Monday, November 26, 2012

Calgary Centre Byelection: Liberal leaders who cannot count give Stephen Harper a belated thanksgiving gift

As national polls and recent federal elections have shown time after time, our antiquated first past the post system of electing MPs results in a party with a minority of total votes cast being able to win a majority of seats in Parliament and act as if it has a mandate from a majority of Canadians.

The latest cliffhanger in the Calgary Centre byelection is yet another example of this, as John Ibbitson reports:

That said, the result in Calgary Centre could provide some powerful ammunition for those who long to see a union of progressive forces to confront the Conservatives.

A number of observers pointed out after the last federal election that Stephen Harper owes his majority government, at least in part, to the rise of the NDP and the collapse of Liberal support in suburban ridings outside Toronto.

The Conservative vote actually didn’t increase by much, they point out. But the rise in NDP support drained enough votes from the Liberals to allow the Tories to come up the middle.

If such things are starting to happen even in Calgary, ground zero of the Conservative base, then the tactical advantage of co-operation among progressives becomes that more obvious.

A Conservative win in Calgary Centre because the left-of-centre vote was split is “not an outcome I like,” observed Green Leader Elizabeth May in an interview, “but it does help carry the message that we can’t continue to ignore the need for electoral co-operation.”

The Conservative Party victory in this byelection is thanks to the obtuseness of the current three leaders of the LPC, NDP and Greens.

When the message from 60% of the voters is very clear – they want a government that more closely represents their concerns in Ottawa – these three parties are lead by politicians who seem stuck in the pasts, stubbornly refusing to face the realities of the Harper divide-and-conquer tactics, and turning their backs on the clear desire of millions of Canadians for electoral reform.

And Justin Trudeau, running for leadership of the Liberal Party, has also shown an inability or unwillingness to listen to the clear voice of Canadians. He seems bent on riding pell mell into The Power Trap so eloquently described by Paul Adams.

What we need is a leader of the LPC and NDP who listens rather than talks; who understands the deep rooted desire of Canadians for our massive democratic deficit to be remedied; and who will fight for both pre-election and post-election electoral cooperation.

If Justin Trudeau persists in his course towards The Power Trap, and deliberately ignores his chance to create a legacy as great as his father's through electoral reform, then Liberals and progressives should reconsider their choice for the next permanent leader of the Liberal Party.

Instead, all those hundreds of thousands of progressives who want our faded and shopworn democracy to  be dragged into modern times, should join the Liberal Party in the capacity of Supporters, and throw their votes behind any candidate for leadership of the LPC who commits to two things: (1) pre-elction electoral cooperation with the NDP and Greens before the next election, due in 2015 or more likely 2014, and (2) a clear promise to implement through legislation within 12 months of the next Parliament a modified proportional representation system. My guess is that some 300,000 new Supporters sprinkled in each of the 308 ridings, should do the job and bring renewed democracy to Canada.

Right now, the Liberal Party needs a new leader who can count, and who is smart enough to understand that the Adams' Power Trap is reality, not academic speculation.

And we need a system of elections that makes every vote count, and does not treat the vote of millions upon millions as valueless come election day.

It is time to put country before party.


  1. I find it amusing you go on about "democracy" yet you seem to skip over the fact that proportional representation should be down to a referendum vote - yet you know it won't likely pass, don't you. So you go an undemocratic route of wasting my vote - because I won't be voting for any NDP or Green candidate in my riding, that's for sure - and then ram down legislation on Canadians for a change of the electoral system, without their consent.

    What a shame.

    1. Yeah, an election isn't good enough to decide an issue all of a sudden.

  2. Its not amusing, its sad. There once was a time not so long ago that the LPC won based on ideas and just being better then the other partys, not so much anymore.

  3. Volkov, if the Liberal leader runs on a platform of implementing modified proportional representation, and this becomes part of the LPC policy in 2014; and if the Tories fail to win a majority in 2015; then the LPC would be committed to implementing proportional representation and would rightfully require this to be part of any coalition accord that will be entered into between the LPC and NDP in 2015.

    The NDP's policy favours MPR as well.

    So voters will know what to expect before they go to the polls in 2015.

    What's undemocratic about that?

    The real lack of democracy is the vote-destroying first past the post system ...

  4. This is twisted hypocrisy. The Libs won three majorities from the exact same circumstances as we have currently. Chretien won majorities with less than 40% because the right was divided. No Liberal complained then.

    My sense is that more and more Liberals are coming to the realisation that they cannot win a majority outright. Not now nor in the forseeable future. The solution; Change the rules.

  5. The NDP vote obediently folded into the LPC, some old PCs publicly moved to the LPC, and not only did the Lib candidate not win, only 30% showed up to vote.
    That was the lowest voter turnout of all 3 by elections.

    Lesson to be learned there. Take away people's democratic choice and they stay home or vote in protest (Green).

  6. Wilson, the appallingly low turnout of 30% is an indictment of the way we run our elections, the attraction of the parties, and the lack of engagement of voters.

    One way to engage voters and make them turn out to vote, is to ensure that they know that their vote counts. Our FPTP system devalues every vote cast for candidates who do not win the most votes. That devaluation of the views of substantial portions of the electorate is one of the reasons why most modern democracies have moved to some proportional representation system.

    MPR systems not only restore value to each and every vote cast, they also help regions to have an influence on national affairs (reducing regional tensions), and ensure that any government has to consider the views of the majority of voters, or be swept aside.


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