Green and growing

My story about being a Green politician in Canada, and why it was the best thing I ever did.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

On the fractured left

There have been several articles lately in the mainstream media suggesting that the only way for the Liberals to regain power is to unite the left by forming some kind of arrangement with the NDP. The argument goes that the Conservative party is in power because of uniting the right, and therefore, the left must get united as well, or wait for the right to disintegrate again. I disagree with this argument.

The problem here is that we look at the results through the lens of our electoral system (FPTP - first past the post). In this system, there is a constant pressure for parties to move to the centre of the political spectrum ... to become "big tent" parties. The bigger the tent, the more successful the party. Hence, the reason that uniting disparate points of view is regarded as a winning strategy.

But what really happens when a party moves to the centre? It compromises on the values it holds because it is trying to be attractive to other voters who would otherwise be turned off by some policy or another. Parties work to find out what people want, and then adjust their communication to fit the story that people want to hear. In my opinion, this leads to higher and higher levels of deception. Remember "support the troops"? Well, ask someone who is living on a military pension or disability, and see how they feel about how we are supporting the troops!

With FPTP, a small shift in support can result in a massive swing in seats. This is the problem of the false democracy .. the votes that are represented in the House of Commons are only a small fraction of the total votes cast. Liberals in Alberta, Conservatives in Toronto, and Greens everywhere are not represented at all ... their votes did not count.

With proportional representation (PR), a small shift in support remains a small shift in representation. That is the beauty and elegance of PR. Parties have to change their approach to be successful in PR. They are well advised to say exactly what their beliefs are during the election. After the election, they need to seek compromise and consensus among all those elected. They need to listen to the people and how they spoke through their votes, because only in PR can people vote their conscience and know that it will count. An election actually gives us some good information about what people want. We cannot know that now, because so many people vote for the party they hate in order to prevent the party they despise from winning.

So what should the Liberals do instead of uniting the left? Get behind PR. The NDP supports PR, and so does the BQ. All three have done nothing to move this agenda forward. Now is the time. Do it! The Conservatives would be well advised to get behind this as well. It is only a matter of time before a Tea Party style rift occurs, and the last time this happened (1993), the Progressive Conservatives went from 170 seats to 2 seats in a single election. The big swing cuts both ways.

Remember, any system that is not proportional to voting preference is, by definition, non-proportional. Why would we want a non-proportional voting system? We only need to look south to see how well a two-party see-saw works.


At 11:15 AM, Anonymous dsbarclay said...

Its a great argument. Can't really disagree in principle.

Only problem is that the Liberals still have their 'culture of entitlement'. They are content to just wait until its 'their turn' to govern and when they take over, they don't want the hassle of real democracy, they will be happy to take a 'majority' with just 40% of the vote. They don't care what happens to Canada in the meantime. If fact, the worse it gets, the sooner their turn comes up.

The only progressive parties are the Greens and the NDP. That's the only chance for PR. I know its heresy for Green party members, but maybe they should unite and form a real opposition.

At 12:15 PM, Blogger Jim Johnston said...

@dsbarclay, thanks for the comments.

You make some good points. I think the culture of entitlement stems from the "two party" governance. Since my thesis is that the "two party" outcome is a consequence of the electoral system, I would suggest that the notion of entitlement originates in the electoral system as well.

I agree wholeheartedly in your statement that "the worse it gets, the sooner their turn comes up". It is a sad state of affairs.

As for the Greens and NDP teaming up, that is a hard one for me to visualize. There is so much acrimony and partisanship between parties, there would need to be a lot of discussion and compromise. Even then, it "electability" is the issue, then the new party must embrace the issues of the centre, for without the support of the centre, you cannot win under FPTP.


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