Leadnow.ca recently polled its email contacts to declare whether they agree/disagree with the statement “The NDP, Liberals and Greens should work together to defeat Conservative incumbents. After the election, they should cooperate to pass electoral reform.” They posted their preliminary results with nearly 8000 votes, and 95% of respondents agreed, with most strongly agreeing.
If this were a scientific poll of public opinion, the results would be definitive.
Of course, it was not a scientific poll but rather a straw poll of the small subset of actively involved young progressive Canadians. Not exactly a representative sample. But I won’t quibble with the results other than to emphasize that all this shows is what Leadnow members think, not all progressives or Canadians.
Yet, this is still urging some to argue that Nathan Cullen’s plan is on the right track to unseat Harper and replace him with something better. A friend linked me to this post on Praxis Theatre by Michael Wheeler where he argues that we need to work outside partisan lines to defeat Harper. Specifically he uses the Leadnow poll and some comments by EKOS pollster Frank Graves to defend his position.
The Graves article is on iPolitics (which requires registration to view, so I can only quote the conclusions Wheeler posted) and claims several things:
- First that Canadians have strong negative views of political parties.
- Second, that only 44% of people disagree that political parties have outlived their usefulness, which means nothing when phrased as a double negative. Further, this number is isolated from the other options – how many people have no opinion or think parties are out-dated – which means that political party supporters may still be the plurality.
- Third, he concludes that NDP supporters are less supportive of the party system than Liberals and Conservatives. This doesn’t bode well for those hoping to get the Liberals to buy-in to any cooperation scheme though. It also likely reflects the fact that the NDP base has been only 10-15%, and it was only last year that Jack Layton brought the vote up to 30%. All this proves to me is that the NDP vote is softer than the (larger) Conservative vote or the (smaller) Liberal vote.
- Finally, Graves states that young, non-voting Canadians have less trust in the government. It’s not clear to me how joint nomination deals will improve trust in government, as this seems to be taken on faith.
Wheeler’s conclusion sounds noble too:
Moving beyond their own self-interest to that of the country may ironically be their best chance for electoral success. Increasingly, progressive Canadians seem to be demanding cooperation from their political opposition that will allow them to vote FOR and not AGAINST something, through a serious and credible movement to form a government that represents the majority of Canadians.
Yet, as I said back in October when I first considered Cullen’s joint nomination suggestions, this amounts to little more than uniting AGAINST something. The only reason people seem to be suggesting any cooperation is so that they can vote against the Harper Conservatives. It makes absolutely no sense to me how joint nominations somehow present a candidate you can vote for when each of those candidates could simply run in the general election.
Here’s a scenario: Imagine you get three progressive visions for Canada coming to the joint nomination meeting in a Conservative held riding. The first argues that inequality is the issue of the day and that we must raise taxes on the 1%, lift seniors out of poverty, and reduce tuition fees. The second argues that the environment is the biggest issue. We should review the Enbridge pipeline, invest in Green Energy, and offer more investment to green energy, while not hampering the economy with unnecessarily high taxes. The third candidate wants to see a balanced approach of fiscal responsibility with social liberties. The government should implement smarter solutions to today’s problems while also seeking to reduce the deficit. Each candidate agrees on electoral reform as the first priority and that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have done untold damage to our country.
Because of the supporters who show up to vote (or who cast their ballot online or by mail) one of these people becomes the riding’s “progressive” candidate. It turns out during the campaign though that this candidate is actually against abortion, leaving many progressive pro-choice voters in the riding with a dilemma. Do they support a candidate who may roll back women’s rights (imagine that the despite the electoral cooperation, Harper still wins another government and one of his MPs brings forward a private member’s bill against abortion) or do they stay home on election day and protest the situation?
While this example is extreme, there are a number of sitting Liberal MPs who are pro-life, and similar issues will be just as passionate for voters in any riding. Some right-Liberals strongly oppose the NDP as neo-Communists, while some New Democrats see the Liberals as Conservative-light. Some Greens have left-wing economics, while others are quite right-wing – the only thing truly uniting their party is a concern for the environment.
In every riding will exist partisans who will not vote for one party or another. Many will switch to the Conservatives before they vote for a different party as well. Progressive votes are not transferable.
By reducing the number of options on a ballot, we necessarily reduce our democracy, and force strategic voting against someone rather than for someone.
The implementation issues
Leaving aside for a moment the fact that joint nominations won’t work if they happen, let’s also recognize that they probably won’t even be able to happen. The entire idea rests on getting each party to agree to allow these meetings. While a local riding association may choose to hold this meeting with their rivals, there is no guarantee that the parties will respect this decision. Each party has the ability to parachute candidates, so unless there is agreement from the leadership of each party, this idea is dead before it lifts off. To date, only one NDP leadership candidate has expressed any support for this idea and no one from the Liberals has agreed to it.
And as Denny Holmwood points out, even if Cullen wins the NDP leadership, he may not be able to implement the policy in his own party. It may be necessary for him to actually ask the members of the party for a constitutional amendment for this. Whether such a motion would pass is an open question as delegates to last year’s convention defeated a resolution to “reject any proposals to merge with the Liberal Party.”
Finally, Alice at Pundit’s Guide dissected the nitty gritty of what would actually happen if there was buy in from the NDP and the Liberals. She remains very sceptical of the entire situation. I strongly suggest reading her post, as she does the most thorough take-down of the entire proposal.
This post is already too long at over 1000 words. In a coming post I’ll try to lay out a defense of partisanship and the role that political parties have in our democracy.
I want to see Harper lose but there are no shortcuts to progressive victory. We have to actually get ready to do some real work to earn people’s votes.