Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Electoral cooperation to defeat Stephen Harper - it's undemocratic and it won't work

The Case Against an NDP, Liberal, Green Coalition


British wartime election campaign poster
Teaming up to defeat Harper's Conservatives is undemocratic and won't work.

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday February 21, 2012 
"War without allies is bad enough -- with allies it is hell."
- British World War II air marshal Sir John Slessor

There are only two problems facing those who want an "electoral coalition" to defeat the Stephen Harper Conservatives in the next election. It's undemocratic. And it won't work.
Despite that, social media group Leadnow.ca is promoting efforts for the New Democratic, Liberal and Green parties to "cooperate" to field a single alternative candidate to defeat the federal Conservatives in key ridings and end the Harper government.

And Internet activist group Avaaz.org goes one step farther, even advocating in an email that its supporters consider joining the Conservative Party to oppose Harper policies from the inside, as well as join the other parties to push to "make democracy work."

Both groups support NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen's idea that the NDP hold joint nominating meetings with the Liberals and Green Party in Conservative-held ridings for the 2015 election.

Despite their enthusiasm, the electoral cooperation approach has failed repeatedly in the past, most recently in last year's vote that saw Harper win his first majority.

And how do Leadnow and Avaaz expect to make democracy work better by reducing the existing options available to voters?

At any cost?

The premise behind these concepts is simple -- the Harper Conservatives are so evil and permanently destructive to Canada that nothing else but stopping them matters.
Democratic choice and the real ideological differences between the parties are to be sacrificed to stop Harper.

Even during the Second World War, all parties ran candidates against each other in the 1940 and1945 federal elections -- surely no one can say Canada today requires such a draconian step as eliminating some parties' candidates?

Using dubious scare tactics to force Canadians to accept lowest common denominator politics is reprehensible.

What Harper is doing is highly objectionable to those who voted against him. But the Conservatives earned a mandate in an election where strategic voting to block them was widely advocated and failed.

And these groups forget about right-wing policies held by both the Liberals and Greens -- both are deemed "progressive" -- because they aren't Conservatives. Many NDP voters don't share that perspective.

It's as if these groups effectively want to create a new centrist political party out of the three existing and quite different ones.

No guarantees

Of course, that's not the way Leadnow, with 80,000 members, and Avaaz, with over 600,000, see it.

Their goal is to terminate the Harper government, followed by some undefined "electoral reform" after the next election.

Then the Conservatives would never form government again and everyone -- except Tories -- would live happily ever after.

But it won't work.

First, electoral cooperation plans have always failed miserably.
In the 2011 election, several groups promoted strategic voting -- endorsing the candidate they felt had the best chance of defeating a Conservative, or retaining a close opposition seat threatened by a Tory.

Project Democracy says over 405,000 people consulted their strategic voting website, and many others heard about their efforts.

But while Project Democracy targeted 84 ridings, they were successful in only 26 of them, where non-Conservatives were elected. Conservatives won the other 58 ridings -- or 69 per cent.

Interestingly, Project Democracy admits it endorsed the "wrong" candidate in 11 ridings, meaning they promoted the candidate who it turned out had less of a chance to defeat a Conservative than another opposition candidate. Oops.

Another strategic voting group called Catch 22 targeted 60 ridings but saw opposition members elected in just 15 of them -- and in only four of those 60 were Conservative incumbent MPs actually defeated.

These awful results demonstrate the flawed approach.

And it's not just the last election that's the problem. It's all of them.

Myth of the 'unity' candidate

Political analyst Alice Funke has studied the electoral cooperation concept at length at her informative Pundits' Guide website and concludes: "I believe there is already so much evidence that these tactics don't work."

Second, it's highly unlikely that the NDP or Liberal parties will agree to the joint nomination proposal.

Aside from it requiring party constitutional changes, a majority of members would probably reject the idea.

Third, as Aristotle said: "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

In other words, you can't simply add up Liberal, Green and NDP votes in any riding and presume they will all go to a "unity" candidate against the Conservative.

Right of centre Liberal supporters would likely rather vote Conservative than NDP or Green if a candidate from either of those parties was jointly nominated instead of a Liberal, or simply not vote.

Within the NDP, many members could never vote Liberal either, should someone from that party be their only offered choice.

Take a good look at some of the policies of past federal Liberal governments -- like cutting 

Employment Insurance eligibility, eliminating the deficit by dramatically reducing health care funding transfers to the provinces, cutting the public service or taking military action in Afghanistan and it's easy to see why NDP voters wouldn't jump on board.

Some Green voters would equally have trouble with either an NDP or Liberal candidate in the joint nomination scenario.

And NDP voters now know that their party would never have won official opposition status if 2011 electoral cooperation efforts had been successful, since the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois would have won more seats as a result.

'Huge for us' says Cullen

On a personal level, as a New Democrat supporter, I don't want to be told that the NDP won't field a candidate so I have to vote for a Liberal or Green running in my riding.

In Vancouver-Quadra I couldn't bring myself to vote for current MP Joyce Murray, a former Gordon Campbell-B.C. Liberal cabinet minister who gutted the environment ministry and supported other slash and burn policies by that government.

Could electoral cooperation lead to "independent" NDP, Liberal or Green candidates running against the wishes of their respective parties? Or could new parties or true independents be the result of a narrowing of voter choices?

But NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen, the B.C. Member of Parliament for Skeena-Bulkley Valley, isn't convinced by these arguments and thinks Canadians are ready for his plan, particularly after winning support from Leadnow and Avaaz.

"These two groups coming on board is huge for us," Cullen told the Canadian Press last week. "They have networks that go far, far beyond normal party structures... The sheer number, that's absolutely staggering."

So far an online poll by Leadnow called “Cooperate for Canada” has accumulated about 15,000 signatures calling on the NDP, Liberals and Greens to cooperate in key ridings to defeat the Conservatives. The NDP membership is expected to easily top 100,000 as of the Feb. 18 cut off date to be able to vote in the leadership contest.

"During the next election, the NDP, Liberals and Greens can cooperate in key ridings to defeat Stephen Harper's government, and then pass electoral reform to make Canada's democracy work better for everyone," Leadnow says.

Cullen's view of how much support these groups have may be correct and certainly should he win the leadership, no one could deny he would have a mandate to explore the concept within the NDP. (Note: I respect Cullen's energetic campaign but I have endorsed Peggy Nash, who rejects his proposal.)

Don't count on 'electoral reform'

There's still another problem waiting post-election, should all these difficulties be overcome and the electoral coalition be successful.

The second part of the plan is to introduce some type of electoral reform to Canada's current First Past The Post voting system, which Leadnow and Avaaz condemn.

But the record of success for electoral change referenda is as bad as that for electoral cooperation -- abysmal failure.

Every recent electoral system change proposal have been defeated -- the Single Transferable Vote was rejected by voters in both 2005 and 2009 in British Columbia, where I was president of No STV, the official opponent group.

While STV received more than 50 per cent support in 2005, it failed to meet the supermajority required by the B.C. government for change. In a second 2009 referendum, STV was overwhelming rejected, with a 61 per cent vote against it to 39 per cent in favour.

Voters in Ontario in 2007 gave First Past The Post strong 63 per cent backing versus 37 per cent support for a Mixed Member Proportional system.

And Prince Edward Island also handily defeated Mixed Member Proportional by a 63.5 per cent to 36.5 per cent vote in 2005.

Those decisive rejections in three different provinces should give pause to those campaigning to combine 2015 electoral cooperation with a subsequent change to proportional representation.

When given clear information about alternative electoral systems, Canadian voters have decisively chosen to keep First Past The Post.

By tying the losing record of electoral reform to the failed results of strategic voting, the groups advocating in favour of electoral cooperation may have found the surest way of actually defeating it.
 [Tyee]

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. He was president of NO STV in the 2005 and 2009 provincial referenda on electoral systems and strategist for Fight HST in the 2011 provincial referenda on the Harmonized Sales Tax. 

29 comments:

bewlay said...

Well Bill the status quo is a failure in this democracy where lying to the public is allowed and imaginary mandate pieces of legislation are unveiled without warning. It is precisely the current party system that is so undemocratic that I think is to blame, so I’ll be looking for electoral reform regardless of a herd mentality. Unless a new party emerges that is ready to tackle electoral reform and special interest party politics I’ll be picking my poison based on defeating the Cons. It is the parties that are undemocratic (see whipped votes, etc.) don’t blame the folks who are sick of that crap for voting strategically, hmph!

Anonymous said...

Who was it that said the definition of insanity was, "Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different resault".
Sounds a lot like you Bill.

Anonymous said...

"Well Bill the status quo is a failure in this democracy where lying to the public is allowed and imaginary mandate pieces of legislation are unveiled without warning."

If you'd pay attention when the legislation is forcoming, you'd be better prepared.


"It is precisely the current party system that is so undemocratic that I think is to blame, so I’ll be looking for electoral reform regardless of a herd mentality."

On your terms?


"Unless a new party emerges that is ready to tackle electoral reform and special interest party politics I’ll be picking my poison based on defeating the Cons. "

That's your choice it is a democracy. But replace them with what? The arrogant Liberals? The NDP which caters to labour and laughly calls itself the party of the people?


"It is the parties that are undemocratic (see whipped votes, etc.) don’t blame the folks who are sick of that crap for voting strategically, hmph!"

Well it goes beyond that. The BC NDP for example does not allow amendments to be made on policy resolutions from the floor (or at least they did not previously).

The NDP has preset seats for Labour.

They also have an affirmative action policy so as to "enhance" the chances of women being nominated at the expense of real constituency level democratic choices.

And the Occupy Movement wasn't exactly democratic either. Hmmpf

Anonymous said...

NDP stuborness and stupidity on this issue will ensure decades of right wing Tory rule. The attacks against the poor, seniors, the environment and more will continue unabated UNLESS the centrist and left of center parties merge. Its as simple as that.

Anonymous said...

The one thing I don't understand is you don't address the real problem of a lack of proportional representation?.. There is no doubt it's a major issue.

Don't you think support for reforms in the past hasn't been won moreso because people are ignorant?... From what I see day to day, people don't even understand how our parliamentary democracy works, never mind the issues and why it badly needs to be reformed...

Love your column usually, surprised you left such a gap this time.

bewlay said...

If you'd pay attention when the legislation is forcoming, you'd be better prepared.

Can you give me an example?

On your terms?

What makes you think it would only be on my terms are you assuming here or are you just spinning?

That's your choice it is a democracy. But replace them with what? The arrogant Liberals? The NDP which caters to labour and laughly calls itself the party of the people?

I’ll take anything less foreboding than the non-progressive current version of conservatives, thanks for asking though (apply this comment to the rest of your responses). That is why I said "picking my poison"...


Have a nice day eh or is it A... : )

Anonymous said...

Why is preferential balloting acceptable for the NDP leadership race but not for choosing our MPs?

Anonymous said...

Since when is Harper democratic? Our Civil Rights and Liberties, have been taken away from us. Our Democracy and Freedom vanishes more with each passing day.

Harper has meetings behind closed doors. Everything must be kept secret. He controls the media. Harper hates his dastardly deeds to be posted on the internet, so he hides all his secrets. He doesn't even permit, full debates in the House. We know he will force everything through anyway.

Harper has handed us to China, on a silver platter. What will be left of this country, before we can kick Harper out of office? Nothing, that's what. The same as Campbell did to BC, before we could get rid of him.

Democracy in this country, my @$$.

e.a.f. said...

I don't like Harper or his policies. I would like to see them go but if I had to vote for a party representative who I did not believe in & didn't come from the party I support, I would sit home rather than vote.

I do not believe 3 parties supporting only 1 candidate will work & the Tories will get re-elected.

For democracy to work people need options. Currently there are the Block, Tories, NDP, Liberals, Green. Pick one and work with it.

Harper got his majority and now we have to live with it. There will be another election and people can vote him out. If they don't they get what they deserve.

The real problems with Canadian politics is the majority of people do not go out and vote. If the majority did go out and vote we would have M.P.s who were more representative of the community at large. Representational government will not solve the problem.

Anonymous said...

"I don't like Harper or his policies. I would like to see them go but if I had to vote for a party representative who I did not believe in & didn't come from the party I support, I would sit home rather than vote."

That's your choice and unfortunately many take the same line. You'll never get a politician that you'll agree with 100% 100% of time. Too often people don't vote and yet are very loud in screeching about things they hate about the democratically elected government.

The same could be said if there was an NDP government federally, or if Canada went back to a federal Liberal government.

"I do not believe 3 parties supporting only 1 candidate will work & the Tories will get re-elected. "

It won't. There are too many idealogical differences between the federal Liberals and the NDP for starters.

"For democracy to work people need options. Currently there are the Block, Tories, NDP, Liberals, Green. Pick one and work with it."

The Bloc is a spent force. Except in some areas of Quebec.

"Harper got his majority and now we have to live with it."

That's the way it works. The same could be said if there is a Brian Topp NDP government in the future.


"There will be another election and people can vote him out. If they don't they get what they deserve."

Exactly.

"The real problems with Canadian politics is the majority of people do not go out and vote."

True. many just jsut sit on their fat ass and bitch and complain to blogs.

"If the majority did go out and vote we would have M.P.s who were more representative of the community at large."

Correct.

"Representational government will not solve the problem."

Only and helping within the party of choice and voting will. So get off your fat ass and get goin.

Complaining to a blog isn't going to help.

There's still time to volunteer for the NDP Leadership Candidate of choice. You can sign up as a member (but not vote), but at least you can participate in the process, if you're so inclined.

Anonymous said...

"Since when is Harper democratic? Our Civil Rights and Liberties, have been taken away from us. Our Democracy and Freedom vanishes more with each passing day."

Oh phuleez, you have alot more rights than in many many countries.
Same old crap whining and bitchin.

If you want you can go to Inuvik if ya want, or Churchill Falls.


"Harper has meetings behind closed doors. Everything must be kept secret."

The federal Liberals and NDP have closed door meetings too.

"He controls the media. Harper hates his dastardly deeds to be posted on the internet, so he hides all his secrets."

So do the other parties.

"He doesn't even permit, full debates in the House."

Yes he does. The NDP here in BC used closure a few times too as did the federal Liberals. Nothing new there. How long do these debates keep goin' on and on?

"We know he will force everything through anyway."

As did the federal Liberals, and will the BC NDP once they get to be government.

"Harper has handed us to China, on a silver platter. What will be left of this country, before we can kick Harper out of office?"

Quite a bit. Those exports create jobs. Lots of them. Look on the waterfront and the guys that drive the log trucks.

"Nothing, that's what. The same as Campbell did to BC, before we could get rid of him."

Bullshit.

"Democracy in this country, my @$$."

If you don't like it, the United States is just 30 minutes away from downtown. Check in at the Blaine border crossing and claim yourself as a refugee.

You'll find the U.S. exactly the Land of the Free either.

Anonymous said...

" Those exports create jobs."
Yup...to China!

Anonymous said...

"You'll find the U.S. exactly the Land of the Free either."
Not even a proper sentence. Fail

Anonymous said...

"So do the other parties."
Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't Harper and his minions currently in charge of killing Canada and our freedoms?

Anonymous said...

Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't Harper and his minions currently in charge of killing Canada and our freedoms?

Wrong. Harper isn't killing Canada
at all. Compared to many other countries including the United States, we're in pretty good fiscal shape.

What freedoms is Harper supposedly killing? The freedom to post kiddie diddling on the internet?

Are you in favour of that?

Anonymous said...

Yup...to China!

So where do we export our natural resources, genius?

I doubt Tonga and Fiji would have a large market for our trees and other resources.

But why not go there and try?

At your own expense.

Anonymous said...

" The freedom to post kiddie diddling on the internet?"

"Are you in favour of that?"
Get your mind out of the gutter, perv.

I am talking about a debt free country. What the hell does that have to do with porn?

"So where do we export our natural resources, genius?"

Once again , I repeat...CHINA.

Anonymous said...

" The freedom to post kiddie diddling on the internet?"

"Are you in favour of that?"
Get your mind out of the gutter, perv.

Well look in the mirror if you
want freedoms to the extent of
idiots being able to post kiddie diddling on the internet.

I am talking about a debt free country. What the hell does that have to do with porn?

You never ever said anything about economics. Since when does debt free have to do with the lack of freedoms??

We have had balanced budgets and still had our freedoms intact. Nothing will change on that aspect other than reducing deficits and debts, which is exactly what the Harper goverment is working towards.


"So where do we export our natural resources, genius?"

Once again , I repeat...CHINA.

yeah so? Basic marketing. You sell where there is demand. Marketing 101.

We're not selling enough to the United States because of their trade limitations (read: freedom to export uninhibited) imposed on Canadian softwood.

So why wait for that to change when we can make a few dollars to sell to other countries. Including China.

In fact a few NDP MLAs have travelled to China for business contacts, and yes even Mike Harcourt travelled to Japan as Premier to do exactly the same thing.

There were also raw log exports when the NDP was in power then too.

Anonymous said...

Well, after reading and commenting on the "Robocalls" news(see CBC website) by our Official Opposition NDP in the House of Commons,I am heartened,Yeh!!!They are doing their job as Opposition.
I have this thought!

Let's all join the NDP (there has been a significant jump in membership in the past few months)I'm sure you would agree that this would be an old fashioned way of "political cooperation" eh, Bill? Although I am glad Nathan Cullen is brainstorming ways to reorganize legitimate opposition.He is standing against Gateway Pipeline.We need to amplify his voice!

I have just done that within the last week. I live in Chilliwack and I want to work for a great NDP provincial candidate for this district in the coming provincial bi-election; Gwen O'Mahony. She came in second in the polls in the recent Spring 2011 federal election when she ran for the Chuck Strahl seat. And that is marvelous in a pretty conservative riding!
So when I phoned Green Party headquarter to reluctantly resign my Green Party 2011 membership, the sweet voice at the end of the line told me not to worry about explaining because they have had many calls recently doing the same thing; moving to the NDP.
I guess there is more than one way to skin a conservative cat. I can't believe I said that because I'm an animal lover but certainly NOT proud of Bill-30 and Mr. Toews approval of CSIS using torture information.

Anonymous said...

Well that's your choice. It is a democracy.

Just so you respect others who do not share your views.

If you support the BC NDP, be prepared to defend it.

Anonymous said...

"Just so you respect others who do not share your views."
We promise not to troll Liberal blogs amd CKNW. Unlike others.

"If you support the BC NDP, be prepared to defend it."
If the New Democrats turn out to be more useless than the Libs, I would hope that all independently thinking persons would chuck them all out like old newspapers. Just like the current bunch will getting their walking papers next year.
Independent voters will be able to separate fact from fiction. Elected officials failing the electorate should be removed regardless of their political stripes, not endlessly supported by sheeple.

Mark Alan said...

Hey Bill, just a quick question, do you ever get the notion that these attempts to achieve electoral cooperation may be a sign that people of many different political stripes are frustrated by the current electoral system, and don't feel like their votes count?

It would seem that many people are frustrated that the current system doesn't allow a majority of votes to be reflected in government, and so are looking for alternative ways of achieving this within the current electoral system. And yet, as you note, to do so is undemocratic under our current system.

What do you propose? I look forward to your response.

Bill Tieleman said...

Mark - politics is about choices and in every riding, every election voters make them. Regardless of the electoral system, voters are smart enough to figure it out - or don't care.

Proportional representation advocates realize that PR systems don't boost voter participation - the only thing that does is mandatory voting - which I advocate and have written about.

Every electoral system change referendum has failed in Canada, as I note in this column. So the frustration you note isn't held by the majority - just look at the BC, Ontario and PEI results.

Politics isn't a kids' birthday party where everyone ones - it's a substitute for war - and a good one considering the alternative.

I work in coalitions often - with people I don't agree with on a lot of big issues - but I don't see that model working when you remove the democratic right to choose a different party.

We could have an American style system with just two viable parties but I don't want that - at least not with such unpalatable choices.

Mark Alan said...

appreciate the response Bill. You don't think the democratic right to choose a different party is lost in a system that discounts 60% (or more) of the vote with first past the post?

i certainly don't think everyone should win, and i'm not hoping for better voter turnout. simply put, i'd advocate for the composition of parliaments to be a more accurate reflection of the actual votes they achieved, and a system that would require politicians to garner more broad based support, and maybe engage in some consensus building with one another once in awhile.

i find your comment about how voters are smart enough to figure things out regardless of the electoral system interesting, given that the No STV campaign was all about how confusing this would have made things for all us smart voters.

Anonymous said...

garner more broad based support, and maybe engage in some consensus building with one another once in awhile.

In BC politics? Surely that has to be a joke. Since when did any NDP supporters consensus build out of their own enviroment, and the same can be said for the conservatives?

It's never ever been done. The only consensus was that between the NDP federally and the federal Liberals. That ended up as a disaster.

Anonymous said...

given that the No STV campaign was all about how confusing this would have made things for all us smart voters.

The smart voters defeated the STV. It was the wrong model for British Columbia. I would have supported STV if it was a one member one jurisdiction with preferential ballot just as what is used in Australia.

The STV proponments really messed up big time.

There is no inherent need for multiple member ridings under an STV system. That was an add-on that didn't need to exist.

Anonymous said...

Bill, I wonder if you still support Peggy Nash now that she has come out strongly in favour of electoral reform?

Bill Tieleman said...

To Anon above - of course I still support Peggy Nash fir NDP leader! I've not yet found a leadership candidate - or human being - who I totally agree with.

I'm not a one-issue person either - I go on leadership attributes, political perspective, experience, personality & gut feeling to decide - and I have confidence Peggy I'd the right person for the job.

Bernard von Schulmann said...

I have never understood this idea of trying to bring the NDP, Greens and Liberals together.

Active Federal Liberals have always been right of centre supporters in BC, Sask and Manitoba that have had the NDP as their primary target.

Polls have shown over and over again that the majority of Green supporters would not be voting if there was not a Green on the ballot. Beyond that split about 60/40 left/right

As to the strategic voting sites, their claims of having influence in the ridings their choice won is almost always not true. The decision to endorse the candidate most likely to win against a Conservative means they are skewing the results in their favour. If you chose the best chances of winning, some of them will be right. Even then their track record sucks.

No one should go into an election with the intention of defeating someone, you have to go into with the goal of electing a government you want.