Friday, October 21, 2011

Fleshing out the Cullen Plan for electoral cooperation

Several people have written or blogged about the Cullen Plan for electoral cooperation between the NDP and Liberal Party in certain ridings for the 2015 election. The response has been positive with a few doomsday scenarios sketched out.
Jack Layton & Nathan Cullen

This is my attempt to flesh out some more details of the Cullen Plan.

NDP MP Nathan Cullen has already given many details, both in press interviews when announcing his run for leadership of the NDP and in his tweets. This post tries to build on the facts he has provided to date, and on the attempts by others to examine the concept with an open mind.

The basic concept is not new – we have the suggestion by Professor Michael Byers some time ago that an electoral ceasefire was a viable way for the two parties to overcome the Harper Tories divide and conquer strategy. That suggestion was ignored by the Liberal leader (and the party was badly hurt in the later election).

What is the purpose of the Cullen Plan?

The objective is short and simple:

To replace the Harper Tory government in 2015 with another government which better represents the views of the majority of voters.

What is the Method to achieve this Objective?

For members of the NDP and LPC to cooperate in selecting only one candidate to run for MP in any riding where the sitting Tory MP was elected by a slim margin of votes in the May 2, 2011 election.

Where will the cooperation take place?

There are two groups where this Cullen Plan for electoral cooperation can take place.

The first group – the Turf-a-Tory group – consists of the 21 ridings where the winning Tory MP snuck in with less than 5 % margin of votes cast. The aim here is offence: to reduce the number of Tory MPs.

The second group – the Stop-a-Tory group – is those ridings where either an NDP or a Liberal MP was elected with less than a 5% vote margin of success. The aim here is defence: to prevent any Tory gains of seats in 2015.

Who decides to adopt the Cullen Plan?

Members of ridings associations of the NDP and LPC in one of the Turf-a-Tory group of ridings are to choose. As Nathan Cullen said, a joint nomination contest would be held with such members voting for candidates so as to select one candidate to run for election as MP in that riding. That winning candidate – let's call him or her the Gladiator Candidate – would run as a member of the party he or she belongs to.

What is the role of the party brass and leaders?

The Cullen Plan does not require any formal act from the party executives or leaders of the NDP or LPC. It is a grassroots movement by individuals who are members of the Turf-a-Tory riding involved.

No doubt all candidates for election to the party executives and as party leader of the two parties will be asked by the media what their views are of the Cullen Plan.

Such candidates will be asked whether they oppose the Cullen Plan, and whether they will take any positive steps to oppose it being adopted by any of their party's ridings, or to prevent any candidate selected by the operation of the Cullen Plan to run as the official party candidate.

If they say they will, then members of the NDP and LPC should consider voting against such candidates in the upcoming NDP and LPC elections for party executive and party leader. 

Country comes before party, and Canada needs a change of government before Harper's Tories do more damage to our country (including mortgaging our children's future with decades-long commitments to buy armaments worth billions of dollars or build jails worth billions of dollars).

If the grassroots in the Arab countries can face guns and tanks to change their governments, then surely members of the NDP and LPC can take steps to join a Cullen Plan without opposition from their party brass or leaders. Does Canadian democracy not extend to Canadian political parties?

Need for an electoral cooperation Template

To help nudge the national dialogue that Nathan Cullen has kickstarted, I believe it would be useful to start considering a template of how the Cullen Plan might operate. Such a template would give the party members a chance to consider the pros and cons of the idea. The template would also serve to highlight what is and is not being contemplated by the Cullen Plan, so that misunderstandings don't stifle it at birth.

Feel free to start your own templates, or comment on my first crack at it, set out below. You might want to consider tweeting your comments to Nathan Cullen – he's at

My suggestions for the Cullen Plan Template

  1. Limited purpose – The cooperation will be subject to a Sunset Rule – when the sun sets on election day 2015, the cooperation ends. That's it, folks! Both ridings revert to business as usual. There are no deals about any future elections.

  1. No rules after 2015 – there will be no restrictions on the Gladiator Candidate who is elected as MP under the Cullen Plan. He or she will be elected as an MP of his or her party, and will behave and vote as such in Parliament. The aim is to turf out a Tory MP, and replace that Tory with either an NDP or LPC MP, not to have a post-election agreement on how that MP must behave.

  1. Funding – There will be no commitment to finance the winning Gladiator Candidate's run for election as MP. That person's party will fund it, as would happen if there was no Cullen Plan.

  1. Independent party operation – Apart from not running another candidate competing with the successful Gladiator Candidate, there will be no commitments by the riding associations of either party. This means no sharing of party membership lists, no sharing of premises, no shared election advertising. The only thing shared is agreement on the Cullen Plan Template for that specific riding, and the nomination meeting and procedure. The parties stay independent.

  1. The primary vote

    1. A cutoff date for signing up members of each party must be set.
    2. Votes will be counted by representatives of both parties, with an appeal committee made up of representatives of both parties plus one independent person.
    3. A preferential or alternative voting system will be used, in which voters rank candidates in order of relative preference (for example, the voter may select their first choice as '1', their second preference a '2', and so on.)
    4. The Gladiator Candidate will be the winner who wins a bare majority of votes cast (50% plus 1).
    5. There could be just 2 candidates or multiple candidates from each party running in the primary (see below).

  1. How many candidates in the Cullen Plan primary?

    1. The two ridings must agree on the number of candidates from each party who can run in the electoral cooperation primary.
    2. They might decide that just one candidate from each party should run. In this case, each party independently decides how they will select their own candidate, without any voting by members of the other party.
    3. If the two ridings decide to have more than one candidate from their party standing in the primary, then again each party can decide on its own how its slate of candidates will be selected.
    4. However, the number of candidates running in the primary from each party must be the same.

  1. The 2015 election campaign – Each party runs its own election campaign and pays its own expenses (both for selection of the primary candidates and for the actual election itself). There will be no cross-funding. Each party will have to comply with the applicable laws regulating the raising and spending of money during federal election campaigns.

  1. Riding preparation to launch the Cullen Plan

    1. Your riding should hold information meetings of party members to discuss the pros and cons of the Cullen Plan.
    2. If necessary, take the pulse of your total membership through polling.
    3. Use social media to discuss and spread the word. Nathan Cullen has used telephone townhalls with great effect – this could be done to discuss the merits of the Cullen Plan.
    4. Make sure you use Twitter to discuss the plan – agree on some hashtags to make tracking tweets easier (my suggestions? perhaps #cullenplan).
    5. If your riding is one of the 21 Turf-a-Tory ridings, then work with Nathan Cullen to set up and participate in a national dialogue on electoral cooperation. Get some of your riding association members and other riding party members to participate in a group dedicated to exploring the Cullen Plan (perhaps the group could be called the Turf-a-Tory Committee, TatCom for short, with a Twitter hashtag of #tatters or #tatcom).
And best of luck in your endeavours! May we see a new government in 2015 ...


  1. Two things.

    First, I would prefer an open primary (where anyone from the riding could vote by registering). I think in the system you propose/suggest/describe one would run into trouble as riding associations would just count noses, and decide they only want into the primary if they have or think they have more members.

    Second, if a ranked ballot is used, why does there need to be the same number of candidates from each party?

    Third, it could be pretty fun to do this as a caucus, instead of using ranked balloting (which I know I suggested too).

  2. I would think that the Cullen Plan would allow each riding to decide what to do - as long as the other party agreed. So if both the NDP and LPC in a riding decided to have an open primary, as you suggest, then they could hold one. After all, the Cullen Plan is a grassroots plan, free from top-down dictates, and the methods used are for the riding involved. So we could add several alternative methods to the suggested primary, including an open primary, but leave it to the parties in each riding to choose one (or even choose another method not on the list).

    The destination should be clear: A one-off deal to replace the Tory government in 2015. The routes taken to reach that destination are not as important as long as the elimination of vote splitting is avoided as much as possible.

  3. The deals would be one-off because that's what they'd agree to, but I think it might (or might not) continue to make sense to do the same deal in 2019.

    I don't think any of us have noted that this strongly implies a Lib-NDP-Grn coalition. Doesn't require one, and this would, hopefully, come from the bottom up and not bind the leaders, but still.

  4. There is no implication of a merger of any kind in the Cullen Plan. Nathan Cullen himself said expressly that he was not entering into merger talks or interested in doing so, mainly because the cultural differences between the parties was so great.

    I think the precedent for this was the Ontario agreement re governing, when the Liberals had a minority government. The parties remained independent, and the only difference is that the Cullen Plan is the most realistic one for today's situation: it advocates the members of the NDP and LPC and perhaps Green Party being PROACTIVE - by taking action now, rather than after an election.

    As an electoral ceasefire strategy, the Cullen Plan deals exclusively with turfing out a Tory MP in a riding where the Tory is vulnerable because of the small winning margin on May 2, 2011. As such, it is an exercise in realpolitiek; an asture analysis of the lie of the electoral land, and appreciation of the thinness of the Harper Tory support; and a very practical method to focus on those 21 ridings where the Tories are especially vulnerable.

    Will it succeed? The enthusiasm it will engender in the 21 ridings (the Turf-a-Tory group) will succeed beyond the wildest dreams of both the NDP and LPC. The Cullen Plan will attract hundreds of thousands of voters who did not vote in May 2011, to vote in order to turf a Tory.

    It will be a landslide.

    Harper's government will not survive as a majority seat government. It might even end up with fewer votes than either the NDP or LPC and so not even get a chance at forming a minority government.

    What the parties do after the election in 2015 is for the parties to decide at that time.

  5. That you categorize my piece as doomsday is ridiculous. Geez.

  6. Steve V - the thrust of your piece (like that word - much nicer ring to it than article or post) was the inevitability of fate: the slippery slope of even the first step towards cooperation leading to full blown merger. That made me see your piece (really is a nice word) as being the cry of a prophet, warning against inevitable fate should we take that first tentative step - in other words, a doomsday piece.

    I do not believe in the inevitability of that fate. The fate I believe in is another Harper government unless practical steps are taken to prevent this.

    Would you have preferred the adjective "prophetic" for your piece link?

  7. I laid out a possible scenario, that was neither positive or negative, just plausible. To state a more broad based merger is a doomsday scenario, I honestly haven't a clue how your mind draws that conclusion.

  8. Steve V - there's a reason why cats need nine lives...

    Do you think the Cullen Plan is a one-week wonder, soon to disappear?


Thank you for commenting; come again! Let us reason together ...

Random posts from my blog - please refresh page for more: