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Will the NDP push the Tories on electoral reform?

My colleague Miranda had a post titled “And The NDP Is Relevant Once More” this morning in obvious referral to the Khan defection and the fact they basically now hold the balance of power with the new numbers in the House. Obviously, they will try to get the Clean Air Act totally revamped, but I’m wondering whether another item that was important to Jack Layton in 2004 will come to the table, and that is electoral reform – specifically in the NDP’s case, that is for some form of proportional representation reform for the House.

I’ve said before that I differ from my new Liberal colleagues in that I believe that this is desirable, so if Jack pushes for it, I’d actually be pretty happy, but I wonder if any of my NDP blogging colleagues would care to speculate if Jack will try to make it a pre-condition for propping up Harper’s government.

He and the NDP are in as good a position as at anytime during Martin’s minority tenure to demand it, if they choose to do so.

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27 comments to Will the NDP push the Tories on electoral reform?

  • alex

    MMP can reconcile single-member districts with overall representation.

    I agree with Erik; the party structure would change due to the introduction of MMP, not entirely predictably. It is not too big of a stretch to see a moderate conservative party reemerge, able to form coalitions with the center or moderate left. To say that MMP would lead to perennial Lib-NDP coalition governments is to transpose the effects of the current system onto the new one.

    With regard to the Greens not making it into the Commons, they would make it once the new system was in place and they had a chance of winning seats.

  • Preferential voting by itself would be a small shift that the NDP, Liberals and Greens can agree on; it would, however, probably mean forcing everyone to rank their preference for each candidate on the ballot. Additionally, there is no majority for it in the 39th Parliament. If I were Jack Layton I’d make preferential voting a top priority and work out a coordinated plan with Dion to make sure that the 40th can it.

  • I’m with Jason (see? Lib-NDP fraternity!) on this one — a just electoral system should produce minority governments, if that’s what the people voted for. A PR system that replicates the flaws of first-past-the-post doesn’t make any sense — why bother?

    As for geographical fairness, I’d be willing (speaking as a voter in Toronto) to sacrifice some seats in the major urban areas, donate them to the rural areas, if a top-up PR system still ensured that my vote for the NDP isn’t wasted.

    C’mon, Liberals, make the joke. I know your dying to.

  • It isn’t that the big parties “favour less democracy,” they just “favour themselves not being cut off at the knees.”

    NDP does it provincially, the Liberals do it federally; it’s hard not to have ones’ views of electoral reform coloured by the expected outcome in terms of power shifts.

  • I completely agree. It’s small parties that obviously can gain from PR the most.

    But you can also expect more, new parties in the long run. These parties can completely change the current balance and size of the tradional leading parties. Change is a good thing! Depending on the ability of any party to evolve and cater to the wishes of their constituenty is, if you like it or not, more democratic.

    Nice contradiction: small parties want more democracy (PR), big parties want less democracy (FPTP); what do the people want?

  • mushroom

    Apparently Harper and Flanagan did favour PR in the dark days of the right in the late 1990s when Manning and Clark refused to co-operate with each other (the article was found in the now-defunct edition of the Next City Magazine produced by Pollution Probe). Again, the CPC are opposed to now because they are in power. When the right fractures again, then the Liberals may find it advantageous to form a coalition with the centre right. This, of course, can also lead to cleavages as individual factions can form out of the Liberal party (ie. Brison-Ignatieff, Wappel-McTeague, Pat O’Brien-Grant Hill etc) that can represent itself in general elections.

  • Personally, I’ve always thought that a preferential system for existing ridings and a PR system for “lost first preference votes” would be very workable and achieve very democratic results; the problem is that MMPR is “confusing,” at least confusing enough that it requires a little interest to learn about. And, in terms of electoral reform, that unfortunately may be “too confusing.”

    [quote]And, as I keep telling Liberals, the charge that PR would bring about constant minority government is simply not true. The MMPR model (which you referred to) has different models, and the one I keep advocating – the one the Globe and Mail set down and endorsed in May 2005, which I have the original articles from and am willing to email to you or anyone else interested in reading them – has their system setup so that it doesnt eliminate majority government from happenning.[/quote]

    Er – but we should never be getting one party having a majority of seats, because we very rarely have any party get a majority of votes. To my mind, if an electoral system is handing a whopping majority to a large plurality of votes, it’s pretty flawed. I don’t like the idea of empowering the federal NDP, but I don’t see any way around it if we truly put our electoral house in order; votes and seats should be, well, proportional.

    (Regarding the CPC becoming a permanent minority with Preferential, PR, or MMPR)
    And uh, how would that be different from the last 120 years Jason?

    As I said, the difference is the lack of plausible coalition partners. Under FPTP, the CPC of today can dream of attracting enough undecided voters to put its 30-35% hard-core up to 40-45% – and a majority of seats, given today’s electoral geography. With preferential voting, PR, or MMPR, there will almost always be a workable Liberal-NDP or Liberal-NDP-Green coalition elected, with the CPC and BQ put in an extremely weak parliamentary position.

    That, to me, is the realpolitik reason why the CPC will never embrace substantive reform of FPTP. But quite apart from that, the usual pigheaded traditionalists will also whine and cry about leaving the grand ol’ traditions of Westminister (never mind that Britain has a mixed-member system in Scotland) and how we’re going to turn into an “Italian” or “French” parliament – well-worn anti-PR propaganda based on limited and jaundiced interpretations of European parliamentary history.

    If anyone is going to do this, it will be the Liberals and the NDP. I’m not holding my breath.

  • Miles Lunn said:
    [quote comment=”461″]I think the problem I have with PR are two-fold

    2. Our parties are way too partisan to create stable coalitions. What happens if the Liberals + NDP don’t equal a majority such as the last election (they were 47% of the popular vote) and since most have a 5% minimum threshold there would be no Green seats. That means we have to form a coalition with either the Bloc or Tories. [/quote]

    I’ll address some of this, Miles that others havent.

    1) As I keep harping at people but seems to get repeatedly forgotten about, it depends what type of PR setup you have. The Globe’s MMPR setup (which I again I will repeat, I have the original articles detailing how the Globe would have it work, if anyone wants to study it first before harping about how bad PR is) would not necessarily make majorities extinct. In fact, other then 2004-2006, which would have produced minorities in either the current setup or the Globe’s MMPR setup, you would only have had 1997’s election produce a minority governemnt. The rest that I looked at going back to 1984 would have stayed majority govt’s, but the MP representation would havebeen more equitable with the Canadian voters intentions.

    2. You’re not entirely correct about the Greens not having any representation because they were under 5%. They might have been under 5% nationally, but if we go back to 2004 in 2 provinces – BC and Alberta in the 2004 election- they were over the 5% threshhold, and since the Globe’s MMPR model is based on regional percentage of votes – not national – the Greens would have had representation in that election’s results (I havent looked at 2006 yet).

    Thats how the Globe addresses regional differences in votes that we have now – the MMPR system must be based on the individual percentage of votes per provnce, not nationally.

  • Layton was heavily promoting PR during his end-of-year press conference. But no, I doubt Harper would accept PR for the House of Commons, and as such, I doubt Layton will have the courage to make it a pre-condition for NDP support in other areas.

    The NDP talk about PR now and again, but they don’t seem to have the leadership to take a stand on the issue. If they don’t pull their finger out, the Greens will become the sole champions of PR.

  • [quote comment=”464″]”Our parties are way too partisan to create stable coalitions.”

    I agree parties are very partisan but that’s because of the current political adversarial system. As soon as the system changes, the parties will change too. Look at some Western European countries and you’ll recognise that parties, since they are forced to make coalitions, are a lot less partisan.

    In other words, partisan parties are the nature of the current beast (FPTP) not the problem of the future (PR)[/quote]

    I fully agree. And this is why we need PR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Locusta emersonia

    Perhaps all this talk is a little premature when elected MPs switch sides at the drop of a hat.
    What guarantee do voters have that they get what they vote for?
    There is more work to be done on Ethics and Accountability, something Harper was all for when he was running for election.
    Let’s see how that pans out for voters this time around.
    What difference would proportional representation make in the case of Vancouver-Kingsway for instance?
    Or Khan’s riding?

  • “Our parties are way too partisan to create stable coalitions.”

    I agree parties are very partisan but that’s because of the current political adversarial system. As soon as the system changes, the parties will change too. Look at some Western European countries and you’ll recognise that parties, since they are forced to make coalitions, are a lot less partisan.

    In other words, partisan parties are the nature of the current beast (FPTP) not the problem of the future (PR)

  • I wonder if any of my NDP blogging colleagues would care to speculate if Jack will try to make it a pre-condition for propping up Harper’s government.

    I’m not NDP, but I pointed out in this article that Jack promised that he would do exactly that.

  • I think the problem I have with PR are two-fold

    1. In a country as big as Canada local constituency representation is essential so any PR move should not involve making the ridings larger than they are. Sparsely populated regions in the North should still be allowed to have ridings with smaller population to ensure their interests aren’t ignored.

    2. Our parties are way too partisan to create stable coalitions. What happens if the Liberals + NDP don’t equal a majority such as the last election (they were 47% of the popular vote) and since most have a 5% minimum threshold there would be no Green seats. That means we have to form a coalition with either the Bloc or Tories. The Bloc is off course out of the picture, while I cannot see either the Tories or Liberals wanting to work together. In most other countries PR works since there is still a level of respect for other party’s ideas and willingness to compromise. Parties don’t choose divisive and doctinaire leaders like Harper.

  • Dan asked:
    [quote comment=”459″]I like the idea of PR in principle, but I don’t think it will happen, because you need to reopen the constitution to do it, don’t you?[/quote]

    Nope… only if you try to reform the Senate. Any electoral reform or voting change to how The House of Commons is elected can be done without reopening the Constitution.

  • Dan

    I like the idea of PR in principle, but I don’t think it will happen, because you need to reopen the constitution to do it, don’t you?

  • With the NDP polling numbers what they are I doubt they’ll want an election any time soon, which means they don’t have much of a chance of getting things pushed through or talked about that they’d like to see (though I’d like to see a discussion of PR). My big worry at the moment is that we’ll get a Clean Air act without enough teeth because a) Layton wants to look like he’s doing something and b) he’s worried about his own future should we have an election. The Conservatives have already shown that they want to do as little as possible on the envrionment and with the NDPs low polling numbers they might be able to do it, which would obviously make them happy.

  • While I’d love to see Layton make a strong push for PR, and I’m sure it’s something the NDP is at least bringing up in any talks with the Cons, there’s another problem aside from the unlikelihood of the Cons wanting to cooperate.

    So far, the provincial processes for electoral reform (1) have been based on a model of extended public consultation, and (2) haven’t yet produced any results. Based on that precedent, it’s unlikely that any negotiating partner would accept anything more than a federal citizens commission with a referendum on its recommendations (as opposed to an immediate change to a PR voting process). And in turn, the NDP would have to prop up a government through an extended span to allow for the commission/referendum process.

    With a leftish Lib minority, the NDP could more plausibly justify committing to that type of extended support – or with a relatively equal coalition it could make sure that the propping-up period isn’t too painful. But as things stand, even if the Cons were willing to convene a commission as their main concession to Layton, it doesn’t make sense either politically or in terms of policy outcomes for the NDP to agree to support an extended period of Harper government in exchange for a small chance of a commission and the public both reaching PR as the answer. (And I don’t think there’s much doubt that both the Libs and Cons would campaign hard against PR if it came down to a referendum.)

    As a result, it seems far too likely that it’ll take a province or two making serious electoral changes to get the ball rolling federally. Though I definitely hope the NDP both continues to push PR publicly, and does everything reasonably possible to get it on the table in any negotiations with other parties.

  • mushroom

    For PR to go through, it would require the formation of a Liberal-NDP minority government. This gives the Grits the option to form either a coalition government with either the NDP or the Greens. Then we wait for the CPC to split into three or four different factions and try to co-operate with the Red Tories or the Progressives. Given how close Morton came from becoming Premier paof Alberta, a divided CPC party could be a real possibility in the next ten years..

  • Jason Townsend said:
    [quote comment=”453″]

    One can easily imagine the NDP and Liberals teaming up to bring in preferential voting – which suits them both – and then later getting MMPR as the final evolution; but the CPC? Without the consolation of plausible minority partners, it’d practically sentence them to a permanent opposition.[/quote]

    And uh, how would that be different from the last 120 years Jason? 🙂 The PR system would at least address the regional voting disparities that have plagued this country, and give its voter better representation.
    [quote]
    Which I keep telling my fellow Liberal friends. Not that I much like the idea of governing hand in glove with the Federal NDP more than they do. 10 cheerfully useless Ralph Nader elections since ’68 (My benchmark for the CCF/NDP outliving its usefulness) is more than enough for me; Mouseland had been a costly parable for Canada.[/quote]

    And, as I keep telling Liberals, the charge that PR would bring about constant minority government is simply not true. The MMPR model (which you referred to) has different models, and the one I keep advocating – the one the Globe and Mail set down and endorsed in May 2005, which I have the original articles from and am willing to email to you or anyone else interested in reading them – has their system setup so that it doesnt eliminate majority government from happenning. Indeed, you’d have less minority government then you think, but you’d get the regions of Canada better represented as to how they voted.

  • Wilson, off-topic and out of curiousity, why dont you have your own blog?

    You seem to have plenty to say going around and leaving your talking points at various Progressive/Liberal/NDP and feminist blogs. You surely would find enough to say at your own site hosting your own blog.

  • I find the odds of a CPC-NDP PR deal vanishingly small; the BQ and CPC are the huge losers if FPTP ever gets tampered with.

    One can easily imagine the NDP and Liberals teaming up to bring in preferential voting – which suits them both – and then later getting MMPR as the final evolution; but the CPC? Without the consolation of plausible minority partners, it’d practically sentence them to a permanent opposition.

    Which I keep telling my fellow Liberal friends. Not that I much like the idea of governing hand in glove with the Federal NDP more than they do. 10 cheerfully useless Ralph Nader elections since ’68 (My benchmark for the CCF/NDP outliving its usefulness) is more than enough for me; Mouseland had been a costly parable for Canada.

  • wilson61

    oops…stuttered on Bloc s/b
    Bloc, NDP, Libs or all of the above?

  • wilson61

    Rumor has it that Charest will call an election within 48 hrs of the Cons budget.
    Will Duceppe want a fed & prov election at the same time? (both parties use the same election staff/volunteers)

    Dippers low in the polls, votes lost to the Libs and Greens, would Jack’s intent be to prop up the Cons or save his party from losing seats? He is not in a good position to make demands even tho he has the balance of power.
    The more Dipper votes that swing to the Libs, the less likely an election.

    I hardly think the Libs are ready to take their show on the road. But that’s only my opinion.

    So, who’s ready to prop up the Cons? Bloc, NDP, Bloc or all of the above?

  • Well, it sounds like a letter writing campaign to jack is in order.

  • Me too – if we could get a form of PR, that’d be great, and long overdue!!!!!!!!

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