Monday, September 24, 2012

Open Letter to Paul Adams about Electoral Cooperation

Paul Adams has done us all a service by commenting on the wishes of the majority of voters in recent elections, and is now fending off attacks from right wing commentators about his proposal that the progressives unite to unseat the Harper new Tories in the next election.

However, Adams is doing us a disservice by not clearly differentiating between the realistic alternatives open to progressives when it comes to the form that such cooperation might take.

The Either-Or Trap:

He seems to have fallen into The Either-Or Trap (either the Tories become the government, or the LPC and NDP merge into one party to replace the Tories).

I believe the discussion should not be limited by either The Power Trap that Adams has highlighted, nor The Either-Or Trap he seems to have been snared in.

Adams’ Reply to attack:

This is Adams’ reply to one right winger’s attack on his merger proposal:

I think that if you look at this from the perspective of the voters who support the opposition parties, rather than that of the party activists, it is plain that most of them would like an option at election time that would have a realistic alternative of replacing the Harper government with one that cared about the shrinking middle class, inequality and climate change, for example.

I do not believe, as Gerry Nicholls seems to think I do, that this would be easy. A progressive party would contain a variety of contending factions, just as Stephen Harper’s party includes libertarians and social conservatives, economic conservatives and populists.

I do not believe, as Gerry Nicholls suggests I do, that a united progressive party would, in his words, “smite the Harper Conservatives and turn Canada into an environment-loving, egalitarian utopia for all time.” This seems more like a nighttime phantasm of his very own than anything I espouse. In fact, far from being utopian, my proposal is a pragmatic one that would involve principled compromise among people from different political traditions.

Shortfall in Adams’ Analysis:

His first paragraph above – which I have underlined for emphasis – is the key one: progressives (i.e. non-Tories) want “an option at election time that would have a realistic alternative of replacing the Harper government …”

However, he leaps to the conclusion that the only viable alternative that would meet this yearning of non-Tories is a merger of the NDP and Liberal Party of Canada.

This is a logical fallacy, that incorrectly forecloses discussion of far more viable alternatives open to us.

The Spectrum of Alternatives open to us:

I believe most polls have shown that a merger of the NDP and LPC would be difficult to achieve, given the cultural differences between the two parties.

However, as I have mentioned in past posts, there is a range of alternatives open to us.
A candidate to leadership of the LPC could adopt a game changing two-pronged policy:

I want to set out the two game changing policies I want the new leader of the Liberal Party to adopt BEFORE THE ELECTION OF LEADERS IS HELD, so as to ensure that the Harper Tories are tossed out of power in 2015. I will vote for and blog on behalf of any candidate for leadership of the LPC who adopts these two core game changing policies as part of his or her run for the leadership:

 A commitment to :

1.      implement some system of Proportional Representation after the 2015 election to replace the archaic and undemocratic First Past The Post (FPTP) system we now have, and
2.      enter into an Electoral Ceasefire Pact with the NDP with respect to certain ridings.

Cooperation if Necessary, but not Necessarily Merger:

A merger is not the one and only path to progressive cooperation, as past polls have shown:

According to Senior Vice-President Doug Anderson “It appears about half of all Canadians are receptive to the idea of some form of co-operation between the Liberal Party and the NDP. However, at this point in time, there is no consensus view on how that should work and those who want the two parties to work together prefer that it mean ‘co-operation’ rather than a ‘coalition’ or ‘merger.’”

When asked in the June 2010 poll to choose between 4 alternatives for the LPC and NDP (no cooperation at all; coalition after the next election; a merger before the next election; an electoral ceasefire in the next election), voters were split.

Only 3 in ten Canadians opposed some form of cooperation.

The Need for precision in language for such a discussion:

Sloppy language does lead to sloppy conclusions, and we need to ensure that commentators think clearly and express themselves clearly about the range of alternatives open to the non-Tory voters before, during and after the next election:

Let's be clear about the issues, about the framing by commentators and journalists who wish to harm the Liberals and the NDP and protect the Harper Tories from any meaningful threat to their minority government, and about the wide array of choices facing the Liberals and Dippers.

First, be exact in your language. There are many different types of cooperative arrangements which the LPC and NDP could enter into. They range from a full merger of the two parties to an ad hoc post-election legislation by legislation support of a minority Liberal government by the NDP (similar to the way Harper's minority government has governed for 4 years)…

What is needed to bring about a Cameron-Clegg model of electoral and governance cooperation between the LPC and NDP?

These steps:

Make sure the language used (framing) regarding the exact nature of the cooperative pact (or partnership, as Bob Rae describes his deal when he threw out the Conservative government of Ontario) is clear.

Do not let the Tory spinners muddy the waters with inexact language and framing (starting with Harper's regrettable misstatements of our constitutional rights, which is surely inappropriate for a prime minister of Canada).

Start working on the major elements of a common program, by going through the NDP policies (check their website) and the 2009 policies in the LPC website, and finding those major issues where both parties – and the country – would benefit from positive steps to implement them in the next five years.

And keep the discussion of alternatives to our current stalemate (a collective pox on all your houses voiced by voters) alive and well.

I have previously suggested three viable buckets of work open to non-Tories:

The Cat's Three-Step Plan does this by three easily understandable and practical actions:
  1. Adopt the Cullen Plan or a variant of it before the next election, to optimize the chances of the centre-left voters voices being heard and Tory MPs in ridings with low margins being replaced by MPs of either the LPC or NDP.
  2. Have the LPC and NDP agree BEFORE the next election on the major points to be contained in a post-election coalition government of those two parties. The Prime Minister would come from the party with the most seats, while the Deputy PM would come from the other party. The Coalition Accord would last for at least 3 years. The two parties would vote to support the Coalition government in confidence votes, but be free to vote as they wished on other issues.
  3. Both parties would support the introduction within 6 months after the election of a process designed to replace the current first-past-the-post system of elections with a modified proportional rerpesentative system in the following election.
The Cat's Three-Step Plan does not require a merger of the NDP and LPC.

It does require a change for the better in the way we elect governments in future.

Unlike today's nonsensical system, votes of Canadians will be given value, and future governments would have to convince enough MPs to continue governing.
An earlier Angus Reid Poll on shared power:

Consider these results:

Kudos to RobSilver for laying out this stunning snippet of information gleaned from the bowels of the latest Angus Reid poll on coalitioning:
When the results are compared to voting intent, "merging" the Liberals and NDP is supported by a majority of Liberals (54 per cent), materially more popular than among NDP supporters (40 per cent support) (to put this number in perspective, when Angus Reid last asked about such a scenario in October of 2009, they got 43 per cent of Liberals in favour, and 50 per cent opposed); an even larger majority of Liberals (57 per cent) are in favour of "strategic candidate support" between the NDP and Liberals (compared to 44 per cent support amongst NDP supporters). Both parties are equally enthusiastic about a "shared power" scenario (72 per cent LIB, 70 per cent NDP).
Pause for a moment and consider the very last sentence:
Both parties are equally enthusiastic about a "shared power" scenario (72 per cent LIB, 70 per cent NDP).
By "shared power", Angus Reid presumably meant something similar to the "working partnership" scenario which Bob Rae actually implemented when he was premier of Ontario.
Such a shared power or working partnership is very very different from the full merger model of coalition building which was the subject of the original Angus Reid announced poll results (and which I explored in my earlier post).

Let’s hope that Paul Adams writes more about the realistic range of alternatives open to us, instead of falling into The Either-Or Trap.


  1. Excellent post. I'm glad there is discussion about co-op versus merger. Maybe Adams' book will at least help spark that. There is nothing wrong with thoughtful discussion on these options. Sorry, I guess I'm not used to thoughtful discussion since 2006.

  2. Thanks, Dude.

    One way to kickstart it would be if say 50 riding associations of the LPC submitted resolutions to next year's policy convention dealing with cooperation. That would sidestep the so-far successful efforts of the party brass to avoid and suppress any discussion of any cooperation with the NDP and Greens before the next election.

    Another way would be for questions to be submitted for the candidates for leadership of the LPC to debate the various options for pre-election, during an election, and post-election cooperation with the NDP and Greens. These questions should require each candidate to submit written answers before the debates to various cooperation scenarios.

    These written submissions would then serve as the foundation for public debate by the candidates.

    For example, each candidate should state clearly and unambigously whether he or she favours pre-election ceasefire along the lines advocated by Professor Byers and found in the Cullen Plan.

    The candidates should also spell out exactly what they think should be incuded in any coalition agreement along the lines of the Conservative-LibDem model: how long it should last for; what electoral reforms (such as modified proportional representation) should be a given in the agreement; what programs should be supported during the accord's lifetime etc.

    This would give Liberals and Supporters clear indications of what each candidate will support as leader of the LPC, so that votes can be cast with this in mind.


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