I guess you have to give credit to Nathan Cullen for finding an issue to distinguish his candidacy. Although, from the reaction of a number of NDP partisans I know on Facebook, including my own, this choice likely won’t help him defeat Brian Topp, Thomas Mulcair, or Paul Dewar (he may still have a chance over Romeo Saganash and Martin Singh).
NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen today said he is seeking a mandate from New Democrats to co-operate with progressives across the political spectrum. Specifically, Cullen said as leader, he would seek joint nomination meetings with progressive, federalist parties in some Conservative-held seats.
This issue came up a lot in Alberta provincial politics. Back in 2009, Alvin Finkel and the Democractic Renewal Project attempted to hijack my local NDP constituency association. His goal would be to refuse to nominate a candidate (or somehow convince the Alberta Liberals to). He tied the parachuted pro-NDP candidate.
Back then I stated a few problems with this non-compete strategy:
- There’s no evidence that this works, it didn’t work for Elizabeth May [in 2008], and even the Conservative Party doesn’t get as many votes as the Reform and PCs got individually.
- Not all Liberals will vote NDP (and vice versa). Many New Democrats will likely stay home or vote Green before drop a red ballot, and many Grits may even support the Tories over the other options.
- Even worse, each party has their partisans in every riding, and if they have no candidate their support may dry up. That means even less money for some parties that are dried up. Not a good way to shore up financial support that will maintain a political movement.
- I still don’t buy Finkel’s argument that there’s an "illusion of choice" and stand by the "less choice is less democracy" mantra. While our system still needs overhauling, removing choice is not something I agree with.
While I wrote those points for Alberta, they hold just as well for the federal scene.
Even more importantly, had the NDP, Liberals, and Greens carved the country up in advance of this past May’s election, the NDP likely would have failed to materialize as many seats and Harper would likely have had an even stronger majority. It was only in mid-April that Quebec started to shift support to the NDP, and suddenly a wave of seats opened across the country. Were there no NDP candidates in those ridings, the Conservatives or Bloc could have held on to more.
Even consider Vancouver’s municipal scene where a new party has put forward a mayoral candidate because they believe Vision Vancouver has shifted too far to the right and COPE is stuck in its non-competition agreement. Similar sentiments could easily be felt at the national level – this is why people already vote Green.
Perhaps Mr. Cullen will reverse course on this idea. Post-election cooperation is fine, up to and including coalition governments, but this pre-election backroom shuffling shuts more people out of democracy. But at least he’ll have Pat Martin’s vote.