Monday, November 02, 2009

Former NDP Vancouver Centre candidate Michael Byers proposes NDP-Liberal pseudo coalition in next election

Ex-NDP candidate and political commentator Michael Byers has some strange ideas - and floats them in strange places

The former New Democratic Party candidate in Vancouver Centre, Michael Byers, has proposed a pseudo coalition between the NDP and the Liberal Party in the next election to defeat Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

The proposal is odd enough, given that Canadians have already overwhelmingly said "no thanks" to the idea of an electoral coalition, and odder still coming from a former and possibly future NDP candidate.

And more oddly still, Byers proposes it in the Toronto Star - which has at best a very limited circulation in British Columbia.

Nonetheless, let's look at the flaws in Byers' arguments for a one-time electoral "ceasefire agreement" between the NDP and Liberals.

First, the obvious one - this is a coalition that most Canadians reject. The polling was crystal clear and so was the country's reaction - no thanks!

Second, I doubt that either the Liberals or NDP would agree with this idea: "The Liberals and NDP should agree to not run candidates against each other in the next campaign."

Okay, maybe the Liberals would agree - and Byers spells out exactly why:

"In each riding, the party whose candidate fared worst in the last election would pull its current candidate out, or refrain from nominating one.

Both parties would win more seats, with the Liberals potentially forming a majority government."

Hmmm. Let's just suppose you are a strategist in NDP leader Jack Layton's office and are assigned to think this one through.

Let's see the likely results: Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff becomes the Prime Minister, the Liberals get all the cabinet seats, Stephen Harper is Opposition Leader and Jack Layton is, well, still Jack Layton, leader of Parliament's fourth party, albeit with significantly less influence over national affairs due to the LIberal majority.

Brilliant idea! Thanks for proposing it Michael, Jack's office would reply after a coffee and donut's worth of contemplation, but don't call us, we'll call you!

But here's my real problem with Byer's big idea - unlike the professor of political science, I don't see common cause between the Liberals and the NDP.

From the Liberals' opposition to anti-scab legislation to their leader's objectionable views on the invasion of Iraq, to that party's continued support for the war in Afghanistan and Canadian troops role there, to a whole host of other policy differences, it should be clear the NDP and the Liberals take very different approaches to key issues.

Then there's the Green Party, which he helpfully throws into the mix too.

Byers would give 5 Green Party also-rans, including hapless leader Elizabeth May, suitcases nearly unpacked in her third different riding, an almost free ride to Parliament as well.

But I've missed the real reason for this Grand Coalition for one election - all parties involved would agree to hold a national referendum on - wait for it - proportional representation.

Yes, I know, the very same idea rejected soundly by voters in BC in May and previously in both Ontario and PEI.

So, in summary, Byers proposes that NDPers agree to give up the ghost to let the Liberals form a potential majority government with Count Iffy as the prime minister, open the door to a handful of loser candidates from the Greens to win because they face no opposition but the Conservatives and will then content themselves to be fourth party with the Liberals holding all the power.

And this from a former NDP candidate!

Presumably professor Byers has a different understanding of how all this looks from his vantage point, but from what I see this would be a disaster for the NDP.

It's also possible that the Conservatives would benefit from a negative reaction to the Entente Cordiale - ordinary Canadians of both Liberal and NDP persuasion so unhappy with being deprived of their right to chose between what they see as real differences between the two opposition parties that the rebel and - shudder - vote Conservative for one time only to teach both other parties a painful lesson.

Nonetheless, the one result I can't see is the political utopia Byers hopes for.

And that's why - fortunately - it's extremely unlikely the NDP will take up his offer.



Rod Smelser said...

I put this question to Michael Byers. Does his op-ed piece mean that he will not seek or accept the NDP nomination to run against Hedy Fry in Vancouver Centre in the next federal election, because that would appear to be the logical conclusion to be drawn from his column.

Panamajack said...

On the PR front; hasn't electoral reform been on the Federal NDP's policy platform for ages?

Maureen said...

Voters would punish any party entering into such a blatant attempt to try to rig the outcome of an election. Plus his proposal leaves one inconvenient truth out of the equation - for a significant portion of NDP voters, their second choice is neither Liberal nor Green.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Bill.

Last year's coalition has already cost one party leader his job. Layton and Iffy should be extremely careful before entering into this kind of arrangement again.

If there's going to be any coalition, let it be between the Western and Quebec Separatists.

Furthermore, I'd like to see Mike Byers in the House instead of in the newspapers. He has a much better grasp of the real issues than the riding's current representative - the Queen of the H1N1 Queue.

Anonymous said...

"From the Liberals' opposition to anti-scab legislation ... to that party's continued support for the war in Afghanistan and Canadian troops role there, to a whole host of other policy differences, it should be clear the NDP and the Liberals take very different approaches to key issues."

Bill, did you know that the Manitoba and SK NDP also opposed anti-scab legislation and former Manitoba NDP premier Doer supported the mission in Afghanistan?

Does that make them 'orange' Liberal parties?

Mark Crawford said...

I agree that Michael Byers has a better grasp of the issues than he does of the politics of this. But it just shows what a nice position the Tories are in. THe opposition is far more fragmented than "the right". Attempts to unify or even just have a cese-fire bolster the negative "coalition" image. Besides the three other parties ARE more differentiated than the TOries and Alliance were. SO what to do?
(1) Limit formal party agreements to the ELizabeth May for 15 NDP ridings exchange.
(2) Make vote-swapping an activity of interested voters ("Committees of Progressive ELectors") in ridings where the numbers and the identities/ideologies of the candidates make that a worthwhile endeavour--Edmonton Strathcona and Edmonton Centre is a good example, and it actually helped to elect LInda Duncan in 2008.
(3) Make PR a condition of NDP's support for any future minority Liberal government

Anonymous said...

Better not lose sight of the main objective here: getting rid of the Harper government. If this is what it would take to do it, a majority of Canadians might well approve.

Unknown said...

Anonymous is right. Anything to get rid of Stephen Harper. On the other hand, I am an NDPer and could never vote Iggy in as prime minister.

Anonymous said...

I more or less agree with you, Bill, but I laughed at the dig at proportional representation. I may be remembering incorrectly, but didn't KNOW BC oppose BC-STV because it *wasn't* proportional, despite the claims of its advocates? (I am against STV, in favour of a proportional system more like that voted down in Ontario...)

Bill Tieleman said...

Anonymous 2:42 p.m. - NO STV opposed the Single Transferable Vote for a long list of reasons, not one.

But one fault we highlighted was that it was one not a truly proportional system for those who wanted that. Some of our members were strong Mixed Member Proportional system supporters, like yourself, and did not want STV locked in as BC's electoral system for a minimum of 3 elections.

To Anonymous 10:40 a.m. - perhaps the Saskatchewan and Manitoba NDP have some issues to deal with alright - I'm sure their labour supporters feel so. But that doesn't change the federal situation.

And both the BC and Ontario NDP passed anti-scab legislation - which was later repealed by right-wing governments that followed, so there are clearly provincial differences.

Lastly, Panamajack is correct that the federal NDP supports Proportional Representation - but supporting the Liberals in an election and hoping they kept their promise afterwards would be a very high price - and very risky.

Patrick Ross said...

The missing link in your commentary, by my estimate, is the presence of right-leaning Liberals.

Just because there's no Liberal candidate in a particular riding doesn't mean that these voters will vote NDP or Green. They'll more likely vote Conservative or just stay home.

Byers' idea may be one of the stupidest proposals to ever drool out of the maw of a left-wing ideologue, who seems to think that all Canadians are left-wing ideologues.

Otis Krayola said...

I have two questions:

Maureen tells us that, 'for a significant portion of NDP voters, their second choice is neither Liberal nor Green'. Surely their second choice wouldn't be for the Conservatives, would it?

Second, where can I buy a Toronto Star?

primerica insurance said...

Well said, Bill. This will never happen. There are just too many things preventing a coalition of Liberals and NDP - you have rightly pointed them out - that I cannot imagine something like that happening. Ever.


Brendan said...

Careful Bill. Your inability to run a coherent argument against BC-STV is starting to show through again.

"But one fault ... not a truly proportional system ...
Some ...were strong Mixed Member Proportional system supporters"

Surely you don't suggest that MMP is a truly proportional system ? It isn't. Although MMP has it's problems, it is the MOST proportional system but STV is also considered proportional.

As opposed to that dog of a system that you support. Well, at least you're entertaining. Thanks for being here.

Anonymous said...

Yes, when Bill campaigned against STV, him and Schreck clearly stated that it wasn't a campaign against proportional representation.. even if he was personally against it.

Our current system.

Harper polls 39% and reaches a majority.
Federal governments elected with no seats west of Mantoba. (1980)

The Bloc gets 50 seats. The NDP gets nearly twice as many votes while getting 37 seats. Greens get almost the same as the bloc and 0.

The current government gets elected with no seats in 3 biggest cities..

etc .etc..