever can rangle the most MPs together should form government, end of story.

JimBobby said...

Form those still checking in on this discussion, my invitation to unleash the vitriol was taken up by commenter Malcolm+ over at Blogging a Dead Horse.

Apparently, I am drug-induced, delusional, unable to add 2 + 2, half-baked and a Liberal lackey. At least he didn't make it personal. ;-)

Sudbury Steve said...

I have to say, I think that Popthestack is onto something. I don't have such a big problem with Green candidates campaigning, telling the public that we wouldn't rule out a coalition with partners in the other parties. In fact, it makes sense, and we should be front and centre on this, as clearly we'd entertain working with the other parties after an election.

As for Elizabeth May's support of the New Libs on the Bloc Coalition back in 2008, well, we almost lost a few members here in Sudbury because of that. I blogged about it at the time, suggesting that we should have taken a different approach, in part because Dion was already keen on dumping a carbon tax. Here's my blog about that, if anyone really wants to revisit:

http://sudburysteve.blogspot.com/2008/12/green-party-and-coalition-are-we.html

JimBobby said...

(reposting with a couple typos fixed)

Thanks for chimin' in again, Steve.

My biggest problem with the 2008 coalition plan was that it was not *seen* to be legitimate -- even if it was technically legit. The anti-coalition reaction was to 2 things, IMO. 1.) the voters would be getting PM Dion when they clearly did not vote for PM Dion. Nevermind that 62% didn't vote for PM Harper; 2.) the Cons were successful in painting the coalition as a coup or power grab.

I think if we want a coalition, we need to sell the voter on the idea before and during the election campaign and not foist it on to them after an election.

Expecting voters to be sophisticated enough to use strategic voting effectively is asking too much, IMO. Hence, my suggestion that the choices be limited by non-compete arrangements.

I had serious qualms re the 2008 coalition. If it had come about and if Elizabeth had accepted a senate seat and Env. Min. portfolio, she'd have lost my support. A legitimate coalition of the majority is one thing. Senate appointments to circumvent the electorate is something else, altogether.

FWIW, Elizabeth does have my support and reports of "upheaval" in the GPC are quite exaggerated. Sure, there's some dissent but it hardly amounts to upheaval.

JB

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins said...

Sorry, JimBobby, normally I agree with you but on this you're dead wrong. And Dead Horse is right on all the numerical analysis, any mudslinging aside.

The only thing Canadian voters would hate more than further Harper governments would be the oppo parties telling them which non-Harper parties they are or are not allowed to vote for (by withdrawing the other possibilities). Parties CANNOT give marching orders to their supporters to vote some other way - they don't have that power over voters, nor should they. They are lucky if they can get their own voters to vote for them - biggest failure in this is the Greens, who lose about 1/3 of their voters on voting day. If we can only get 2/3 of our voters to vote for us, how many can we tell to vote for someone else instead? (Hint: very few). This has little to do with party partisanship and everything to do with voter attitudes.

Your underlying assumption - that parties can effectively tell (or force) their voters to vote for a different party - is simply wrong. Any strategy built on that is doomed to failure and backfire. In this case, the most likely result would be a Harper majority.

JimBobby said...

Thanks for chimin' in, Erich. I ain't blowin' smoke up yer ass when I say I consider you a leading thinker in GPC circles.

I hope I didn't come across as saying parties could or should "force" their supporters to do anything. I'd prefer to use the term "persuade."

I wonder how many would-be voters stay home on election day simply because they see that there's no way to oust the frontrunner in a multi-party race with the ABC side split 3 ways? We know that about 38% of eligible voters don't vote. Some are just apathetic. Some are lazy. I think a lot of them, though, are disenchanted with the electoral system and the foregone conclusions in many ridings.

Harper's assault on democracy has presented the anti-Harper forces with an opportunity to energize and mobilize the self-disenfranchised. Nobody forced the thousands of protesters into the streets last Saturday. They are motivated and their motivation is to prevent more assaults on democracy by the dictator Harper.

We can choose to capitalize and build on the ABC momentum or we can continue to fight amongst ourselves. The Merkans have a saying that might be cogent: "United we stand. Divided we fall."

I have no illusions (or delusions) that we can united the 3 main oppo parties -- or even two of them. We did see, however, in 2008 that the opposition just might be able to form a coalition; i.e. work together.

Like I've said above, I doubt my idea will gain much traction. Too many party banner-carriers are too enamoured with the idea that their party is the only one with a valid platform.

I'm sure you were paying attention to Central Nova in 2008. How might it have played out if the NDP had chosen not to field a candidate and to endorse Elizabeth May? Or.. if the GPC and LPC didn't field candidates and endorsed the NDP?

To keep doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results is one definition of insanity. My proposal is certainly not without its flaws. Let's come up with some other ideas... or keep on pounding our collective heads against the wall hoping that things will be different this time around.

Malcolm+ said...

Well, since you asked:

While doubtless there were a range of factors, the voter turnout in Central Nova declined by exactly 3,000 voters from 2006 to 2009, despite the fact that a) it was now a high profile constituency with significantly more media attention and b) pundits were claiming that the race was likely to be closer than in 2006.

The Conservative vote actually went up by 6.6%, which was an atypically large increase when compared either to the national numbers or to the results elsewhere in the region.

Clearly Elizabeth May made significant inroads into the NDP vote and took the lion's share of the Liberal vote. It also appears that some portion of the Liberal (and possibly NDP) vote moved to McKay. McKay may have lost some votes to the Christian Heritage Party candidate - but small beer and not probably relevant.

The net result was that Elizabeth May had fewer raw votes and a lower percentage of the vote than the NDP's Alexis MacDonald had won in 2006, and lost the riding by 5,619 votes (14.36%) compared to Alexis MacDonald's loss in 2006 by 3,273 votes (7.77%).

Of course, your plan would have the NDP candidate withdraw entirely. But the NDP candidate's 2008 tally is only 7,657 votes. In order to for Elizabeth May to have won, she'd have needed a 73.4% NET retention of Louise Lorefice's vote.

Now, presumably these were not the "low-hanging fruit" of NDP-Green swing voters. These are people who stuck with the NDP despite a) a high profile Green candidate, b) a low profile NDP candidate, c) a media storm pushing for Elizabeth May. In other words, these are the NDP voters least likely to go to the Greens, even if they would not classify themselves as NDP partisans.

If 10% of Lorefice's NDP voters stay home and 10% vote Conservative (quite conservative projections according to CES), then Green's vote goes up by 6,126 (total 18,746) but McKay's goes up by 766 (total 19,005)

In other words: "How might it have played out if the NDP had chosen not to field a candidate and to endorse Elizabeth May?"

Answer: She probably still would have lost.

JimBobby said...

Thanks for chimin' in, Malcolm. Thank you, as well, for your civilized tone.

Yes, she probably would have lost. I'm probably going to shovel some snow today. Fact is, we can only hypothesize. The second part of my question wondered what the result might have been had the GPC and LPC foregone fielding a candidate and left the NDP to stand alone against Minister of Torture MacKay.

Also included in my proposal was a requirement that the parties that do not field candidates actively endorse and campaign for the ABC candidate. I wasn't in CN for the 2008 election. Political dilettante that I am, I was busy as the GPC campaign manager in my own EDA. I don't know whether or how actively the CN LPC EDA machine worked for Elizabeth May. I do know that the NDP actively campaigned against the GPC.

Any conjecture or probabilities ought to consider the effect of the ABC parties working actively together in those ridings where an ABC victory is possible. Merely stepping aside was not part of my original idea.

As I said to Erich and as I said in my original post, my idea has some obvious flaws. However, we are operating in a very flawed electoral milieu with FPTP. While I support and have worked for PR and electoral reform, I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that the vested interests of the status quo will block meaningful reform for at least the next few decades.

Without electoral reform, we must be realistic and try to do the best we can with what we have. The strategic voting websites that have sprung up in the past two elections have attempted to help individual voters "game" the FPTP system by holding their noses and voting ABC. As I mentioned in the OP, those efforts have not been effective enough, yet. Maybe strategic voting will catch on but I have serious doubts.

While I will once again concede that my idea is unlikely to catch on, I stand by the title of my original post. 3-way vote splitting is keeping Harper in power. We need some new ideas if we want change that. Bring 'em on.

Anonymous said...

I will concede, JimBobby, that "one ABC candidate" electoral deals would likely be more effective that so-called "strategic" voting proposals. By more effective, of course, I mean "not quite as useless," in that the electoral saw-offs you propose would probably shift some seats - though not enough to matter, whereas "strategic" voting has consistently failed to deliver.

In large part, this is because "strategic" voting (it's actually tactical voting, BTW) requires a nuanced and particulated view of the election that simply isn't available to most voters who aren't serious political junkies. Throw in the fact that the Liberals have consistently used the "strategic" voting ruse as a means of undermining, not the Conservatives but rather then NDP.

(I'm referring to the fact that, historically, te Liberals have not pushed "strategic" voting in seats like, say, Kitchener-Waterloo, where the net gain of NDP voters might elect a Liberal in a close race with the Tories, but rather in ridings like Trinity-Spadina, where there is virtually no chance of the Tory ever winning or in ridings like Palliser, where the Liberals can't win but their mantra of "vote Lib to stop the Cons" undermines the NDP and ensures a Conservative win.)

Malcolm+

Anonymous said...

That all said, while I agree we need to try a different approach, that doesn't mean that any old approach will do. The electoral deal scenario you propose only works if one uses a set of assumptions that are patently unrealistic. Voters don't respond well to party elites telling them what to think - even if it's their own party elite. Absent a candidate of their preferred party, a significant number of voters will simply not vote, while another significant number will vote contrary to the instructions of their party. The net gains required for the scheme to be effective are too great.

And even if it did, any plan based on the assumption that the Liberal Party would ever support a progressive agenda (short of having a pistol at close quarters aimed at Count Ignatieff's gonads) is simply unrealistic. The Liberals are a right wing party whose record in power is not substantially different from the present government. Indeed, the Harper Cons actually have a better (as in less appallingly bad) record in several areas, including child care, the environment and even the Afghan prisoner file, their record being merely inadequate as opposed to non-existent.

Malcolm+

Anonymous said...

curious that I can not post to your comments section using my google id

Malcolm+

JimBobby said...

Can't explain Google/Blogger issues... above my pay scale. ;-)

Re: Voters don't respond well to party elites telling them what to think - even if it's their own party elite.

Party elites always tell voters what to think. With some notable exceptions, like the GPC living platform model, party policy is top-down. Few rank and file members and even fewer regularly faithful party voters have much say-so wrt party policy. They find a party that is closest to their own political philosophy and support that party.

I agree that denying voters a candidate of their favourite party will drive some voters away from the polls and others to the ranks of the CPC. As I said, simply limiting choice is not enough. Wholehearted campaigning by the ABC side would be essential.

Your comments hint that you might be one of those who'd vote CPC before voting LPC. I think there a more of those types in the NDP than in other parties. No data or stats -- just a feeling I get from reading NDP blogs and seeing that many NDP supporters spend more time trashing the Grits than trashing the incumbent CPC.

I tend to disagree with your assessment that the CPC is better than the LPC on the issues you've mentioned. Ignatieff, to his credit, has called for a public inquiry into detainee transfers that encompasses the entirety of the Afghan fiasco. The CPC has thrown up roadblock after roadblock, up to and including the current prorogation.

The Grits hammered out the Kelowna accord. Harper scrapped it.

The LPC, NDP and BQ voted together on the Kyoto implementation thing. The CPC ignored the majority of MPs. Ditto the vote on US war resisters.

I'm no fan of Ignatieff on environmental issues. His support for the tar sands and nuclear energy is why.

Yet, I must concede that Ignatieff seems to be capable of listening and changing his mind. Case in point: placing legal limits on prorogation. One man's flip-flop is another man's reversal of opinion based on careful consideration of the facts (and of public mood). We do want our politicians to reflect the public mood, though, don't we?

At one time, I had high hopes for proportional representation to spur a re-invigorated turnout at the polls. The referendums in BC and On demonstrated that PR's time hasn't come, yet. I'm over 60. I sincerely doubt that I will see electoral reform in my lifetime.

The NDP, LPC and GPC leadership demonstrated a willingness to work together in the coalition plan. Harper's underhanded 2008 prorogation combined with a public disinformation campaign quashed that plan. If the party leaders can work together, I'd like to think they can convince their membership that such cooperation is a viable option. Telling members what to think? That's what they do.

JB

Anonymous said...

1. I grew up in a CCF household in Saskatchewan when Ross Thatcher was premier. I don't apologize for my utter contempt for the Liberal Party. After all, it was the Liberal Party tried to strangle medicare at birth. It was the Liberal Party established concentration camps for people of Japanese, German and Italian ancestry. It was the Liberal Party that decided "one Jew [was] too many" when Jews were trying to escape Nazi Germany. The Liberal Party is the only party ever to implement martial law in peace time.

I doubt I'd ever actually vote for the CPC. I will not vote for the Liberals. Ever.

2. You've fallen into the trap of judging the Liberals on their rhetoric. Their rhetoric is always very pretty. I judge them on their record.

Childcare - The Tories introduced a thoroughly inadequate program of grants to families with pre-school children. The Liberals did nothing.

Environment - The Tories introduced inadequate legislation to reduce pollution. The Liberals did nothing.

Afghan detainees - The Tories actually suspended prisoner turnovers and implemented a protocol with the Afghan govenment. The Liberals had permitted the turnover of prisoners with no protocol.

OIW, the Con record is bad - the Liberal record is worse.

Malcolm+